Whilton Marina - Heating Systems Available For Narrow Boats
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Mon Dec 9, 2013 at 11:58am

Heating Options For A Narrow Boat

There are basically three heating options available to the boater which can be used together or separately. A diesel fired central heating system such as Eberspacher, Webasto, Mikuni or a Gas system such as Alde and Ellis used with a multi fuel stove. 

Traditionally working narrow boats would have used multi fuel stoves and this is still the most popular option on boats today. They run off coal or wood and are easy to install and use. Many boat owners choose to use a multi fuel stove for effect and a diesel system or gas system for day to day use therefore benefiting from both systems.

How you choose to heat your narrow boat is down to personal choice and hopefully if you are thinking of either buying a narrow boat or fitting a heating system into a narrow boat this simple guide will explain the options available to you and how they work.

Multi Fuel Stoves

Multi Fuel stoves work through dry heat and therefore the fire draws any condensation from the boat. These stoves are different from wood burning stoves as they are able to burn both wood and coal. When fitting a stove there are some considerations to bear in mind. There are many different styles of stoves on the market varying in size, shape and colour. Popular makes include Morso Squirrel, Aarrow, Torgem, and Boatman.


  • Space – When deciding where to place your stove make sure that it won’t cause an obstruction near exists and near steps. It goes without saying, but make sure the stove is away from soft furnishings, like curtains, beds, sofas, dog beds, and log baskets etc.
  • Size – It is hugely important to make sure you have the correct Kilo Watts rating as this will determine the amount of heat you will get from the stove. So for example a 57 foot boat would need a 3 KW stove to heat it efficiently.
  • Installation – The hearth, stove and chimney all need to be fixed firmly into place. The stove must comply with the Boat Safety Scheme. Always use a professional to carry out the installation and also follow the manufactures instructions.
  • Ventilation – The stove will need fresh air to burn safely. Have a completely open vent of 550mm² (about 1” square) for each 1kW of stove output, preferably divided between 2 vents at roof and floor level
  • Alarms – Fit a smoke alarm and a CO alarm inside your boat. Check your alarms regularly if you are living on the boat check the alarms weekly and never remove the batteries and always replace when they are drained of power.
  • Heat Protection Panel – This will need to be fitted behind the stove, as the stove can get hot enough to set fire to paint or wood. The fire board can then be tiled for an attractive finish.
  • The Hearth – Needs to be made of a sturdy non-flammable material, tiles are often a popular choice which match or compliment the tiles behind the stove. The floor covering should be at least 225mm in front and 150mm to each side of the stove OR have a high lip.
  •  The Chimney – For safety reasons the chimney needs to be fully insulated inside and outside this keeps the smoke hot so it rises and allows the stove to work effectively. It needs to be 3/4 of its diameter away from unprotected combustibles. The chimney should be installed in a straight upright position and never have any horizontal lengths. Follow the manufactures guide when fitting the chimney.

Oil Stove Also known as “natural draft oil burner”

These stoves from the outside look like a multi fuel stove and are available to buy with a back burner if required. Two popular makes are Bubble and Kabola. The stoves run from the same diesel tank that is used for the engine.

Around 10 years ago when diesel was very cheap (around 19p a litre) these stoves were very much in demand. Now they are not as popular due to the rising cost in diesel and many boat owners choose to replace an oil burner stove with a multi fuel burning option, which is easy to do as they are very similar in appearance.

It is a little tricky lighting the stove and compared to a multi fuel stove they offer less heat. If you drop a match into diesel it will go out so there’s a bit of an art to lighting the stove. Another issue can be if you create very high yellow flame’s these will cause a lot of sooting. The stove works by letting diesel drip slowly onto a tray inside the stove. By placing some tissue paper or small pieces of fire lighter’s inside the stove, then using a piece of fire lighter which has been light you place this in the stove in a cage called a catalyst. Once the diesel is turned on using a tap and reaches the fire lighter it heats and ignites the stove.

