Staying warm and safe on a boat

‘Tis the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness', so naturally boaters’ minds turn towards ways of keeping warm as night time temperatures drop. Whatever form of heating your boat has, it’s time to get it serviced and in safe working order for the colder months ahead.

Narrowboat with lit stove in back cabin Narrowboat with lit stove by @coalboatpuppeh

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. At the same time check the height and condition of any detachable chimney and replace it if necessary. A chimney that isn’t long enough, or with holes where there shouldn’t be holes won’t allow the stove to draw correctly, so your fuel won’t be burnt efficiently, costing you more in the long run.

Get it serviced

All heating appliances need servicing at least annually. If your central heating is LPG gas, do 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 bits of diesel stove maintenance can be done yourself depending on the make of stove, but again for anything more complicated, or if you are 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 do not 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 any ventilation hole, no matter how cold and windy it gets, too many boaters die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide Kills sign

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, then smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should also go together. 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 that the first Tuesday of every month is “Test it Tuesday” and make sure you press those buttons.

Gathering winter fuel

If you burn wood, you’re going to need to source a reliable supply of dry properly seasoned stuff, so not only are you going to need a wood humidity tester, but you’re going to need 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 fuel boats 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 in freezing weather.

Smoking boat chimneySmoking boat chimney with thanks to nb Baleine

If you are 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. We shouldn’t need to tell you to never burn rubbish and treated woods, but a minority still do, and it’s not only bad for their health but yours too, so please spread the word or point them in the direction of this handy guide of Do's and Don'ts.

The sale of “House” coal and non-kiln dried wood is being phased out, possibly as early as Spring 2019 in order to improve air quality for everyone. This will have an impact on some in our boating community. Make sure you’ve had your say in the Government’s “Using Cleaner fuels for domestic burning” consultation which closes on 12th October 2018.

With your autumn checklist completed, it should be time to light the stove for a test run and check that all is well. You might have to throw open all the windows and doors though as it will probably be too toasty hot. Let’s hope the colder weather holds off for a while longer.

Stay safe, stay warm, stay well, this coming winter season.

Chico and Mike keeping warm on nb Wah Wah Chugg

Chico Chug and Mike keeping warm by the stove on nb Wah Wah Chugg

Thanks to boaters @coalboatpuppeh, @BoatBaleine and @ChicoChug following @CRTBoating on Twitter for permission to use their photos.

Last date edited: 5 September 2018

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Our boating team bring you news of their work across our network, as well as the stories of boaters they meet

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