What's It Like on a Boat in Winter?

Thanks to a rare, particularly frigid cold front that has descended on Savannah, and my last post, the question of what it's like on Luna Sea in winter has been coming up frequently.

What is it really like to live on a boat in January/February?  

I can obviously only answer what it's like for us, in an area that doesn't actually ever see snow.  (There were a few flakes this one time, years ago...) But we moved here from Oklahoma - and I promise you it snows there.  So we know what it is like to actually have seasons and prep for cold.

What makes it tough on a boat/in Savannah?  
  1. HUMIDITY!  It's so freaking humid here.  And I swear wet cold is worse than dry cold.  You always hear that about heat, and it's the same with cold.  It's like you get cold down to your bones and can't really get warm again.  
  2. Wind: While it's not particularly windy in this area (especially on the days you want to go sailing!) there is almost always a breeze here at the dock.  And this most recent cold front has brought some true northerly gusts.
  3. We live in Savannah.  It just doesn't get cold here frequently enough to justify a significant wardrobe of appropriate gear.  And we certainly don't have extra closet space for things we will only wear 4 days out of the year.
  4. There are breezes.  In. The. Boat.  I can walk through the boat and find 5 cold/breezy areas at any given time.  The companionway doors are the worst, but other places have hot air escaping and cold air seeping in constantly.  All those fabulous hatches we have that let in so much light - and wind when it's hot outside?  They are all sucking the heat right out of the boat.
  5. It's damp inside.  The combination of warm air inside the boat with cold air outside creates condensation.  It just drips down the hatches - and frequently onto my laptop/cell phone/nav station...  The port holes almost all seem to be over key storage areas.
sailing blog adventure cruising condensation on a boat
The window in our aft head 
So how do we get around this and stay cozy and warm?  It's actually been pretty easy.
staying warm on a boat
Magic Heater

  • Humidity: I picked this fantastic heater up at Target a year or so ago (on clearance - SCORE!).  It has a safety feature (that really works) so that if the heater gets knocked over by one of the dogs or a rogue wake in the marina, it will turn off. It has a high and low setting, as well as a fan setting.  This is a perfect boost for our central heat/air units that came with the boat.  It helps dry out the air and keeps whatever room it's in toasty warm.  I frequently catch the dogs lying in front of it during the day.  I think it is similar to them roasting themselves in the sun on pretty days outside.  I imagine it feels pretty good to their old bones. :) The only down side is that it runs off of 110v electricity so we can pretty much only use it when we are plugged into the docks. And god forbid you want to dry your hair and heat the boat at the same time.  I rarely use my blow dryer, but when I do it's usually because it's too cold to sit around with wet hair.  It only took once or twice of flipping the Outlets breaker for me to remember to turn off the heater when I need to dry my hair.
  • Wind: This one is not rocket surgery. We each have a high quality, heavy duty cold weather/water resistant coat. We also have very basic wind breakers.  While the heavy coats take up a good bit of space on their hangers - waaaaay in the back of our storage cabin, the wind breakers take up minimal space and are always within grabbing distance for a chilly or rainy day.
  • Cold weather gear: In addition to our heavy duty coats, we both have under layers. I could LIVE in my fleece leggings.  But he won't let me go out in public in them... I have two sets of fleecy leggings/long sleeve shirts.  And he has some high tech thin thermal stuff as well.  Fortunately these fabrics roll up pretty small and can be crammed into the bottom of our closets for the 50 weeks of the year that we don't need them.
  • Inside Breezes:  I haven't found a great solution for the companionway breeze.  And I kind of don't want to.  I frequently cook 3 meals a day.  On a propane stove.  I like knowing that we have air flow even when it's too cold to open a hatch while cooking.  I do have a curtain that hangs over the door for privacy and it does a decent job of keeping the breeze in check while still allowing fresh air/prevention of death from toxic fumes. All of our overhead hatches have covers on the outside and slider cover things inside.  And the ports have curtains.  These all work to our advantage in both the summer and winter - as well as provide privacy here at the dock.
  • Condensation:  Well I guess I answered this in the Humidity section.  The heater does a pretty good job of drying out the boat.  And when necessary, we go old school and just grab a hand towel and wipe up the drips.   Again, not Brain Science.  
staying warm on a boat live aboard
I cannot fathom why he won't let me leave home like this...
So basically, we use common sense to stay warm.  We drink hot tea, I make pots of soup (the heat from cooking also significantly warms the boat) and we frequently have on a sweatshirt/wooly socks.  This is probably the biggest change for us since leaving the condo.  Where we kept the condo a balmy 70 or so degrees and wore t-shirts in winter, we are very comfortable on the boat at 65+ (18c) with leggings and a sweatshirt.  It's one of those changes you don't even realize you've made.

What sort of things are you doing (if you're on a boat) to stay warm?  And what sort of boat life questions do you have - about anything?  We love comments/questions!


  1. Brrrr! Great tips. We are sweltering here in New Zealand!!

    1. Glad you are keeping warm! I can't wait for year-round summer... :D

  2. I use a diesel heater. It dries out the boat and keeps you warm! I'll do a post about the heater soon, it's worth a try if you plan on staying in colder climates.

    1. Thanks Herb!
      We currently have NO plans to head to cold places. But after a few years bobbing around the islands, who knows? We are keeping the plans open.
      We will definitely keep a diesel heater in mind if we head north.
      Can you give me a link to where you will be posting?
      - Jenn

  3. I use a diesel heater. It dries out the boat and keeps you warm! I'll do a post about the heater soon, it's worth a try if you plan on staying in colder climates.

    1. So I guess there's an exhaust for that somewhere...? I would love to read a post on it.

  4. Single best investment I've made this winter for Galapagos is the dehumidifier I bought at Home Depot. It's a large one and sucks a lot of moisture out of the air, moisture that allows the cold to seep into our bones. We are not living aboard yet, but I see clients on the boat 3 days a week and their comfort is something I do not take lightly. The dehumidifier allows the heaters to work better somehow, probably because the moisture doesn't sink bone deep. Also we have two electric throws, like electric blankets only smaller. Costco. 30$. Worth their weight in gold. I don't cover up with them, we sit on them. Turned on low they create a nice warm bubble of gentle heat around our bodies. My clients love them. I love them. Mike loves them.

    1. Oooh, sitting on the heating blankets - great idea! Sounds really cozy.
      So are all of these items 110v? I've been trying not to buy anything else 110v, as we won't be able to use them once we sail away. But it might be worth it for the time we have left on the docks. Thanks for the ideas!

  5. Okay so when I am thinking of what I will need on a boat, t-shirts, shorts, tanks, more shorts and more tanks, swimsuits, flip flops, I don't often think of sweats & wooly socks and having a heater on board. So where does one store all of this extra garb when full time cruising?

    1. Isn't that a GREAT question!?!
      Exactly - I was hoping to only need swim suits, etc. But for the next year, we will be in an area with seasons (kind of...). So we cram stuff into every nook and cranny available!
      Fortunately, when we leave for good the work clothes will be hitting a donation bin. That will free up a good amount of space ;)


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