Course How To

Houseboat Living - Winter Heating

Winter Houseboat Living Tips

Winter Houseboat Living Tips

We have a 45 ft Skipperliner Houseboat (not the boat in the picture) ----- what would be my options for heating for year round living here in Wisconsin.

Any help would be appreciated.

Advertise Houseboat Business Advertising
You can advertise here for pennies a day!
Are you a boating related business and want to
increase sales and profits with targeted traffic?
Act now to get our 1/2 price sale, limited offer

Reply - Answer
Well, living on a houseboat during the winter is not for the faint a heart. It is generally reserved for real houseboaters who would rather live on the water, than live on land.

You don't mention if the water freezes, so I will presume that it does in Wisconsin, USA. The usual thermopump AC/Heating systems loose efficiency if they water goes below 35 degrees F. Some of the units come pre-installed with 1500 watt heater elements inside, and don't require lake water being pumped through them.

You could possibly use a Diesel Heater or Propane Cabin Heaters.
One other choice would be 120 volt electrical heaters, however they draw 12-14 amps each multiplied by the number of 1500 watt heaters. Could be costly in terms of electricity.

If your looking for other ideas, be sure to have a look at our page on Winter or Cold Climate Houseboat Living Tips.

Hopefully some of our readers will share and post comments about their winter houseboat living experiences.

IAN from all-about-houseboats

Free Bonus Offer

To show our deep appreciation to all of our readers and visitors, here is the link to our free houseboat magazine, the INSIDER. Go ahead click the book and sign-up, it's free and filled with great articles, tips, information and website updates.

free Houseboat Magazine - The Houseboat Insider

Comments for Houseboat Living - Winter Heating

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Installing a pellet stove
by: Anonymous

I'm interested in putting a pellet stove on board. I've got one that's approved for mobile homes in Canada and the U.S.

The walls in a mobile home are the same as a houseboat. Has anyone installed a pellet stove on their houseboat?

Thanks for the replies!
by: Anonymous

Good ideas, all, but we're not thinking of living aboard - I just want to warm the engine compartment to keep it above about 30 degreesF with both a dock-power heater and with a 12v backup in case we lose dock power.

Our lake never freezes but the winter wind can play havoc with a steel-hulled vessel. I will continue to winterize the head, the water lines and the shower, but I want to be sure the twin 318's don't freeze up and I also want to be able to start them up for a 20-minute "impeller" run every couple weeks.

Guess what I need are a couple low-tech heaters (110V and 12V) to do the job, but I want to be sure they are marine grade - that's what has me stumped so far.

12V Engine Compartment heaters
by: Jim McCarthy

My 40' River Queen has twin 318's and is in a covered slip on Table Rock Lake in Southern Missouri. I'm thinking of putting a heater in the engine compartment instead of winterizing it this year.

I'm concerned about a long-term power failure in the marina that could create a problem, so I'm looking for a 12V heater with a thermostat in case the main heater loses dock power.

The backup will run on a 168 Ahr maintenance-free battery I have that could be kept at full charge with a small solar panel, or by a maintainer run on dock-power.

Bottom line is the battery should be enough to power the backup heater for a day or two until dock power is re-established, or until I can get there with a portable generator.

What I'm needing is a small 12V heater suitable for marine use. Any suggestions?

Try winter heating with a Marine type cookstove
by: Anonymous

Back around 1960 my wife and I took our new purchase, the 39' Mary Beth, out of the Vancouver Yacht Club, to moor for the next five years as a live aboard on the Pitt River.

We used to say that when we retired we would go back to living on the water. I am 78 now, living comfortably up in Aberdeen, Kamloops. We never got back but we still have the wonderful winter and summer memories.

The big secret? Although our boat had radiators, pipes and a good propane heating system, we never bothered to use it because we installed a diesel burning cook stove and fan.

To make a long story short, the type of heat made winter live aboard life an absolute delight and I would recommend it to anyone.

Houseboat Living - how to provide winter heat
by: Anonymous

I went with a LP RV type installed furnace with insulated duct work run down the gunnel to registers. A couple electric heaters in cold corners cause I could not get duct work run everywhere - they only ran intermittently.

Older boat? 3M weather proof window cover on inside and outside of all but one or two small windows for fresh air - put a spacer between film and window on large outside windows otherwise film may cling to window and you can't see out too good. I used rotating 40 lb lb cylinders.

There is a place up in Redwing that used to have several live aboards in the winter - they setup a large lp tank in the parking lot and ran individual lines to the boats .

Each line had a meter so they could tell how much everyone used - this would be cheaper on the LP and also the chiropractic bills from throwing the back out hauling all the cylinders - LOL.

