Even in southern climes, winter can be chilly, particularly when you’re boating. So how do you stay comfortable on board when temperatures drop?
How about installing a heater on your boat? We decided to tackle this job using one of our project boats — a sterndrive-powered Pursuit 2560 Denali. To get things started, we called Rathdrum, Idaho-based Heater Craft (208/687-4400; heater craft.com). The company set us up with a Model 301-HC ($370, suggested list), which can generate 40,000 BTUs and features three blower vents to duct warm air to various locations.
There are other brands and styles of boat heaters. Origo offers an alcohol heater, for example, and there are propane/ kerosene cabin heaters from companies such as Dickinson and Force 10. What’s more, 12-volt DC electric boat heaters are available from RoadPro/MarinePro, and West Marine offers 110-volt AC cabin heaters.
An advantage of the Heater Craft unit we used is that it does not require any fuel, and unlike electric heaters, it draws relatively little power.
The 301-HC heating unit is fairly compact, measuring 16×91/2×61/2 inches. It draws its warmth from the engine’s cooling water. Heat is transferred in a small radiator that warms the air around it. The heat is then distributed to vents via a 12-volt, three-speed fan. At its highest setting, the system pumps out 366 cubic feet of warm air per minute.
All told, the project took two of us about four hours. We spent $30 on fittings and hardware, bringing the total cost to $400.
The payoff is that the system works wonderfully. In fact, even on frosty evening cruises, the crew actually gets too warm, and we have to turn down the heat.
So, though it may be nippy out, with this warming trend, there are no excuses for not enjoying your boat.
Water-driven heaters are compatible with inboards and sterndrives (either with closed or “raw water” cooling systems), but not outboard-powered boats. The 301-HC uses a fairly simple setup, but there are a few drawbacks.
For one, the engine must be running to generate heat. Secondly, with a raw-water cooled engine like on our Pursuit, the heater’s radiator will suffer if the boat is run in saltwater. Corrosion will eventually eat up the metal coils. Finally, you don’t want to mount the heater too far from the engine, as there may not be enough water pressure to feed the heater. Adding a secondary pump will solve the problem, but complicates the installation.
We kept the heater close enough to the engine (about 8 feet away) to not need the pump. Here is how our installation went:
STEP 1: Attach the two mounting brackets to the heating unit. Do not tighten all the way, as you may need to adjust the brackets to fit the selected mounting location.
STEP 2: We chose a mounting location for the heating unit behind a panel and under the gunwale near the helm. Quarter-inch machine screws and locknuts secure the brackets.
STEP 3: Our unit requires two hoses — one to feed hot water to the heater, and one to return water to the engine. We routed them from the engine bay, under the gunwale and to the heater. After we made sure they were not kinked, the hoses were secured with tie wraps along the run.
STEP 4: There are two barb fittings on the heating unit, and it does not matter which hose goes where on this end. Secure the hoses with the supplied hose clamps.
STEP 5: The hoses also need to be plumbed into the engine’s cooling system. We removed the Volvo Penta’s temperature sending unit and installed a T-fitting with a hose barb for the outbound line, then attached the sending unit on the other side. The return line was plumbed lower on the engine, near the water pump.
STEP 6: We decided to install one hot-air vent in the cabin, one on the dash (which also serves as a window defogger) and one near deck level to keep our feet warm. Holes were cut with a two-inch hole saw. The swiveling, louvered vents simply pop into place.
STEP 7: With the heating unit installed, brackets tight and hoses hooked up, we ran ducting from the blower outlets to the three vents. The ducting was secured along each run with tie wraps.
STEP 8: The fan control should be installed near the helm. After routing the heating unit’s wires to the control, we made the connections, as per the instructions. The switch’s stem mounts in a 1/2-inch hole, and the rotary-style control makes it easy to dial in the perfect temperature for any cold-weather boating situation.
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