How long will you wait to turn on the heat?

Brisk nights have arrived, cold days are just around the corner, and before this weekend is over some of Maine’s highest peaks will be frosted with the season’s first snow. Resisting the coming season, and savoring autumn, we collectively begin a silent competition. Who will be the last person to turn on the heat?

It’s a point of pride for many; a symbol of the ironclad Maine spirit. We dress in layers, pull out extra blankets, sip hot drinks and savor our soups. To crank up the heat and saunter around our homes barefoot is an admission of defeat, a degradation of our character.  And so we continue, year after year, delaying the inevitable beginning of winter. We know that with the twist of a knob or the press of a button we can instantly condemn the return of warm weather, and so we must hold out until our fingers have numbed.

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Though I am a proud Mainer, a lover of the cold, and a winter sports enthusiast, I do enjoy a warm nap on a winter day. I prefer walking to the bathroom in the morning without shivering and dancing across the icy floor. I don’t need to see my breath as I lay in bed and so I no longer hesitate to turn on the heat when it is needed.

Living on a boat, we are most commonly asked, “Aren’t you cold?” The short answer is no, we are not.  We have prepared by installing a reliable and efficient heating system and have spent countless nights comfortably below while the temperature outside hovered around zero degrees. We live in a small, if not tiny space, and so the cost of heating is minimal.


Beyond the original expense of the furnace and equipment, we spend an average of $3 a day to heat the boat. This economical solution removes the debate almost entirely about when to turn the heat on. For us it is simple. If you are cold, turn up the heat.

In an ironic twist, living on a boat exposed to harsher elements than those in a typical dwelling has made me less resistant to the comforts of a warm home. Regardless of the season we now use heat at a moment’s notice. Gone are my days of putting off heat until late in the season. If I want to feel the cold, I go outside.

If you find yourself thinking I have gone soft, I can assure you, I have not. Though the cabin of our boat is always warm, the weather mere feet away can be downright bone-chilling. There is no attached garage or mudroom. When we leave, we are instantly amongst the elements. It is a long, windy walk to the shower facilities ashore and the car in the parking lot. So after a long day, and a cold walk on the dock, I am happy to return to a toasty warm boat.

For many in our beautiful state, heating is not economical, and the delay of its use is not by choice. Large, aging homes, in particular, can incur huge heating expenses throughout a winter season and it may be cost prohibitive to start heating this early in the season. If you are willing to admit defeat and fire up the furnace, consider conceding to only a portion of your house at first. Maybe you can get away with heating only the bedrooms at night. One of the many benefits of downsizing to a smaller space is the ease and economy with which it is heated.


During the warm days of fall, we can turn off the heat, open the hatches and ports and enjoy the fresh air. When the sun goes down, and the cold night air rushes in, we can close up the boat and bring it up to a cozy temperature within minutes. Living in a small space affords us the flexibility to extend our season.

To those that will continue to fight off the urge to reach for the thermostat, good luck. Extra layers will be the key to your success, and warm food your respite. The good news is that the real cold won’t be coming for a while now. Inevitably, however, it will come, and we should all be ready.

This is the season to fill the oil tanks, check the propane, and stack the remaining wood. For us liveaboards, it is time to build our winter cover, top off the fuel and water tanks, and stow our gear. We only carry 100 gallons of fuel in our main tank, so we are not able to make it through the entire winter. The longer we can wait before our final fill of the fall, the fewer trips we have to make with a jerry can mid-winter when we are unable to bring the boat to a fuel dock.

Instead of guessing when we should turn on the heat we now try to predict when the marina will shut off the water. As with the fuel, we want to fill our tanks at the last possible moment so that they will last well into winter. We fill them often this time of year, playing chicken with the coming freeze cycles. With luck, we’ll start our winter at full capacity.

Living with purpose 2

No matter the type of homes we inhabit, we all play a game with mother nature this time of year. We try to predict the weather, to anticipate the first snow. We look to the Farmer’s Almanac to tell us just how cold it will be, or exactly how long it will last. Winter can be a challenge, and so maybe, by approaching it with a sense of competition, we can introduce a little fun to the annual preparations.

So tell me, how long will you wait to turn on the heat?



To find out exactly how we stay warm on the boat throughout the winter check out parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the heating series!

Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.