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Old 10-06-2015, 10:33 AM   #1
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Heating vs Winterizing

This is a general question for folks in the mid section of the US where it gets cold in the winter, but not too cold for too long. I'm curious how many don't fully winterize and how you keep the boat warm.

I'm in Memphis, so it doesn't really get cold here until February, but the last few winters have seen temperatures overnight as low as 10F or so.

Last year I had a 34 foot trawler and I would only winterize the generator (sat on the cockpit) and the washdown lines. I'd leave the engine, interior water system, and AC system unwinterized so that I could use the boat year round. I had a bilge heater by the engine and a radiator heater near the in cabin water lines (both on automatic thermostats). I kept portable, battery powered thermostats at various points in the boat to monitor low temperatures and they never got below freezing. I live near the boat so I could get to it in the event of a power outage.

I now have a 46 footer that has a more complicated setup. I will be winterizing the engines, generator, and washdown pumps, but I'd like to keep interior water and AC systems available. I now have a lot more space and "watered" areas (multiple heads, kitchen, etc.) to keep heated, so what is the best method? Several ceramic heaters? What about diesel heaters? I know nothing about those... I have the old style turn nob handles for my AC system, so I can't just set it to come on when it gets below say 40F or so.


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Old 10-06-2015, 12:15 PM   #2
City: Tri Cities, WA
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It sounds like your winter temps are similar to ours. We get a few days of 10* weather but for the most part our winter is in the upper 30's to 40's.

We boat during the winter months so all I do is drain and blow out all the fresh water lines and we use gallon jugs of water to flush, wash, etc. Then I put a BoatSafe heater in the engine room and a half dozen of those small, 1500W heaters throughout the boat. I leave 'em on the 750W setting and set the thermostats so they keep the boat just about 40*. I also close the sea cocks, drain the glass "jugs" on the cooling water hoses and hang bright red "DO NOT USE" tags on the shifters so I know not to start the engines.

When we want to take the boat out it only takes a few minutes to open the sea cocks, and then drain them again after we're back in the slip.

Mike and Tina
Beachcomber 1995 Sea Ray 550 Sedan Bridge
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Old 10-06-2015, 12:21 PM   #3
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I live in a similar climate in northeastern NC. The temp always gets down to the mid teens once or twice each year. When it does the water temp gets down to the mid 30s.

So forget about reverse cycle A/C heating the boat. They don't work below about 40.

I use a couple of small electric heaters on low temperature switches. That keeps the boat at a minimum of 35 and doesn't use too much power- about $30-40 in the coldest month. So I would do that for your 46'er as well. Sea water freezes at several degrees lower temp than fresh, so if whatever you do is ok for the fresh water system, it will be ok for the engine and genset. Unless you keep your boat in fresh water.

But you do need a plan for power outages. My first line of defense is to fire up the genset, heat up the boat with the electric heaters going full blast and then turn it off overnight. Start it up again in the morning and keep doing this twice every 24 hours until the power comes back.

If for some reason the genset won't start, then I will start the propulsion engine to help run the inverter while I use its power to run the A/C long enough to winterize it and then everything else. The odds of no power and no genset start are low enough that I can live with this approach.

Diesel heaters are fine if you need one for living aboard in cold weather, but I wouldn't install one just for freeze protection.

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Old 10-06-2015, 12:45 PM   #4
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Assuming the boat will stay in the water... Everything below the waterline in a boat takes its temperature off the hull, so if the water never freezes (a thin "skin" on the surface for day or two doesn't count as a "freeze), neither will the contents of any tank that's below--or mostly below--waterline, nor any plumbing that's below waterline.

That also holds true for engines and gensets. So I wouldn't winterize anything...I never did. In the event a hard freeze is predicted, you can always spend the night on the boat with a couple of ceramic up the genset and engines once around midnight long enough to warm them up and go to bed. I did that once or twice the first year we owned a boat big enough to stay in the water.
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Old 10-06-2015, 01:19 PM   #5
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Thanks all for the input. The boat does stay in the water (fresh) and I agree with you Peggie that I should be good with the items in the bilge area as I have never seen the water freeze around the boat. However, this boat has 2 big engines and it freaks me out that something may happen to them, hence the thought of winterizing them. My other boat had an old engine and it wouldn't be the end of the world if I replaced it, but these are a different story. My method of winterizing for the generator is to run pink stuff through it and then hook it back up so that I only need to turn the sea cock to use it. That allows me to quickly fire it up if needed in the case of a power outage.

I'm considering buying a couple of small thermostat controlled bilge heaters, one for the sea cock compartment in the front bunk/head and one to go by the water tanks in the aft cabin (under the bed, heater between the rudders).

