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Old 12-15-2015, 08:24 AM   #1
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Interesting Experience with Dickenson Heater

My experience with cabin heat, including Beaufort, SC to Washington, DC in January (long story), is that you must have something HOT in the cabin if you really want to be warm. Dryness can often be as important as warmth and nothing dries a boat out like a fuel burning heater with an exhaust stack. We also like quiet so Espar and similar heaters have never appealed to me.

I had a Dickenson diesel Newport heater on my sailboat and loved it. It was the heart of the boat and filled the cabin with flickering light like a fireplace. It ran for weeks and months non-stop and I never had to worry about finding a source of fuel. If there as fuel for the engine, the heater could heat the boat.

We just installed the larger “Antarctic” model on our trawler. There is a learning curve to these heaters and they do require some understanding but, after living with one for 20,000 miles, I was surprised how hard it was to get the new one burning right. I was also surprised to find a lot of fuel coming out of the overflow line that prevents the heater from flooding if it malfunctions. I had some long conversations with Dickenson and they said that was normal. I was surprised because, when I sold my sailboat, I pointed to the plastic soft drink bottle in the bilge the overflow line led to and told him he needed to keep an eye on it. However, after over 20,000 miles, there was not a single drop of fuel in it and never had been.

Dickenson is an interesting company, I’ve talked to several people there and it sounds like they all have one of their heaters on a boat so they understand their products better than any tech reps I’ve talked to elsewhere. However, I think this familiarity leads to some acceptance of things that they should perhaps be a bit more concerned about. I heard, “Oh, that’s normal.” a lot. I even heard that when I found my engine drip pan half full of diesel, and the tray under the heater flowing over into a big pool of diesel on our new teak floor. I was told they all lead their overflow line to a sandwich box tray and keep an eye on it if their boat is not configured so the overflow line can be led directly back to the main fuel tank.

After another long conversation, I followed their advice to disassemble the metering valve of our brand new heater. It is a very simple device, a close cousin to a toilet tank. They were sure that it had debris in it picked in the tubing during installation. They also wanted me to check that the float hinges had not been bent by impact during shipping. I’d previously been told that banging on the valve at the beginning of the season or long shutdown period is SOP but this isn’t mentioned in the manual. During these conversations, I told them about my great experience with my Newport and they said, “Well, you were lucky.”, kind of a strange thing to say about your product.

When I opened up the valve, I found it pristine inside. No debris, no FO gunk, nothing. The float was also perfectly positioned. However, the plastic float had an overhanging burr edge and I could see faint scuff marks where it had rubbed on the casing during the long truck journey across the continent. With no fuel to dampen it, it would have rattled around pretty freely. When I pulled out the needle valve to check for debris in the valve seat, it moved freely but sliding it back and forth, it felt “burry”. I could clearly feel microscopic bumps of metal sliding over others and the slightest sideways pressure would prevent movement. The needle valve has flutes to act as guides while fuel flows through the grooves. The faces of the flutes had faint striations on them, possibly from rattling up and down dry during shipment. I took a Dremel tool with a polishing head and polished the flutes. I also sanded off the burrs on the corners of the plastic float. When I reassembled the heater, it worked perfectly. Not a drop of fuel has come out of the overflow line since.

I still love Dickenson heaters and their customer service is old time great but, as I told them, I had to finish their manufacturing process for them. They said they were glad things worked out and would pass my findings along but no apology for two days of marina bills and hours spent covered with diesel working on a brand new piece of equipment we spent thousands for.

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Old 12-15-2015, 09:46 AM   #2
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Your tome is the perfect example of how boaters that know how to fix things have a better experience than those relying on manufacturers/yards/field techs. Good for you for fixing that. I know the satisfaction it brings. And yes, I often wonder how some manufacturers/service providers survive in spite of their blatant shortcomings.

I have spent quite a few hours in a sailboat cockpit (this also applies to a flying bridge) at temperatures near or below freezing on my way to or from warmer climes. I put a high quality waterproof 12V outlet with good gauge wiring next to my helm seat. Under my foulies I wore a heated vest, the type bikers use. (I think Gerbing was the manufacturer) Worked like a charm to keep my core temp in the sizzly zone.

Of course a heated enclosed helm is even better..... hence my presence here.
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Old 12-15-2015, 10:10 AM   #3
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That is an interesting story of how the Dickenson people have come to accept the shortcomings of their product and how a fresh pair of eyes can show them up. That is a good lesson for almost every business in the world.


Great job in finding and correcting the problem.


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Old 12-15-2015, 10:51 AM   #4
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Great share, Roger. Also a great looking installation.....perfect corner. Was there any need for tiles behind or below?
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Old 12-15-2015, 10:55 AM   #5
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Roger,
You're experience w the Dickenson (or is it Dickinson) has probably happened to quite a few people as they all presumably get wrapped and shipped basically the same way. Most everybody seems to have some trouble w the brand .. or I should say type as there are several manufacturers making basically the same thing. I have a Sigmar but have never installed it. Perhaps another brand is on top of this stuff.

The fishermen in SE Alaska and many Alaskan pleasure boaters would not even think of any other heat source. So nobody can say "the damn thing dos'nt work". The only reason I don't have the oil stove is because I didn't want (mostly due to a time constraint) to tear up and modify my galley counter. So I put in a small Wabasto.

I've had some fueling issues w that one too but unlike you my service help was very good (Sure Marine). However the fix (for me) was not only plumbing but fuel type ... they recommended switching to kerosene .. and I did. Funny they didn't recommend that in the first place. They probably did and over the years I'd forgotten about it. My running problem was plumbing and the way I did it was not recommended in the installation instructions. I won't bore you w the details but I highly suspect that other brands that are frequently considered to be "rip-offs" are actually better in that they actually pay attention to details like your shipping/manufacturing issues.

