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.