Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.

Installing a woodstove on a sailboat

There are several different ways to add heating to a boat – propane, diesel, electric, wood – and each has its advantages and it’s drawbacks.  Propane and diesel tends to create a lot of condensation which is exactly what one doesn’t want on a boat.  Electric will either keep you tethered to the dock-marina-paycheck or, in the case of the diesel forced air heaters, require a lot of battery power and power generation (solar, wind or gasoline generator).

After a lot of thought and research and a big dollop of Romantic inclinations, I opted to install a woodstove.  And the stove I chose is the “Sardine” by Navigator Stoves in Washington State, USA.  These stoves are made from the original molds used for more than 200 years by the Lunenberg Stove Company in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia.  They were designed and installed on hundreds of small vessels fishing cod off the Gran d Banks and shore of Nova Scotia, Newfoundlands and Labrador, Canada.

The whole process from decision to first burn has taken more than a year and quite a lot of work.  This is not a plug-and-play option.  However, the result is worth it.  I’ve always had a wood-burning stove in every home I’ve owned and “Kuan Yin” is now not the exception.  It really is wonderful on these cold nights in Rimouski, Quebec, Canada, to have a fire that makes the cabin toasty warm and snug.  Firewood comes from the beach – I select the dry grey small logs high up on the beach which hopefully have had most of the surface salt water off by the rain.  Salt can eventually burn through the stovepipe – but it will take a while with stainless steel and I’ll be checking the chimney monthly.

As I said, the process has not been “plug-and-play” so if you’re thinking about installing a wood stove on your boat, here’s are a few items from the missing manual.  Andrew at Navigator Stoves sends out installation instructions but I found there were quite a few things missing (because they maybe obvious once you know) so here’s an attempt to fill the gap.

1) These stoves are custom-made in small batches; so depending when you order you may be waiting 6 – 12 months.  Plan ahead.

2)  Order the 4″ damper and the bung at the same time – you are unlikely to be able to order them locally so get them direct and save the extra hassle and cost of shipping another parcel.

3) Read the Installation Guide that comes with the stove several times.  In almost all cases on a boat, you will be dealing with installing heat shielding and minimum spacing of 1″. Don’t forget that the stovepipe also needs shielding.  Deciding the best corner for the stove may take a few weeks of sipping wine or coffee at anchor and just sitting in the cabin and pondering where might be best.

4) Heat shield boards are available at big box DIY stores, such as Home Depot.  They are easy to cut – just like tough drywall.  Score with a knife and, carefully, crack open.

5) If you want to cover your heat shield  in copper or stainless steel, forget about rounded corners.  Even architectural copper workers baulked at the idea of making a rounded corner.  In copper at least, welding or brazing is not necessary.  Any machine shop with a “brake” can bend the metal.

6) Don’t make the metal shielding concept too complicated.  Originally, I imagined a rounded corner (to guard against physical injury at sea), brazed edges and 1 – 2 inch overhangs round the back.  But I couldn’t find anyone in Toronto, a city of 2 million, who could do the work.  One firm kindly offered to do just the labour for $700!!!  Just bending the copper around the edges and leaving the bottom open so that the heat shield can slide in is easy and works well.

7) The base – needs to be one inch thick to meet code.  I was uncomfortable with the idea of the 35 lbs stove being bolted only to a very brittle cement board that I think might crumble around the bolt holes in a heavy sea.  So I had a 1/4 inch stainless steel plate cut the same size and installed this at the bottom – with the heat shield in between the stainless steel and the copper on top.  This way the bolts that hold the stove have something rigid to hold on to.

8) Given the tight spaces, plan ahead carefully how to install each of the bolts that hold the base heat shield (with copper of SS sheeting) to the cabin sole and the bolts that hold the stove to the base.  You may not be able to get in to secure the bolt in the back corner.  And can you get under the cabin sole to tighten nuts?  I ended up screwing the base directly in to the cabin sole using thin-thread bolts and undersizing the holes so that each bolt screwed very tightly.  Not ideal, but I’m confident it won’t come lose.

