How to Be a Winter Liveaboard
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This was the snowiest winter on record here in Boston.  Although this was my first winter as a boat owner and liveaboard, I feel like I have earned my stripes and learned a few things.  I want to pass this knowledge on to other newbies, as I had a tough time finding out certain things.

 

1. What kind of heat will I need?

I had to mention this first because for a long while I wasn’t sure if a diesel heater was really necessary.  I had done a lot of research and talked to a few people, but still wasn’t sure if it was worth the hefty expense.  I know of a couple of liveaboards here in Boston that used electric heaters.  One guy has a similar boat to mine.  He lived aboard for 7 years without a diesel heater.  Yes, a boat this size absolutely needs it.  Quite frankly, I have no clue how he did it.  He mentioned to me in a conversation that he has had hoses freeze and had to shut off certain parts of his boat.  But, even still, before my diesel heater was installed we had some pretty cold nights, and even with the electric heaters running it was cold.  I left the block heaters on all the time, because I wasn’t taking any chances with my engines and the electric bill was crazy because of it.  You can only put so much electric load on the system, so I could only run 4 electric heaters together without popping a breaker.  In January when we were in negative wind chills and single digit temperatures, there is no way we could have stayed on this boat without the diesel heater.

My Webasto keeps the boat warm and dry.  We had no condensation, no mold, and this boat is warmer than any house that I have ever lived in.  Plus, there is a heating element in each engine room and the generator compartment, so there is no need for the block heaters when the system is running.

Now, I must say, that if you have a smaller boat, a couple of electric heaters will do the trick.  Our neighbors have electric heaters and they are fine.  But, big boats like mine, will not be warm without a diesel heater.

I should probably add that if you are going to install a diesel heater, be sure that your fuel tanks are full.  I know it sounds obvious, but my neighbors installed a diesel heater at the same time that I did, but could only use theirs through February because they didn’t fill their fuel tanks.  For about a week they hauled diesel from the gas station, but gave up and plugged the electric heaters in.  They couldn’t just go get more fuel because they would have had to remove their shrink wrap and they weren’t willing to do that.  So, fill your tanks before you wrap.

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2. Should I shrink wrap?

I had already made up my mind that I would shrink wrap in the winter.  After all, this boat is in amazing condition, and the thought of snow on the deck made me cringe.  I spoke to a few boaters before winter hit.  One guy told me that although the shrink wrap keeps the snow of the boat, it doesn’t help at all with heat.  That was absolutely false.  The day that I had the shrink wrap installed, I immediately felt the difference, that same afternoon even.  It is the greenhouse effect.  It can be 10 degrees outside and as long as the sun is shining, the upper living level of this boat (salon, galley, pilothouse) will be at 87 degrees with no heat on.  You can sit on the foredeck, aft deck or flybridge in shorts and not be cold.  In fact, some days I would complain about it being to warm and have to open the pilothouse sliding doors and aft door to try and get air through.  You loose the view all winter, but it’s worth it to keep the boat in nice condition and to keep warm.

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3.  How do I get water to the boat?

Heat tape works!!!  All cold weather marinas have to shut the water off in the winter to the docks.  Otherwise, the pipes freeze and burst.  Some marinas, like ours, will run pex lines and drop them under the water, so that boaters have water in the winter.  All that you have to do, if you’re like me and use a lot of water and don’t want to have to fill your 350 gallon tank every 4 days (which takes an hour to fill) is attach a garden house to the pex fitting under the water, run a line of heat tape up the hose, secured with electric tape and cover with insulation.  Now, your water connection from under the water to the boat, wont freeze.  In theory, the water line won’t freeze while submerged in the harbor water.   But, of course, there is an exception.   I have learned that fresh water freezes at 32 degrees, but salt water freezes as 28.5 degrees.  In a normal winter the water stays above 32, but we had an unusually cold winter this year, so the water temperature in Boston Harbor dropped to about 29 degrees, which meant that although the harbor wasn’t frozen (at least were we are) the freshwater line did freeze in February.  I have learned a good lesson from this.  Always keep your freshwater tanks full, even if you are using dock water.  I awoke one morning and had no water.  I was surprised when I pulled the water line out of the harbor and saw that it was frozen.  It was Sunday, so the marina maintenance man wasn’t around.  I had very little water in my freshwater tanks.  I had to wait until Monday to fill my tanks from the spigot on the marina building with a very long hose.  I learned to keep them full at all times, because you never know when you might need them.  But, when March hit, the water temperature went back above 32 and our continuous water supply was back.  That day was a happy day.

