The charity making life better by water

Heating your boat

Whatever form of heating your boat has, now's the time to get it in safe working order.

Narrowboat with lit stove in back cabin

Make it a clean sweep

If you have a solid fuel or diesel stove, or gas heating, make sure that your flue is swept clear of any sooty deposits and other debris before use. Any obstructions in the flue could not only reduce the efficiency of your heating, but lead to a dangerous build up of carbon monoxide or even lead to a chimney fire.

Check the height and condition of any detachable chimney and replace it if necessary. A chimney that isn't long enough, or has holes where there shouldn't be any, won't allow the stove to draw correctly, so your fuel won't burn efficiently and will cost you more in the long run.

Get it serviced

All heating appliances need servicing at least annually. If your central heating is LPG gas, make sure that you use a suitably GasSafe qualified engineer and one that is specifically qualified for LPG. You can search of a list of engineers on the GasSafe register. Remember that portable gas heaters should never be used inside a boat.

Some basic diesel stove maintenance can be done yourself depending on the make of stove, but for anything more complicated, or if you're not confidently competent, get your stove serviced by a professional according the manufacturer's instructions.

Solid fuel stoves, especially cast-iron ones, should be checked carefully for cracks and faulty seals. You don't want any of the toxic gases escaping into the cabin.

Do not use any appliance that is not sound. If in doubt employ the services of a HETAS certified service engineer. There's more essential safety advice on the Boat Safety Scheme website.

Check your ventilation

Heating appliances need to breathe. Check and clean all your boat's ventilation grills and mushrooms, even if this means making a large number of spiders temporarily homeless.

Never block a ventilation hole, no matter how cold and windy it gets, as you run the serious risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

A narrowboat passes a moored boat on the Llangollen Canal while frost lays on the surrounding towpath and grass

Alarums, divers alarums!

No, not a Shakespearian stage direction, but a reminder to check that you have both types of alarms.

In the same way that country and western go together, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should also go together. It is now a mandatory part of the Boat Safety Examination to have the correct number and type of carbon monoxide alarm for your type of boat's accommodation.

Make sure you have at least one of each of a type suitable for boats and install them correctly.

Make a note on your calendar for at least the first day of each month or make every Tuesday #TestItTuesday - and make sure you press those buttons.

Chico and Mike keeping warm on their narrowboat

Gathering winter fuel

If you burn wood out away from built up areas, you're going to need to source a reliable supply of dry, properly seasoned stuff.

You're then going to need a wood humidity tester and somewhere safe to keep your wood stack dry - and not next to the stove either, unless you want to be yet another sad statistic in the burnt-out boat stakes.

For gas, diesel and coal you'll need to make friends with your local licensed fuelboats or merchants/chandleries. Make sure you've got a list of telephone numbers to cover all eventualities, as bad weather can make deliveries difficult, and there is absolutely nothing worse than running out of supply in freezing weather.

If you're struggling financially and can't afford to buy fuel please reach out for help. Equally, if you know someone who's struggling please contact us. There's more information here.

Smoke control areas and smokeless zones

If you're boating in any urban area, whether it's a small town or large city, please only purchase and burn fuels approved for use in smokeless zones. The sale of “house” coal and non-kiln dried wood is no longer permitted.

Further changes in legislation mean that you're likely to receive a visit, a warning, and/or a fine via the local authority if you regularly produce an excessive amount of smoke.

Smoke Control Area regulations can now be applied to boats following the passing of the Environment Act 2021. It is therefore in your interest to run your stove as efficiently and with as little smoke as possible.

Smoking boat chimney

We shouldn't need to tell you to never burn rubbish and treated woods, but a minority still do. Not only is it bad for their health, but it affects others too, so please spread the word or point them in the direction of this handy guide of Do's and Don'ts. Please also note that burning of rubbish, treated woods, damp wood and any other type of non-smokeless fuel in a Smoke Control Area could result in a hefty fine from the local authority.

Top tips for reducing smoke emissions

We do ask all customers to be considerate when using a solid fuel stove, especially in very heavily populated areas.

Here's a few top tips for not smoking everyone out:

  • Keep fuel dry as far as is practical and use the right fuel for your stove.
  • Use smokeless fuels. If you use cheap house coal you'll have to sweep your chimney every week and repaint your boat in the spring.
  • Only add fuel a little at a time. Adding a lot in one go produces lots of smoke, especially if it's damp.
  • Never burn plastics, chipboard, treated wood or other types of rubbish. There's more environmentally friendly and less dangerous ways of disposal.

If you need more good advice and top tips on using your stove, we recommend checking out:

Stay safe, stay warm, and stay well in winter.

Last Edited: 05 February 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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