A typical English narrow boat (37511)

People often ask me what it is like in winter - especially now as Britain has just experienced its coldest winter for 120 years.

The truth is that a canal boat is easier to heat than a house - there is less space for one. The effectiveness of the heating will depend on the quality of the insulation of course, just as it does in a building. These days, sprayed foam applied directly to the interior of the metal shell has become the popular choice for most boat owners, but other materials such as mineral wool and polystyrene foam sheet have all been used over the years. Proprietary brands such as Thinsulate have been used, but do not seem to have gained a serious foothold in the market, although I am told they work well too.
The Squirrel multi fuel stove - a popular choice for narrow boat owners (37512)The most popular choice of heating by a country mile is a multi fuel stove, and the market leader has to be the Squirrel, manufactured by the Danish company, Morso (pictured left). But there is a wide choice of stoves suitable for narrow boats available and other popular models include Stovax's Brunel, and the Little Wenlock. They will burn both wood and smokeless coal happily. A back boiler can also be fitted to them, which will supply heat via a pipe circuit to radiators, typically in the bathroom and the aft end of the boat, which is commonly (but by no means always) where the bedroom is situated.

A Kabola diesel room stove

A reasonably common alternative these days is a diesel room stove. The one pictured here is a Kabola Old English, which is built to look like a multi fuel stove. They run on a drip feed system, usually fed by a separate diesel tank located in the fore end of the boat. They certainly have people who swear by them, and I had one in a previous boat which was highly efficient. There are other people who do not get on with them, and end up ripping them out and replacing the m with a multi fuel stove instead.

A full size range on my own boat provides heating, cooking and hot water

Not all boats have a multi fuel stove however. Whilst they are warm and attractive objects, a downside is that they do generate a fair amount of dust, and you have to carry and store the fuel somewhere. On my current boat I have no multi fuel stove and the heat (and cooking and hot water) is supplied by a full size diesel fired domestic range. This has proved to be a very efficient and very good looking piece of equipment, and once mastered, is a delight to cook on too, in both summer and winter. It supplies several radiators throughout the boat and all the hot water and I am extremely impressed with it.

A common addition nowadays is a standalone central heating system, powered by a compact diesel boiler. This market is dominated by Eberspacher, Webasto and Mikuni, whose units work on broadly the same principle. The units are similar if not identical to those used to provide heating for lorry cabs and coaches. They will also provide hot water in the same way that a domestic central heating would, using a coil in a hot water cylinder (known in the boating world as a calorifier).