Winters in North Carolina are cold. When you are surrounded by the entire ocean, trying to keep warm
is difficult if not impossible and very expensive.
I had looked into diesel heaters during the winter of 2017, but at that point, all I could find were
Eberspacher and Planar.
Eberspacher were the originals and weighed in at about US$3,000 and Planar was a Russian knockoff that sold for close to US$1,000.
I could be cold for those prices, and since the dock that I was on provided me with “free” electricity (more on that in another post),
I didn’t feel the need to spend a lot of money on something that I was not going to need very often in North Carolina, and much less
in the Caribbean.
This winter (2018) was different. I was near the boat, I wanted to stay aboard and honestly, it
was too cold to work on the boat some days.
I looked around for heating sources, purchasing a ceramic heater from WalMart and, when that didn’t produce enough heat, an oil filled radiant heater from Lowe’s.
The ceramic heater was great, but only produced enough heat to keep 1⁄2 of the v-berth warm. It also had to
run constantly, pulling 1500w of 120v AC through my shore line and through the 40 year old wiring in the boat. It was insufficient and a bit scary.
The oil filled radiant heater was nice and it kept decent heat, but it was big. It would not fit in the v-berth, and with the work being done in the boat, even keeping it in the saloon was a hassle. If the cold ever “got ahead” of the oil heater, it could never catch up.
This thing rocked. It would create enough heat to warm the entire boat with a bit to spare.
As with all good thing, however, there were problems. First, it was a fuel hog. I would burn through a one-pound propane canister in just over 4 hours. In the middle of the night, I’d have to get up and change the bottle. Then I moved to a bulk (20 pound) tank and while I didn’t have to get up as often (like only once every other week or so), there was the humidity.
Burning propane put so much humidity into the air that the walls would sweat. The Portable Buddy didn’t have a forced air system, so I had to set up a fan to move the heated air around. I’d put the Portable Buddy at the bottom of the companionway stairs and a fan mid-way into the saloon and all would be well - as long as nothing went wrong. My only escape in case of a fire event would have been to climb out the hatch in the v-berth. Whatever.
But the humidity….
I kept looking for a better solution and again looked at the diesel air heaters (also known as “parking heaters” because they are used by truckers to keep warm overnight while parked).
2018 was the year of the “Chinese Diesel Heater”. I started seeing Chinese knockoff Eberspacher and Planar heaters for $150 on Amazon.com. Van dwellers in Europe were raving about them and other than the complaints of “it shipped from China when they said it was here in the UK” and “I didn’t follow the instructions and I’m getting an error code E06, what should I do?”, they seemed to be very functional.
I ordered one. 4 days later, it arrived.
The unboxing and installation will be documented in another post shortly. It is truly amazing. It is a duplicate (down to the mounting holes) of the $1k and $3k heaters and cost me $135 with free shipping. There actually are a few differences if you dive in - the electronics module on my no-name heater is not potted like the ones on the more expensive models, but for the price difference, I can buy 5 of ‘em as spares/replacements and still come out WAY ahead. It blows hot air.
While the glowplug is heating, it pulls about 15A of 12v (for less than 3 minutes) and when running pulls about 2A. It produces dry heat, pulling combustion air from inside the boat and expelling combustion gasses outside (that’s what you saw in the video above). Cabin air is pulled in, heated by a heat exchanger and returned to the cabin hot.
Additionally, it came with a bunch of semi-useful gizmos and gadgets:
Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail that I sent to my crew today:
I spent last night onboard LG and, after freezing the night before, I
had prepared better and fired up the diesel heater after everyone had
left for the evening.
I made a “dam” out of some of the silver bubble wrap and closed off the
vent leading to the saloon and configured the doors so that the door
from the head to the v-berth was open, but the hallway was closed.
Basically allowing me to heat only the v-berth and head.
I set the heater on “lowest” (I use the Hz method and not the
temperature control) and let it run…
About an hour and a half in, I realized just how hot it was getting and
had to open the door to the saloon. A short time later, I moved the
air-dam from the saloon side to the v-berth side.
That thing puts out the heat!
I know it wasn’t as cold last night as it was the night before (about
10* warmer), but with the heater on low, it did a fantastic job.
So, there it is. I’m using a knockoff heater. Evolution.
The Planar website pops up with the following message when you first browse to it: