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  #1  
Old 03-01-2010
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equipment for winter liveaboard

It was a coin flip whether I post this here or in the liveaboard forum, but since I'm asking mostly about the gear, I figured this was appropriate.

I'm interested in living aboard year-round, and to keep my job I'll have to do it in/near Boston, MA. I'll probably buy a sailboat between 35 and 40'. Winters here are cold and snowy, which leaves me with a few questions.

1) I'm fairly certain I should invest in central heat, since if I'm significantly uncomfortable, I'll probably regret the liveaboard decision. I've noticed a lot of boats have air conditioning that can be run in a reverse cycle, but my understanding is that this only works down to about 40F outside. What is the failure mode below this temperature? Does it just cease to function? If it's 0F outside, will the heat not work at all? I think I should probably get diesel heat for this reason, but then it seems redundant having 2 heating systems, but maybe the boat I choose won't have the heat pump after all. Anything else I should consider?

2) I hear over and over that humidity is a huge problem. Is there any product out there that integrates a dehumidifier into the central heat? If so, do they make one that is also an A/C so I could have a one-device climate control system? Sounds like that would be cheaper and easier (I'd like A/C if I can get it, but I'm not married to it). Also, if I'm going to the expense of having someone install central heat for me, would it make sense to ask them to put some vents into the lockers and other closed spaces to keep them heated, and hopefully moisture-free?

3) How do you keep the tanks from freezing? Are there products for this that keep them warm? I know there is heat tape for the outside water line (and at least one marina near here requires it, which leads me to believe they provide water year round). If it's like heat tape, what's the power requirement?

4) I'd like to use the onboard shower year-round if possible, but my understanding is that most liveaboards use the marina showers in the winter... is it practical to use it in the winter, and what might I need to do to it?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeador View Post
I'm interested in living aboard year-round, and to keep my job I'll have to do it in/near Boston, MA. I'll probably buy a sailboat between 35 and 40'. Winters here are cold and snowy, which leaves me with a few questions.
There is a Yahoo mailing list group for Boston Liveaboards. You might want to join. They have a lot of social activities, mostly centered around Constitution Marina that I'm sure you would be welcome to attend.

I live aboard in Annapolis which has a similar climate, just as cold only not for quite as long.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeador View Post
1) I'm fairly certain I should invest in central heat
Definitely. Reverse-cycle heat pumps (A/C and heat) can make heat reasonably well until the water temperature (not air temperature) gets down to 40F or a bit below. They freeze up and stop working at all at some point. Still, for a liveaboard I chose to put heat pumps in my boat.

For temperatures that stay cold long enough to make heat pumps ineffective most liveaboards depend on electric heat. It works, the heaters are reasonably inexpensive, and there are no fuels to fuss with. Cons: won't work if the power goes out and take up room.

There are a number of other approaches including kerosene and propane heaters. The folk at Constitution Marina will surely fill you in.

The most home-like central heat is forced air diesel-fired heat. The initial equipment costs around 2 - 3k from manufacturers like Espar and Webasto. They burn about 3/4 gallon / day to keep the boat pretty toasty. This was my choice (in addition to heat pumps) to keep the boat warm in the depth of winter.

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2) I hear over and over that humidity is a huge problem.
Buy or borrow a copy of "The Warm Dry Boat" by Roger McAfee. Humidity can be a challenge. The three most important things you can do, in order, are to insulate the boat, ventilate, and keep the boat warm. A little preparation will save you a lot of discontent.

For lockers, some ventilation between the locker and boat and insulation against the hull will help a lot.

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Originally Posted by rmeador View Post
3) How do you keep the tanks from freezing? Are there products for this that keep them warm? I know there is heat tape for the outside water line (and at least one marina near here requires it, which leads me to believe they provide water year round). If it's like heat tape, what's the power requirement?
If the boat is warm the tanks will be fine.

If your marina has winter water heat tape is their problem. You really don't want a continuous pressure water connection at any time -- if a hose ruptures inboard you have a constant flow of water into your boat. We call that "sinking." *grin* Generally marinas with liveaboards will have hose parties once a week during winter to string hoses together to some inside hose bib to fill tanks. The alternative is lugging a 5 gallon jug of water every time you go to the boat.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeador View Post
4) I'd like to use the onboard shower year-round if possible, but my understanding is that most liveaboards use the marina showers in the winter... is it practical to use it in the winter, and what might I need to do to it?
I shower onboard and haven't found it to be a problem. I clean the head once a week (10 minutes). The head on my boat is at the base of the companionway across from the galley. When I shower or cook I slide the companionway open a bit for additional ventilation. No problem.

Good luck.
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I have lived aboard for a couple winters here in Mass, and I still cannot figure a way to keep the hull from sweating. I heat with electric and have insulated the boat as well as I can. I've decided to just head south next fall to avoid the problem.
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Old 03-02-2010
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How do you insulate the boat? I thought that was something that had to be done when it was first built. Is there some way to get in behind the wall/ceiling panels to put insulation in there? I assume you're not proposing that I put insulation on the inside... that would look like hell (perhaps to the point that I would elect not to live aboard). Do you insulate the bilge too? And is it perhaps something that could be done while they're installing ducts, if I need to have them installed?

Also, I would have thought that the tanks, being generally against the hull and in unheated spaces such as below bunks or in the bilge, wouldn't be warmed much by the interior of the boat but would have a nice conductive connection to the seawater, which could easily be below 32F. You really don't need any heat directed at them?
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ya need a compass,head south till the butter melts
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Sadly, heading south isn't really an option for me. I have these bills that need to be paid... I don't understand how people can ever afford to go cruising. Even if you miraculously reduce your expenses to $200/mo (maintenance would seem higher than that, if you're actually cruising a lot), you'll still run out of money eventually. Anyways, this is not related to my questions.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeador View Post
How do you insulate the boat? I thought that was something that had to be done when it was first built.
Mine was built with insulation, so I can't help you adding it afterward. I do know that people have done so with success, I believe by gluing solid insulation behind liners and inside lockers.

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Do you insulate the bilge too?
No. You don't need to go much below the waterline, as the water won't be below 32F (unless it is solid ice to the bilge). Carpet or rugs (or both) will make the boat much more comfortable.
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Are there many boats built from the factory with insulation? My searching on yachtworld only very rarely turns up such boats, it seems most don't have it. Is it perhaps something they just don't put in the info since they don't think it's important? Is there a list somewhere of boat models/manufacturers where insulation comes standard?
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I know Hallberg-Rassy boats are insulated. I believe Naiad, Sweden Yachts, Malo, and Moody are as well. I'm sure there are others.
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Insulation on my boat is built-in.
I just replaced a 1994 webasto with an ITR Hurricane heater. It works great and it is also rigged to provide hot water. About 2 Gal of fuel a day on cold days, less on warmer days. Easy to maintain (vs espar and webasto). Toasty warm with two heat zones so i can keep the aft cabin warm at night and let the main cabin drop into the 50s. The dogs have claimed their own hot air vents.
Reverse cycle can be used to provide heat in the fall and spring, until the water temp drops to about 42F.
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