9) The stove pipe should be of stainless steel.  You will need to cut off the crimping at the bottom in order to get the stovepipe to fit over the oval flue on the stove.

10) Be careful bending the stovepipe.  It wants to bend like origami instead of making an oval and unbending a kink is tough.

11) Order an extra piece of stovepipe about two feet in length to use as a chimney extended.  Otherwise, when the wind is light and blowing over your companionway, you will probably get smoke coming in.

12) Make a template of the hole you need to cut in the cabin trunk.  This way you can play around a little to find the optimal placing.  For example, you may need to slope the chimney a little in order to clear all the obstructions on deck and down below.

13) You can’t install the stovepipe with the deck iron already installed; there just isn’t enough room to cheat.  This means that – in the future – you will have to remove the deck iron in order to remove or replace the stovepipe.  I opted not to use an industrial adhesive but Sikaflex 291 that will seal the deck iron to the cabin trunk and yet allow me to use a hacksaw blade to cut through the Sikaflex when I want to remove the deck iron.

14) With a thick metal cabin trunk I was able to tap each of the four screw holes for the retaining screws of the deck iron.

15)  Is there an easy solution to having a gaping 7″ gap in the cabin liner?  The deck iron is tapered so this leaves a big gap around the stovepipe.  This is necessary for clearance and safety but can leave a rather jagged edge.  I opted to install a 6″ ring from a regular household stovepipe.  But I’m monitoring this.  It does get hot and could potentially transfer enough heat for something to catch fire.

16) Don’t take any shortcuts.  These are only tiny stoves, putting out low BTUs and the regulations are designed for large larger stoves.  However, the margin for safety must include being able to cope and remain safe with a FIRE in the stovepipe.

17) Install the railing on the top of the stove before you install the stove – otherwise it will be next to impossible to get the nut tight underneath with only one inch of clearance.  And if you drop the nut, you may spend half an hour trying to recover it from behind the heat shields.


5 comments on “Installing a woodstove on a sailboat

  1. MK
    May 11, 2010

    Congratulations! It seems that all the troubles with the stove were worth while. Keep nice and warm.


  2. Brian Lumley
    May 11, 2010

    Good stuff Dennison;
    Glad the new stove is working. I have the Cozy Cabin going on Valcor.


  3. Bob
    May 13, 2010

    By the way, diesel heaters are not prone to producing condensation, as you noted in your post. In fact, quite the opposite. Diesel heaters produce nice, dry heat and keep the inside of a boat rather dry (condensation does naturally form on hatches, etc.) Propane does, however, create condensation since the chemical reaction that occurs when propane burns yields water vapor as a byproduct. That is one of the main reasons that people –northern fishing boats and cruising sailors– install diesel heaters: nice dry heat. That, and the fact, that if you have a good-sized fuel tank, you can run the heater off the boat’s own diesel tank (instead of having to carry another fuel source, either propane or wood, the first of which isn’t very efficient in terms of heat output; and the second of which is often bulky to store). Wood fires sure are nice, though!

    Best of luck on the Labrador voyage.


  4. Arie
    May 27, 2010

    Don’t know about heat output and condensation, but that Good-Luck Chinese-laquer-Red wood stove sure is a good looker and exactly what Kuan Yin would want to have on board; well worth the effort (easy for me to say, huh?)


  5. Andrew / navigator stoves
    October 15, 2010

    Hi Dennison,

    Glad you got her all hooked up and are enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures. Does take a bit of doing and a bunch of careful decisions to be made before the heat starts to radiate. When the day comes to mess with your pipe, try simply unbolting the feet (from the platform) and pendulum the stove off its base. This few inches of lateral movement will gain the needed “stove drop” to allow the pipe room to come off the oval collar. Another nice detail is to goop the formed pipe to cast stove oval joint (from inside stove) with some stove cement. This will ensure that when the chimney “pulls” that no air is being dumped into the pipe (post stove) which never first made it through the burn chamber. Thanks for your detailed install notes. Surely it will make someone else have a simpler install process. Cheers, Andrew / NSW


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This entry was posted on May 10, 2010 by in Equipment, Sailing and tagged , , .
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