Diesel Fired Central Heating

This system works in the same way as a home boiler and similar to rural properties that heat their homes using oil central heating. The 3 brands for this type of heating are Eberspacher, Webasto and Mikuni all of which will heat your radiators and hot water they are of a similar price.

The system is referred to as a sealed system and is virtually maintenance free. Just requiring a yearly service by a qualified heating engineer, the costs for this service will vary but an approx. cost would be £200 plus the costs of any new parts that are required. The radiators will need to be bleed and in really cold weather you need to check the anti-freeze density, this should be 30% anti-freeze and 70% water. If your boat is left empty for periods of time it is important that this check is carried out to reduce the chance of the pipes bursting!

A diesel fired central heating system is easy to use, control and manage and compatible to use with timers. If you are thinking of installing this system onto your boat depending on how many radiators are installed and the complexity of the system a guide price would be approximately £1500 and around the same price for the actually installation.

Gas Central Heating

This option runs from bottled gas, the bottles are stored in the front of the narrow boat in a gas locker and the gas is controlled by the gas regulator which is found on the top of the bottles. Also a sealed system and will heat the hot water and radiators. This option doesn’t have a timer option but does have a thermostat.

The two brands available are called Alde and Ellis. If you are thinking of having this option fitted an approx. cost would be £1700 and £1500 for the installation.

You will be required to collect your gas from a chandlery or in some areas there are floating suppliers who can supply you with coal, logs and gas. As with the diesel option you will need to have a qualified gas fitter service the boiler annually, ask them to provide their Gas Safe Register ID card if they don’t have this they are breaking the law and putting you at risk.

If you need any more help or advice when it comes to how to heat your narrow boat please give us a call on 01327 842577 all our team are experienced and are on hand to advise and help. Please feel free to share this article with your friends and family.