So 3 bilge heaters and 3 ceramic headers (2 heads and kitchen sink area) on thermostat switches. I'm guessing this is probably overkill.
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Old 10-06-2015, 02:51 PM   #6
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We lived aboard our boat for a few winters here in NC, and half of another winter when we moved back on land about 45 minutes from the boat. The best items we had were immersion 1000w Phillips Temro ZeroStart block heaters on the engines with immersion 100 degree thermostats. By stuffing the ER vents, the lower level of the boat was kept dry and warm without the aid of any other heating or winterizing. We get some nice days here in the winter, so usually used the boat several times as well. Power never went out, but we were in a great marina whose staff would always advise of such things, including when they were turning off the freshwater due to subfreezing temperatures, which is fairly common. Yes, we do ge winter in eastern NC:

When we lived aboard, I had the generator in case power did go out, and it was equipped with a Wolverine pad heater, which a lot of folks swear by (and a great company to do business with, I might add, as is Phillips Temro).

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Old 10-06-2015, 03:39 PM   #7
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I'm in a similar climate as David, get some 10F nights. I drain my fresh water plumbing and run the engine and gen for a half hour if it is going to freeze hard that night. Residual heat keeps it safe. Resistance space heaters used if I am not going to be around. Some have settings down low like 40F which is handy. If tstat only goes to like 60F that is too high and wastes a bunch of power.

Have not had any problems, but boat is right behind the house so easy to check on things.
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Old 10-06-2015, 04:19 PM   #8
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Flynn, we have a similar climate in the Winter. Down in the teen's occasionally and some surface ice. I drain the potable water system, disconnect the suction and discharge hoses on the pump and run it dry. I use three of the radiator oil filled type electric heaters set on the freeze setting, and put some anti-freeze solution in the head. If the power goes off the heaters will still heat for a while, draining the Shurflow pump was learned the hard way, the plastic pump end is fragile. Have thought to protect the a/c heat pumps by circulating RV type anti-freeze thru them, may this Winter.
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Old 10-06-2015, 04:32 PM   #9
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Be sure to read your policy. Mine allows only UL or CSA listed heaters.
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Old 10-07-2015, 06:00 AM   #10
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A good winterizing allows YOU to sleep soundly when the temp drops and the electric at the marina is out for a week or two.

If your not a liveaboard its always interesting to go down to the boats after a cold snap, to see who sank.

There is NO downside to proper preperation.
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Old 10-07-2015, 07:19 AM   #11
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This when plastic thru hulls meet their fate,etc.
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Old 10-07-2015, 07:39 AM   #12
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We always start a project on the boat in early winter that keeps my mind off taking the boat out for a ride ,so we always winterize early . This year I have a few small projects but nothing that would stop us going out for the day and we get some good days during the winter . I'm going to try and keep from winterizing as long as we can this year . Most people on our dock don't winterize . We live 20 minutes from the boat.
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Old 10-07-2015, 08:49 AM   #13
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Being in Alaska, we are pretty well used to freezing temperatures

During our transition periods, spring and fall I think the temperatures are similar to what you folks in the lower 48 call winter.

This is the time when daytime temperatures rise into the 40's and night time temps get below freezing.

During that time I just leave one or more of the furnaces on. It's not that the boat will freeze up, as Peggy indicated but it makes for peace of mind.

We also have temperature sensors in both the cabin areas and the engine room. Even during the dead of winter the engine room temperature rarely falls below freezing.

We have 75W stick on oil pan heaters on each engine and for the really cold times I have a heater down in the bilge that turns on automatically, or I can remotely turn it off or on using my iphone.

One great trick is to seal off your engine room air intakes. I use pipe insulation that I just stuff around the outside air intakes. That helps considerably with engine room temps.
Kevin Sanders
Bayliner 4788
Seward, Alaska
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Old 10-07-2015, 10:09 AM   #14
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We survived the winterizing while Willy was on the hard for two winters. Don't ever want to do that again.

This winter we are in the water w a thermostat controled electric heater in the engine compartment. I modified my thermostat for the Wabasto so the turn on temp can be as low as 40F. Did that in Alaska. Once in AK we were frozen solid in 3" of ice. Willy is a heavy boat and dosn't move much when you step aboard but in 3" of ice she was as solid as the parking lot .... was very strange.

Will need to stay on top of power outages here in Puget Sound but the only thing I worry about is the covered moorage roof w lots of snow. It's survived many years so far (looks old) but I'm think'in in a really big snow I'll prolly go down and move the boat out to the transient float. Numerous marinas in the area have had collapsed roofs in heavy snows. Stuff happens.

But re the OP I'm much much more comfortable in the water. When I'm hauled out I pickle everything and use no heat.

North Western Washington State USA
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Old 10-07-2015, 11:00 PM   #15
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I liveaboard most of the time on the upper mis 283 mm. I winterize after thanksgiving usually in December and go home 250 miles away, it's to far to get back and check the boat on a regular basis. Our winters are harsher than Memphis or other areas that far south, the only heat in the boat for 3+ months are oil pan heaters on the mains and gen. I have padded covers for the engine room vents that help keep the warmth in. I did the same thing when I lived 27 miles from a previous boat that stayed in the water year round. The harbor gets several inches of ice and the river has froze over the last couple years so I use a Kasco de-icer to keep ice away from the hull. A 43' Hatteras sank in 2011 -2012 winter, the owner lived close, less than 10 miles and never winterized it. He used electric heaters and the power went off at the marina for 3 days, when the power came back on water started coming in eventually overcoming the bilge pumps. I never heard why he never checked on it. Good luck with your choice

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