Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Arlington, VA
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Electric Heaters Can Be Dangerous
Electrical problems are responsible for 55% or more of all boat fires (2003 data). Many of these are caused, directly or indirectly, by the use of electric heaters.
As noted above, heaters can tip over and catch fire. They can also cause a fire by being placed too close to flammable materials. And, they're very dangerous to use on gasoline-powered vessels as the thermostat controls cause a spark which can result in an explosion if used in the presence of gasoline vapors of the right concentration.
However, the main problem seems to be that they are often run "wide open", i.e., at their highest setting. This is typically 1500 watts or about 13 amps @ 115VAC. If your boat wiring is compromised in any way (too small, too old, cracked, bad connections, improper fusing/breakers, etc.), the wiring can overheat and cause a fire.
Unfortunately, there's often no other or no better choice available in some situations. Therefore, if you're going to use electric heaters BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL, and be sure you've got all the above-mentioned bases covered.