Rachel Paton | Sat Nov 1, 2014 at 7:07am
hi do you fit sell and fit woodburners or can you recommened a fitter thank you
Whilton Marina | Wed Nov 12, 2014 at 11:44am
You can buy a solid fuel stove from any narrowboat chandler such as our on site chandlery; Whilton Marina Chandlery. Wherever you buy the stove from will advise you of a local fitter.
Roger Lovelock | Wed Dec 3, 2014 at 11:32am
Can you use an ethanol burner in a narrowboat
Whilton Marina | Tue Dec 9, 2014 at 3:57pm
We wouldn't advise you to use an ethanol burner for safety reasons, as the flame is usually naked and the appliance may get very hot and not pass a Boat Safety Cerificate examination. A BSC examiner would be able to advise you on this.
Leonard Hall | Tue Oct 13, 2015 at 10:45pm
Does all the flue on the inside of a narrowboat have to be insulated or can there be a small amount from the fire that's not insulated
Whilton Marina | Mon Oct 26, 2015 at 1:12pm
The flue inside is not normally insulated so to allow heat to radiate from the flue inside, but the flue is sometimes double skinned. The stove must be fitted to comply with Boat Safety Scheme standards. Always use a professional to carry out the installation and also follow the manufactures instructions.
Steve sinfield | Thu Nov 26, 2015 at 1:33pm
Can you use heating oil in a squirrel diesel burner.
Whilton Marina | Tue Dec 15, 2015 at 3:55pm
No you can't use heating oil in a Squirrel diesel burner, you should use diesel, the same type as you would use for your narrowboat engine. You need to declare how much you are using for running the engine and how much you are using for your heating when purchasing the diesel as the Duty paid is less for heating, this is usually done on a 60/40 ratio.
graham james | Wed Mar 16, 2016 at 8:53pm
The attraction of a dual fuel heater is obvious for a narrowboat, not only for the price but for its traditional appearance. The problem of waking on a cold morning and having to go through the motions of cleaning out the previous days ashes/cinders before getting it reloaded and properly alight however makes it less desirable. Is it a realistic proposition to bank it up in the evening and expect that it will remain alight through the night ?
Whilton Marina | Wed Mar 23, 2016 at 12:19pm
If the stove is burning really well and the fire is well established, you can bank it up before going to bed and it might still be alight by morning. however you should take into account safety aspects and fit the boat with a CO2 alarm and a smoke alarm.
Laura | Sat May 14, 2016 at 5:31pm
Hi,I want to fit a multipurpose stove on the same side of the boat that the gas pipes run (along the gunwale). Is this possible?Thanks
janice oldham | Thu May 19, 2016 at 12:59pm
the bricks inside my fire are cracked will this affect my boat safety examination
Whilton Marina | Mon May 23, 2016 at 2:31pm
Hi LauraYes a multifuel stove can be on the same side of the boat as the gas pipes, however it may be prudent to cover the pipes with some wood and heat resistant lined.
Whilton Marina | Mon May 23, 2016 at 2:33pm
Hello Janice,No cracked brick will not affect a boat safety examination.
Liam Manchester | Tue Aug 2, 2016 at 8:58am
A useful guide to heating. I have a question regarding Eberspacher type diesel heaters. Are there any extra safety considerations when fitting this type of heater to highly flamable fibreglass boats?
Whilton Marina | Tue Aug 2, 2016 at 2:16pm
Hello Liam, we only sell steel narrow boats so are not able to answer your question about firbreglass boats unfortunately. Best to speak with a qualified boat safety examiner about this.
Max Gains | Fri Aug 12, 2016 at 1:47am
Hi how much does it cost to run a multi fuel stove compared to the Eberspacher type diesel heaters per month/week and would you be cold with just a multi fuel stove? Thanks
Whilton Marina | Tue Aug 16, 2016 at 2:37pm
Hello Max, there is not a huge difference in costs of runnung a diesel Eberspacher boiler, compared to a solid fuel stove, however you may find the heat more even using radiators, which can be via a backboiler on a solid fuel stove or via a heating boiler, It is personal preference really.
Annie | Thu Sep 1, 2016 at 3:07pm
Hi - we currently have a multi-fuel stove on our widebeam, but are not allowed to use this on our current mooring due to smoke on start-up (even if we are smokeless after that). How does an oil stove compare on start-up, and running, in terms of smoke? Many thanks.
Rob Taylor | Fri Sep 16, 2016 at 12:47pm
HiHow much would it approximately be to supply & fit an Eberspacher to a 58'narrow boatAll the radiators & pipe work is all connected & in good orderThanksRob
Whilton Marina | Tue Sep 20, 2016 at 1:21pm