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4. Storms-Are they scary?

Not really.  The bark is way worse than the bite.  I have a big boat, so we don’t have a lot of movement in storms, relatively speaking.  Some of my neighbors were bouncing and being knocked all about and I don’t think I would have been able to stay aboard with that much constant movement.  But, my kids didn’t even mention it.

The noise is bad.  Especially during your first big storm, you will think your boat is being torn apart.  But it is just the sound waves from the floating dock and pilings being bounced off the hull, making it seem like you are hitting something when your not.  It’s important to keep in mind, that many of these boats were designed to handle much worse.  After my first storm, and seeing that my boat was still in perfect condition afterwards, I knew what to expect and the noise didn’t worry me as much.

The biggest concern is to keep an eye out for any snapped lines.

 

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All in all, I would say that this was a great winter for us.  At least the best winter that I have ever had.  Now this is coming from someone who absolutely despises cold and snow, but having this boat, softened the blow.  I still hate winter, but it was fun being aboard, even though it was a record breaking season.  This was a crappy winter, but the best one that I have had because of the joy of owning the boat.  Now, I think that I should probably give a lot of credit to Hatteras.  I watched boats around me with frozen water tanks, mattresses frozen to hulls, busted water lines, cold air leaks and all kinds of winter related problems.  We didn’t have any.  Nothing froze, nothing broke, and no problems.  I expected there too be at least a few, but nothing.  This boat has absolutely exceeded my expectations.  Sonny told me many times that she is a “good boat” and he was so right.  I’m really beginning to understand why Hatteras has the reputation that it does, for having built these great “overbuilt” boats.  I am really happy that I chose to purchase a Hat, especially as a new boat owner.  I know that my decision, especially with this boat, was a good one.

 

How was your winter?  Love your feedback.  Leave a comment and your 2 cents!!!

Comments

How to Be a Winter Liveaboard — 4 Comments

  1. Our winter here in Souderton, Pa was bad so cold we had to constantly run the heat in our home. It is an old home and not very insulated. Too much snow! I repeat Too much snow! I like a flurry and even some on the ground to walk in a little bit, but this was ridiculous! Back to back snow storms in the same week, Awww! (thinking expletives now, but will not type them)
    Well I am sure if I had been in your situation with the boat I would have been happier, but worried until I weathered the storm. Glad you made it through safely Galaxy. I think I will revisit the boat issue later this year with my husband, for now we are looking for an apartment. I know we will have our day. God is good don’t you agree? God Bless to you and your Family. Talk to you soon.
    Kat

    • Katrina, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of too much snow. We had the snowiest winter on record here in Boston, over a hundred inches. Dreadful. I hope that you will be able to get your boat soon. Good Luck with the apartment search.

  2. Galaxy, well done on surviving your first winter. One of the reasons it was easier for you was that you had looked ahead and prepared. It is good that you have now passed this valuable knowledge on so others can use it so thank you.
    We are in the Med but even the winters here can be cold and very windy but we do not get freezing temperatures. Wood or coal burning stoves on boats are amazing keeping you warm and the boat dry.
    Now, you have an amazing summer and I look forward to reading more.

    • Yes Mark, you hit the nail on the head. It’s very important to plan ahead for winter. Wood burning stove, that would be fun to have. And love the aroma of burning wood.