I have been exposed to more than the usual amount of "aftermarket" and other small volume manufactured products that had issues that would be shocking for a mainstream manufacturer. It's to be expected but those that usually don't deal w this kind of product come all unglued when they encounter it.

Having said that (or those things) I would buy a product like the Dickinson or or any other product like it if I knew that they could be "post" manufactured to work great. I build things and modify things and even design some things myself so picking up the ball for someone else's mini business is just the cost of doing my own business.


Larry,
Most oil stoves in the PNW use SS sheet metal to insulate from the wall.
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Old 12-15-2015, 11:17 AM   #6
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Congrats for getting to the bottom of the issue, and for seeking excellence in how your heater operates. Way too many people just accept whatever is put in front of them. If you accept crap, then you will get crap.
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Old 12-15-2015, 01:44 PM   #7
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I would love an oil stove but then I'd have to shut it off in the summer which makes it pointless. I have a hurricane heater; I removed all the bus heaters except one which got a 24v muffin fan instead of a 12v so it runs very quietly and still pushes out heat. All the rest of the boat got radiators, which work beautifully, the head is like a sauna and is a lovely place for a shower. The galley got a large radiator which has wet coats and tea towels festooned all over it, usually, but it puts out the heat like a fireplace.

For those of you with bus heaters, try and run the fans at the slowest rate, you will still be warm but won't have to wear earplugs. Install resistors to slow them down?
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Old 12-15-2015, 02:17 PM   #8
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Xsbank wrote ...
"I would love an oil stove but then I'd have to shut it off in the summer which makes it pointless"
Not pointless at all. Even if you write off summer there's two boating seasons where the oil stove would definitely extend the boating year. If these hot summers continue nobody would miss the oil stove in the summer but it would be well loved in spring and fall. And the thermostat is windows. Turn down the stove a bit (not a lot as they don't run low well) and open as many windows as necessary. Efficient ?....... no but effective. And if windows aren't enough open hatches and doors. It works.
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Old 12-15-2015, 03:18 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by manyboats View Post
And the thermostat is windows.
Absolutely! The feeling when ports and hatches are open and that radiant heat is taking the slight chill and damp off is a nice an atmosphere as I I have ever experienced on a boat.
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Old 12-15-2015, 03:36 PM   #10
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Are these diesel heaters safe to run while underway? My boat currently has no heater and these Dickensons look like a nice way to heat the boat. At the dock we run small electric space heaters which work pretty good in our mild winters but use a LOT of electricity.

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Old 12-15-2015, 04:13 PM   #11
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Are these diesel heaters safe to run while underway?
NO! Nothing is "safe" underway. However, I ran my Newport 24 / 7 for weeks including times when there was a bow wave around the cabin trunk in some of the larger waves. I felt a lot safer being able to duck below and warm up a bit because it helps with fatigue and decision making. (This was on my sailboat).

A friend went through the Northwest passage last summer and wintered over in Dutch Harbor with a Newport. That didn't strike me as very safe either.
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Old 12-15-2015, 04:16 PM   #12
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A little unfair to a small company who still makes product in North America by hand with only two dozen employees. You get a detailed email or phone response, and they know their products and their shortcomings. I like the fact that they don't change them all the time, so they wont get obsolete. Buying a diesel stove is a bit of an an anachronism, anyways. They seem OK with letting their customers figuring out what is right for them. Took me a while to optimize my sock combination to get my Bean boots to feel just right too. 25 years later, I still wear them too.
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Old 12-15-2015, 04:19 PM   #13
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For those of you with bus heaters, try and run the fans at the slowest rate, you will still be warm but won't have to wear earplugs. Install resistors to slow them down?

I used a potentiometer.
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Old 12-15-2015, 05:46 PM   #14
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"Are these diesel heaters safe to run while underway?"

I had a Dickinson heater similar to the Newport on my sailboat in 1977, changed up when I bought a different sailboat in 1988, to a Dickinson Bristol diesel stove. Changed up again in 1995, when I modified my trawler by throwing out the big propane stove and installing a Fab-All Diesel stove, same as a Dickinson Pacific. I have run them all while underway. The only one I ever had trouble with is the one on the trawler, as it took me a while to get the draft right in a headwind. I succeeded with 6ft of outside chimney and I run the combustion fan on a higher setting in a breeze. The biggest problem is educating the crew to not depressurize the cabin in a headwind with the stove on. This happens when the side doors get left open and the low pressure will pull a downdraft into the combustion chamber, sometimes putting out the flame and then pulling smoke into the cabin. Not pleasant! But it hasn't happened for quite a while.

Xs: I replaced the propane stove with the diesel stove and a 2 burner counter top propane unit (Force ten) so in the hot week of summer we can still cook without heating up the cabin. The rest of the year the diesel stove is great. It cooks and keeps us warm.

Eric: Fab-All was started by Dickinson ex employees, so they didn't need to re-invent anything. Dickinson owns Fab-All now and last I saw, were still offering the round heater that I think is the one you bought.
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Old 12-16-2015, 01:51 AM   #15
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I too have a Dickinson, The Pacific, stove. It's run in all weather including rough, to us, weather.

Roger Long. YOur comments about the needle valve are good. If someone else has a problem with too much overflow then maybe they can benefit. I've not had your problem but then the only time my valve ever left the plant , I carried and installed it. It hadn't the shipping exposure to roughen edges. I will however take a look at mine.

Thanks
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Old 12-16-2015, 06:51 AM   #16
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The Dickinson line is made for sail as well as power .

The instructions include the method to install for use underway at good angles of heel..

The usual hassle with the Dickinson is folks attempting to have it function with the wrong smoke head.

The H style may cost more bit it does work 24/7/365.
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