Hello Annie if you mean diesel stove, these will still emit a certain amount of smoke. They work by allowing diesel to drip feed onto a tray inside the stove, this is lit by using a small piece of firelighter and lighting to start the fire. Basically you light the piece of fire lighter and drop it into the stove, drop in a cage called the catalyst which will shape the flame once its lit, then turn the diesel tap on, as the diesel slowly reaches the firelighter it heats and the vapour ignites.
Whilton Marina | Tue Sep 20, 2016 at 3:02pm
Hi Rob, approximate costs to supply & fit an Eberspacher boiler on a narrowboat, where all the pipe work and radiators are already fitted and in good working order would be around £1,500-£2,000
Dennis Lynch | Tue Oct 4, 2016 at 6:44am
Hi I have a 60ft wide beam with a webasto it is now a boutique 15 years old and has had just about everything replaced on it. It is mounted in the engine bay so it gets damp which makes it totally unreliable in shear frustration we are changing it is the Mikuni any less susceptible to damp.Many thanks
paul | Thu Oct 6, 2016 at 1:38pm
how much to buy & fit a multifuel stove in a 35ft boat
Whilton Marina | Wed Oct 26, 2016 at 4:07pm
Hello PaulThe cost of intalling a stove on a narrowboat depends on which stove you install as costs can vary enormously, however you should budget in the region of £1,000.
Whilton Marina | Tue Nov 1, 2016 at 4:18pm
Hello Dennis, The majority of times, diesel heating systems are situated in the engine compartment on a narrowboats, but can be re-located into the boat if the configuration of the layout allows for the diesel feed to the boiler. We recommend you speak to an experts, we use Roy at DaysAfloat Braunston for all our diesel heating issues.
Mark | Fri Dec 2, 2016 at 4:55pm you know how much oil a bubble stove uses per day ?
Whilton Marina | Mon Dec 5, 2016 at 2:46pm
Hello Mark, I have taken the following information from Bubble's website; 'The Bubble diesel stove features a front mounted oil control valve with easy access to the control knob, it uses a more economical burner which will run at 3cc's (.18 of a litre per hour) on minimum firing rate and 8cc's (.48 of a litre per hour) on maximum firing rate' For further information contact Bubble, by copying this into a web browser:
Tony Worth | Sat Dec 10, 2016 at 8:10am
I used to be an NHBC builder, trained in ACOPS gas fitting many years ago and used to be corgi reg, So I built many homes twenty years ago fitting full central heating systems including tradition brick-built fires and flues. I want fit a heating system in my narrowboat using my own labour, which system can I fit legally as an experienced person? (I know I cannot legally fit gas anymore) I do want to do all the work myself, a matter of pride, but I also want to be legal . Regards Tony.
Whilton Marina | Wed Jan 4, 2017 at 12:13pm
Hello TonyYou can fit electric or diesel heating systems in a narrowboat, as long as you get the work signed off by a qualified boat safety examiner as safe. Gas systems need to be fitted by a qualified Gas Safe engineer.
Carol | Wed Mar 15, 2017 at 8:50pm
Hi... how much would it cost to fit a 60ft boat with central heating from scratch?
Whilton Marina | Mon Mar 20, 2017 at 1:17pm
Hello Carol, depending on how many radiators you wanted. The cost to fit central heating on a 60ft narrowboat from scratch would be in the region of £2,000 to fit an Eberspacher or Webasto.
mick perring | Sun Sep 10, 2017 at 8:38pm
Hi,,, is it possible to fit a coal fire with a back boiler to an existing Webasto system and still be able to use both systems independently
Whilton Marina | Mon Sep 18, 2017 at 3:27pm
Hi Mick, Its probably best to speak to Webasto about your query regarding fitting a coal fire with a backboiler to your existing Webasto system, we are sure they will advise you.
George | Tue Dec 5, 2017 at 2:58pm
I will be building a 55 by 10 foot Dutch motor.It will be permanently moored, used for accommodation only for tourists.I am trying to get my head around the most economical way to heat all the water in the boat. I don’t want gas on the boat. The system needs to be running 24/7 365 days a year. So it is either electric or diesel. And withought noise. Ther will be 2 showers in the boat . I am thinking of skirting heating to avoid radiators and underfloor heating in both shower areas. What would you suggest and at what kind of cost.
Whilton Marina | Wed Dec 13, 2017 at 4:46pm
The best system to use would be a Webasto diesel unit, it will do your hot water and heating while running from the diesel tank that supplys the engine. The systems are very economical and cost around £2,000 plus fitting, you will also need to add radiators and calorifier for the system to work.
