Cold Weather Q and A

There comes a point every winter, particularly when the temperature drops, and a cold weather alert comes into effect, that I recieve a gamit of questions on how we endure living on a boat through our winter. I am so frequently asked if we are warm enough, that I have come to find that my reply sounds rehearsed! The answer to this question is yes, of course.  When the temperatures drop to anything below the -20’s we do feel the chill just like everyone else. Otherwise, we are toasty warm. We are very fortunate that Monster is insulated. She has approximately 2 1/2″ of sprayed insulation foam adhered to her interior hull and deckhouse, and the interior is then finished with cedar planks. So we have about 3″ of insulation that separates us from the weather outside. In the heat and humidity of the summer months this insulation does double duty in keeping us a bit cooler.

In addition, we shrink wrap our ports with regular household shrink wrap. With 16 ports around the perimeter of our deckhouse we cannot express enough how effective the shrink wrap truly is. The ports without the wrap would ice up like no nobody’s business with condensation. And now, we are lucky to see even a droplet of condensation. We leave two open, one for ventilating our stove while cooking, and the other serves as access to our outdoor cooler. Our large overhead hatches are similarly insulated, and blocked with 1 1/2″ styrofoam. We cut large plugs and just fit them in including our hatch to the cockpit. The cockpit styrofoam simply pulls in and out as we go to and fro.

Now in terms of our  electricity, we have to double our useage from 30 amps to 60 amps in the winter months to meet our extra needs. As it is not feasible to run all our electrical needs through the boats own electrical system we have an additional ‘pony’ panel made to code with the appropriate breakers. We have to be ever vigilant of our electrical usage and the load put on the system.  This is common across all boats, however the winter months require extra diligence as it’s not the season to blow breakers, or burn out your shore power due to the obvious risks.

For heat we rely on electricity, for now. We have a workhorse of an infrared heater. It operates on high and low settings, either 1500 or 750 watts, which is ideal depending on the weather outside or any other electrical draws. We also run a small space heater in our aft cabin. Of course, both heaters have automatic shutoffs should they be knocked over by Dog or Child, or if they overheat. We have a third space heater that can be used as necessary. In addition, we installed a great Hot Start pump on our engine, a block heater essentially. As we have a center cockpit with the engine room below it, our big steel engine, when cold, can suck all the heat out of the rest of the boat. With the pump, which operates on a thermostat, coolant is pumping around the engine to keep it exceptionally warm, not quite working temperature, but hot enough to radiate heat. The pump can be isolated with a couple of valves in the summer season to run the engine as normal.

The most obvious thing we do to keep ourselves warm is shrink wrap the boat. This year we purchased lengths of 1 1/2″ pvc electrical conduit that we arched over the deck and boom to create a frame to adhere the wrapping. Each arch is secured to our solid stainless railing on either side. Two horizontal pieces of slightly smaller 1″ conduit are used as horizontals down the center fore and aft line of the boat. We use both the main and inner jib halyards to support the horizontal pieces. Everyone has their own ideas on how to create a frame for their shrink wrap, and this system has been ideal for us. In the spring we’ll be able to stow the conduit for use year after year. We also added the now invaluable clear vinyl windows that let in the beautiful natural light. I can’t imagine how we ever lived under the shrink wrap without them. Third winter’s a charm I guess.

And then there is the issue of water, how do we fill our tanks when the water standards on our dock are shut off and winterized for the season? With the advantage of living in fresh water we are able run a hose, approx 300′ in length, from our dock to the wall outside the marina office. Each end of the hose is tied off and submerged under the water. There is a shared hose in the marina building that we connect to the main tap and then to our submerged hose. If there is no ice, it’s easily done. We turn on the water and return to our boat, flushing the hose as we go. At the boat we do the same, retrieve the hose, and then fill our tank to the 50 gallon point that she holds. This lasts us just over a week usually, for dishes, cooking, and such. At this point we don’t shower aboard, and opt to go ashore for a proper steamy shower experience.

Last but not least, we use those agitators, bubblers, ice eaters… Known by a myriad of names they are a motor with a propellor in a cage that we submerge in strategic places around our boat. The intent is to churn and create movement in the water as to avoid ice forming around the waterline of the boat. The pressure ice creates can be seriously damaging to a hull, but as we are steel it really only affects our paint job. This winter we have only had to run two of them sporadically, as opposed to the winters past when we had to run three of them continuously and still froze in, as the expression goes. We like to submerge ours deep into the water, several feet down to avoid the water and its accompanying noise of churning and bubbling at the surface. The heaters and agitators can all add up to a significant amount of white noise, and so we always look forward to the silence that accompanies the arrival of spring and its warmer temperatures.

There you have it, all the nitty gritty minus the gory details of how we live aboard through the winter! What I didn’t cover was the issue of condensation, and that will have to be another post.

~~ This post ‘Cold Weather Q & A’ first  appeared on ~~


  1. Great post ! This has been a soft winter but just like yourselves , all winter live aboards prepare for the worst, early in the fall .
    Better to have it and not need it
    ,then Need it and not have it!


    • Thank you Ellen! Fortunately we have spring and fall to help us merge into the winter cold! This winter has also been incredibly mild. 🙂


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