As temperatures outside plummet and the skies grow dark increasingly earlier, the hibernating animal in all of us favors keeping the elements out. While there are a variety of ways to keep the cabin warm, it should be noted that warm air holds more moisture than cold air. When warm, moisture-laden air hits cold surfaces like windows, hatches, or the hull, it cools and gives up the moisture in the form of condensation. This moisture, if left unattended—and especially if it has seeped down into the dark recesses of lockers, or along cushions—is ripe for mold and mildew to breed, and those are two shipmates you definitely don't want on board.
There are a couple of solutions to the condensation problem. Heaters and furnaces can help keep moisture levels aboard down to appropriate levels. Heat produced by electricity is a dry heat, unlike heat produced by propane, alcohol, or kerosene. Liquid fuels release water vapor that can contribute to the mold and the this-doesn't-quite-feel-dry factor. What kind of heater you use will depend on where you are. If your boat is kept dockside and you have access to shorepower, electrical heaters are cheap. Last winter here in Charleston, SC, our heating bill came to about $7:00 a month; granted we only saw snow on the docks once and aboard our vessel we have a relatively small cabin space to keep warm.
Onboard stoves or furnaces are another option offering unparalleled coziness for the wintering liveaboard. These produce dry heat, and sometimes actually require a pot of water on top to add humidity. A lump of coal can keep the fire going all night while the elements rage outside.
On the other end of the simplicity spectrum are diesel-fueled, forced-air heaters. Although your checkbook is likely to feel the hit these devices pack, in many ways they are optimal in keeping the boat warm and dry—providing you don't have to take one apart to fix it. These heaters use the boat's 12-volt system to move air, and take diesel from either tanks for the engine or a designated tank for the heater. Since heat rises, these are usually located low and use ducting to blow warm air throughout the boat while venting the exhaust outside.
I should mention that anytime you are using an open flame, oxygen is consumed and gasses like carbon-dioxide and carbon-monoxide are being produced. Regardless of whether you are going with the pot-over-the-stove route (which may require frequent trips for propane) or a kereosene heater from the hardware store (likely to saturate the air with moisture), ventilation is a must anytime combustion is used to produce heat. You should make sure that you can keep a hatch opened slightly, or have other means to allow oxygen in, like a dorade vent, at all times.
Dehumidifiers are one of the most effective tools to use in the war against moisture. If you've ever been lost in a thick plume of steam while straining pasta, you know a bit about water vapor. Dehumidifers keep the air circulating through them and extract the moisture out of it. They do this by condensing the moisture onto a cold surface and then draining the resultant drops into a pan. The use of a dehumidifier can make the difference between sheets, blankets, and towels feeling dry and actually being dry. But make sure you keep your bilge free of standing water when you're running a dehumidifier or you'll simply be recycling that water.
Armed with one or more of the above strategies—and your favorite blankets—life aboard this winter should be a comfy one. Your land-based friends might think you're crazy, but come spring, you know they'll be back down on the docks helping you enjoy life afloat.
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