Jean | Sat Feb 3, 2018 at 12:37pm
I would like to fit a diesel system. Do sell and fit the system.? Or Could you recommend a fiter. I am in Hertfordshire.
Whilton Marina | Tue Feb 6, 2018 at 12:50pm
Hi Jean, We do not sell or fit diesel central heating systems. We use a local contractor called Roy at Days Afloat, you can contact him via this number - 07733 010790
Jean | Thu Feb 8, 2018 at 5:10pm
I have been advised by my local marina diesel powered central heating can not be left on for long periods. Does it clogs up!,I thinkYou must be a man after my own heart helping people with yourknowledge.
Jo Barnes | Fri Feb 23, 2018 at 9:02pm
Is there a system that does not need mains electric, and can be used when away from a mains supply please.
Whilton Marina | Thu Mar 1, 2018 at 1:51pm
Hi Jo, all diesel powered central heating systems i.e Webasto, Eberspacher run of the 12 volt from your leisure batteries
neil | Wed Jun 6, 2018 at 1:52pm
How much is a new esbacher heater unit likely to cost as I think mine has had it as it is very noisy and keeps cutting out.It is about 12 years old.It's a hydroponic 5kw
Whilton Marina | Mon Jun 18, 2018 at 3:17pm
Hello Neil, an Eberspacher boiler costs in the region of £1,200 to 1,500 excluding fitting.
Henri | Thu Jun 21, 2018 at 9:36am
I want to replace my Morso Coal Burner for a Diesel much will it cost and who can do it. I am in Chester.
Whilton Marina | Tue Jun 26, 2018 at 12:57pm
Hello Henri, If you mean you want to change your solid fuel stove to a diesel stove, the cost of the stove can be anything from £450 to £1,000 depending on size and design of stove required. Cost of fitting the stove depends on what work is required, and we would advise you ask a local company for quotes to fit the stove.
Catherine Buckley | Sun Nov 4, 2018 at 2:47am
Have you any advice on installing a bio-ethanol stove on a Narrowboat
Whilton Marina | Tue Nov 20, 2018 at 4:24pm
Hello Catherine, we would advise you to check with the manufacturer of the bio-ethanol stove to check that it's suitable to use on a boat before installing
Pam | Thu Jul 4, 2019 at 4:02pm
Hi our calorifer is leaking. What is the cost of supplying and fitting a new one.
Whilton Marina | Mon Jul 8, 2019 at 12:33pm
Hello Pam. the cost of a calorifier depends on the size, they run from £300-£625. The cost of fitting a new calorifier depends on how much work is required to fit it, (each boat is individual) however a days labour costing around £400 at a marina, plus parts should suffice.
Giuseppe Maniaci | Mon Sep 2, 2019 at 2:22pm
Hello! I have a question about hybridizing the heating system in my boat. I have a woodburner and a gas heating system. So, I wonder if I could replace my current stove with one that I can connect to the radiators that are already fitted, but currently running just on gas. Or would I need separate radiators for that? The idea is to use the stove mainly, and save on gas. Thank you
Whilton Marina | Mon Sep 2, 2019 at 3:17pm
Hello Giuseppe, It is possible to run radiators from a woodburner by adding a backboiler to the existing stove (backboiler to be supplied from the stove manufacturer to ensure compatibility). However a backboiler on a stove will not be sufficient to run any more than one or maybe two radiators.
Brian Ferris | Mon Sep 9, 2019 at 5:24pm
My boat has a very complicated controller for the heating and hot water (provided by a diesel boiler.) I would like to replace it with a much simpler controller which can be set to come on at the same time every morning and also switched on manually as and when required. Can you recommend one?
Whilton Marina | Tue Sep 10, 2019 at 12:37pm
Hello Brian, We would advise you to get the advice of a heating engineer with regards to changing your heating controller, as we are not heating experts and the controller would need to be compatible to your heating system.
Simon Pascall | Sat Oct 12, 2019 at 6:24am
What options are there to supply the hot water to s shower and sinks from any of the heating systems described above. Can any of them provide instant on demand hot water.
Whilton Marina | Mon Oct 14, 2019 at 1:09pm
Hello Simon, A solid fuel stove would not provide hot water. The other heating options mentioned in our blog are all able to provide hot water, although not instant. An instant water heater such as a Paloma or Morco would supply instant hot water.
han smith | Fri Jan 31, 2020 at 10:28am
I have an Alde comfort boiler that runs off LPG and serves 3 radiators in a 42ft narrowboat. Id like to change 1 radiator over but cant trace the pipes (they run behind sealed board or flooring or toungue and groove) and cant see a drain cock. shes a 1988 springer well looked after - do you think there is likely to be a drain cock and where and what am i looking for? tganks
