Fall weather can be chilly and unpredictable when you’re out on the water, but don’t let that keep you from enjoying the many advantages that fall boating has to offer.
Having a portable heater on board can mean an extended, comfortable cruising season. With propane, electric, and even infrared options available, there is a portable heater out there that will meet your needs.
Safety Considerations for your Portable Heater
First and foremost, let’s talk about safety. The heating elements on these units get extremely hot and are capable of causing a fire if not used properly.
Make sure you allow a proper perimeter of distance from the heater. Anything that gets too close, like a seat or a blanket, could become a fire hazard. Closely read the instructions on your particular heater for the minimum safety radius.
If at all possible, secure the heater to the deck or another part of the boat. In choppy or wavy conditions, your heater could become overturned. In this case, the heating element could be in very close contact with carpeting or wood.
Many modern models have tip-over safety shutoffs, but you will still want to keep a close eye on it during choppy water cruises.
Electric and infrared heaters will require a standard AC outlet like you would find in your home for your common appliances. Most recreational boats do not have an AC electrical system, but larger or custom boats will sometimes have an onboard generator to run an AC system.
To get these units appropriately powered on a boat without an AC power system, you will need a power inverter. This device will change the DC power supply of a standard marine battery to an AC supply that can power your devices through a standard power outlet.
To ensure adequate power supply, I recommend having a second, dedicated battery to supply the power inverter. This is similar to how fishermen have a dedicated battery for their trolling motors.
Alternatively, propane heaters are a great option for boaters that don’t want to mess with power systems. Propane heat is quick and safe to use within the cabin. The one downside is that you’ll have to replace propane tanks as you continue to use the unit.
My Favorite Propane Options
Mr. Heater Big Buddy Portable Indoor Propane Heater
The Big Buddy is the ultimate choice for portable propane heaters. Customize your comfort level with three different heat settings from 4,000-18,000 BTU per hour. Its built-in ignition system makes firing up this heater a breeze and a powerful fan offers convection-style heat, spreading warmth to every corner of your cabin (up to 450 square feet). Both systems are powered by four D-cell batteries for enhanced portability. The Big Buddy requires two standard one-pound propane cylinders for operation.
I’m a huge fan of the Big Buddy’s safety features, as well. You can rest easy knowing that an ambient oxygen sensor will automatically shut down the heater if the surrounding air level gets too low. In addition, another specialized sensor will shut off the Big Buddy in the event it is accidentally tipped over.
All of these features make the Big Buddy a powerful, yet portable propane unit that you and your family can enjoy with peace of mind.
Mr. Heater Little Buddy Heater
Like its big brother, the Little Buddy uses one-pound propane cylinders to provide toasty warmth. It is much more compact, however, weighing just six pounds. This makes it a great choice for smaller boats (adequately heats 95 square feet) or if you prefer to carry this heater with you as move around, inside or out. It still provides respectable heat (3,800 BTU per hour) and has a built-in ignition system.
A smaller heater does not mean lower safety standards for Mr. Heater. The Little Buddy also comes equipped with low oxygen and tip-over safety shut-offs.
My Favorite Electric Options
NewAir Portable Ceramic Space Heater
This NewAir heater can warm spaces up to 250 square feet and is loaded with options. An easy-to-read LCD screen makes adjustments easy in low-light conditions and the included remote allows you to make adjustments without leaving the comfort of your blanket or bed.
This heater is very quiet during operation, reaching sound levels only around 45 decibels (about as quiet as a suburb at night). To conserve energy, set its built-in timer between one to 12 hours or turn on the ‘eco’ mode.
Comfort Glow Oscillating Ceramic Heater
Looking for power and features at an excellent value? Look no further than the Comfort Glow oscillating heater. At an attractive price point under $30, this space heater has everything you need.
Powerful enough to heat a 400 square feet space with its oscillating fan, this heater kicks out an admirable 5,120 BTU per hour. It’s convenient to transport with a carrying handle and a weight of about three and a half pounds. It also has tip-over and overheating shut-offs for added safety.
My Favorite Infrared Option
PureHeat Infrared Heater
The PureHeat infrared heater uses efficient infrared technology to reduce energy usage by up to 50 percent compared to conventional electric heaters.
This is because the heating element reaches much lower temperatures than a standard ceramic heater. Not only is this more energy-efficient, but it also reduces fire hazard risk. This doesn’t come at a cost to heat production, however, as this unit still kicks out 5,000 BTU/hr.
What I really love about this PureHeat unit is that it doubles as an air purifier. Using UV light technology, airborne pathogens like mold, bacteria, and viruses are neutralized. In a damp environment like a boat cabin, this will be a welcome feature in your next heater purchase.
Enjoy more time on the water and kill the fall chill. Check out our large selection of heaters here.