Whatever you do - do not - and I will repeat - do not even think about putting a ventless lp heater in the boat - you probably won't kill yourself cause you will still have air leaking in - but you will pretty much soak the whole boat/walls/insulation/ect with water.

LP has a lot of water in it and the condensation from a unvented heater will soak your boat. Actual after long enough it will start rotting wood in the walls.

Rememeber there is no insulation in most boat walls and that means the condensation point is somewhere between the inside surface and the outside surface of the wall.

Oh - What else. Keep some of the spray windshield de-icer on board - doors have a tendency to drip condensation from moisture created during cooking/breathing/etc. If it drips down in the door track and its real cold out it can freeze and your locked in until you thaw it out.

Bubble the boat - not good to freeze in solid and live on it Keep that engine hatch covered so you can clear it and get to the engine compartment fast in case you loose power for a long duration and have to fire up the generator.

You may have to get down there - I never heated the engine compartment some people do - make sure you get an approved heater if you do - there are fumes back there.

There is a lot to consider - if your on a wood dock make sure the nails or screws are driven all the way into the wood - you wouldn't believe how aggravating it is when you try to shovel snow and every 12 inches you hit a nail or screw head.

Anyhow - Go for it - you will love it!

More later, Ray (sorry for the sloppy spelling- trying to watch CMA at same time - least that's my excuse)

Ray, thanks for the great detailed information as there are many readers and visitors that would like to spend winters on their boats.

Spending time in a cold vs freezing climate are two scenarios that many boaters are considering.

Thanks again, IAN from

Houseboat Living - winter heating
by: Ray

I lived aboard for 7 years, year around in Illinois. Great life, even in the dead of winter. I bought two LP catalytic built in heaters for my '40 RQ.

Pulled all the paneling and put in 2" styrofoam board in the walls and ceiling. Had an LP range already in when I bought the fine boat so I went from the usual 20# tanks to twin 30# tanks.

They would last about a month. I did have a third on hand and always kept a full one in the holders. Then you can pick and chose when you have to make the refill run.

Only time I had to use electric backup was the first winter when it got down to 20 below for two weeks with the highs only 10 below or zero.

As a retired professional firefighter and 10 year full time fire/arson investigator, I would NOT have a wood burning anything on my boat. Too many things can go wrong and could cost you your life.

I have read where some of the responses elsewhere have said LP or propane is dangerous on a boat. This is not so if properly installed using good copper tubing in conjunction with flared fittings for the copper. The copper tubing must be secured well if it runs though the bilge or walls so there is little to no vibrations in it.

If it is the atmosphere you are after with a wood burner, I would suggest a good quality electric fireplace. They come in many styles and sizes.

Good luck on your living aboard, 'nuthin like it.
Oh, one more thing. Like the gentleman said above, you will need bubblers or the ones with a little prop on a motor with a cage around the prop.

For your boat size, three should do nicely. And make sure they are grounded so you don't have to fight electrolysis.

Enjoy, Ray

Ray, thanks for such a great post and winter heating information.
IAN from

Live on a Houseboat - northern winter live aboard
by: Old Houseboater

(surely not every item)

1. Bubbler for the hull

2. As much insulation as possible. Including interior of hull. (temporary)

3. Plastic sheeting system on all windows.

4. 220 volt 50 amp power

5. Minimum of (7) 1500 watt heaters (4 oil filled and 3 ceramic). Figure using 1 oil filled in the bilge.

6. Wiring modified to safely support above.

7. 10 KW standby generator on the dock for power outages.


1. Propane RV furnace/s. Upside is only 12 volt DC power is required. Down side is Propane handling on slippery dock and cost.

2. Diesel Sailboat heaters are also a possibility.

3. Don't think ANY marina would allow a wood heater.


1. Reliable water supply

2. Reliable source of black water disposal. Carrying a Port a Potty down a slippery dock for disposal is a real PITA.


This question is asked every season. TRULY it is location specific. The best answers can come from people that have/had previous experience in the location you plan on living at.

Most people who do this, do it only once. Most don't last an entire season. In areas as far north as you are it's an expensive proposition.

We are originally from Michigan. We had 1 guy do this in the 70s. He was the marina owners son. Didn't do it again.

If your the type of person that can afford it, and wants to do it for the adventure, GO FOR IT.

BE SURE tell us how it went.

Houseboat Heating - stoke the stove?
by: Anonymous

I was wondering if anyone uses a small wood stove to heat their houseboat. I am considering installing one in the the boat I will be buying ( a 1971 Sea Going Houseboat).

Click here to add your own comments

Return to Tips on Houseboat Living.

Continue Reading Our Popular Pages

Our collection of houseboat ebooks

Ebook Boats Collection on Houseboat Books

We just love houseboats, do you?
Join our monthly HB Insider for free

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.