Whilton Marina | Mon Feb 3, 2020 at 12:18pm
Hello Han, If there is a drain cock fitted to your Alde heating system it would be fitted at the lowest point in the system. However it may be that there isn't a drain cock fitted.
Kate | Thu Jun 11, 2020 at 11:02am
Hi am looking at 20/23ft springers but many of them do not have chimneys it possible to cut the roof and have one installed if i buy a solidfuel stove for heating? much would that be ..cost&fittong?manythanks
Whilton Marina | Thu Jul 16, 2020 at 3:24pm
Hi Kate, To supply and fit a solid fuel stove it would cost is approximately £1500.
Roger Vaughan | Tue Jan 26, 2021 at 8:49pm
Would you fit a catalytic gas heater on a dutch barge replica? Is it safe? Can you use a portable heater?
Whilton Marina | Mon Feb 8, 2021 at 3:26pm
Hi Roger, Unfortunately we have no experience with catalytic gas heaters, for advice we would recommend contacting the boat safety scheme.Many thanks
Suzi Ward | Mon Mar 8, 2021 at 2:29pm
Do Eberspacher central heating systems give off a diesel smell into the narrowboat? The bedroom has not been fully fitted or boxed off so could increase odour?
Whilton Marina | Mon Mar 22, 2021 at 11:25am
Hi Suzi, An Eberspacher shouldn't let off any diesel smell. It sounds like your system hasn't been fitted correctly or has a leak somewhere. we would suggest you have this looked at.
Paul Martin | Thu Aug 26, 2021 at 4:38pm
Hi we are looking to buy a narrowboat in the next month, if it doesn't have central heating fitted what is the cost of say a diesel fired Webasto system with 2 radiators please. And is it something you can carry out. Thanks
Whilton Marina | Fri Sep 3, 2021 at 11:37am
Hi Paul, the rough cost would be between £2,500 - £3,500. Yes this is something we can carry out although it is dependant on our work load. Many thanks
Sue | Mon Nov 15, 2021 at 8:06am
Hi our new. Boat has a Webasto heatingWe have polystyrene insulation boat built to bss standards we have @the moment 12 volt only Can we have a stove fitted and which would be recommended
Whilton Marina | Tue Nov 23, 2021 at 10:03am
Hi Sue, Yes you can have a solid fuel stove fitted to your boat, any of the stoves on the Midland Chandlery website are acceptable, depending on your price bracket and the space you have.
Laura | Tue Feb 8, 2022 at 6:43am
Hi, I’m having trouble trying to find a suitable system that will heat my water on my 40ft cruiser stern. At present it has no way of hearing the water. I was looking at a multi fuel stove with a back boiler option to heat my water that way, as the current solid fuel stove I have is really really tiny with a massive flue and doesn’t throw out much heat. But I then have since been told this may not be possible due to size of my boat and regulations changing. The gas boilers I’ve been told are no good due to the flue length and they stick out too much so can’t get under low bridges. I have asked my marina for some advice but they haven’t got back to me and don’t seem to have any ideas with regards to how to heat my water. Do you have any advice, recommendations or suitable options that may work please. Many thanks
Whilton Marina | Tue Feb 15, 2022 at 1:15pm
Hi Laura, We always recommend anyone buying a boat to have a Webasto or Eberspacher fitted, yes it can be expensive at first to have it fitted but they are reliable and will heat your boat and water.
Helen | Tue Mar 8, 2022 at 5:38pm
Can you point me in the direction to learn more about combining systems to make use of cheapest fuel through time and have back ups to heating / hot water supply. Let's say we'd have multi-fuel/back boiler, gas and electric available and considering a hybrid propulsion system on a full time live aboard. What would be the 'dream set-up' if space wasn't a restriction, e.g. a large storage tank, multiple storage/calorifiers, different radiator circuits were possible etc.? hope not too big a questions ;)
Ian Papworth | Fri Sep 30, 2022 at 3:06pm
I have a twin coil calorifier on my boat. The engine heats the domestic water fine. The webasto heats the radiators great but only makes the domestic tap water luke warm. Is there something I should adjust to give a bit more heat to the domestic tap water when the engine isn't running? Thanks
Michael Prout | Thu Dec 29, 2022 at 4:09pm
How long can you keep central heating on your narrowboat at one time somebody said only 2hours at one timeIf this the case can you buy oil filter heating as a temporary

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