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Old 16-08-2012, 15:45   #1
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Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

I am about a week or two away from moving aboard my sailboat and wintering on the really cold Hudson river. Should I have any concerns about leaving the Dickinson Newport heater burning when at work. The companies brochure says never, never leave the unit burning while away, thinking this is to satisfy the lawyers. Don't really see myself coming home from work to a freezing boat and firing up the unit and doing jumping jacks until the boat gets toasty. Bet the insurance company wouldn't pay off if the boat burned to the water line while I was away.

Members thoughts on this would be appreciated.
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Old 16-08-2012, 16:12   #2
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

I suspect that the Dickinson heaters do not have an automatic shutoff due to loss of flame. But that may be more of a mess issue than a safety issue. When the flame goes out, the diesel rapidly cools and no longer vaporizes. It will just ooze diesel all day long. But cold diesel will not catch fire- usually ;-).

I think I could live with it running all day long. Think about this however. Isn't the safety of the heater more important when you are in bed asleep than when you are away.

David
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Old 16-08-2012, 16:38   #3
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

G'Day CB,

I think that it partly depends on the installation. Do you have the intake air supplied from the cabin, or do you have a dedicated supply pipe that comes from outside somewhere, and thus isolates the burner from the interior of the boat? The latter is considerably safer...

We have a Fab-All heater, which is a knock-off of the Dickinson model and of identical design. Our air supply is from the cabin. In gusty wind conditions we have had a couple of "blow-backs" where a puff of wind drove the exhaust back down the flue and into the cabin. At best this is a mess, with soot everywhere, but one time it extinguished the flame in the burner, and a cloud of diesel vapour emerged into the cabin. This cloud then flashed... a fireball perhaps a foot in diameter, but which lasted only milliseconds. No damage done, but it scared the hell out of us, and had it encountered some easily ignited fuel, could have lead to a fire below decks.

FWIW, I subsequently fitted a muffin fan below the air intake which provides some forced draft. This has both improved the general performance and has (so far) prevented further blow-backs.

David's comments above are correct: there is no shutoff for the fuel supply, so that if the flame goes out diesel continues to flow into the combustion chamber. Our stove has a drain tube to lead such overflows away but I'm not so sure that it would actually work!

So, bottom line, if your stove has the isolated air supply and you have some means of collecting overflow diesel, you might get away with leaving it running.

We do not do so, and honestly, the downside risk is so high I couldn't recommend doing so.

Living aboard in the cold is a bitch!

Cheers,

Jim
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Old 16-08-2012, 17:03   #4
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

I wouldn't do it! Use electric heat when you're not there. I've been in marinas over the winter with people using diesel heat of various sorts and they did not leave them unattended. I'm not sure the marina would allow it if they knew you were doing so. By they way, after living aboard for quite a few winters in New England I am still convinced that the best solution is electric heat, backed up by a small wood burning stove. That's right--wood burning. Fire can be put out with water or an ordinary fire extinguisher, smells good, easy to work and maintain, and provides plenty of heat when you need. But unattended use, electric is the way to go.
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Old 16-08-2012, 17:14   #5
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

We did a couple of Travel Nurseing jobs in Alaska, both in winter and ran a Dickerson heater 24/7 and except for the money it cost! we have no complaints !! we had the water heating coils in the heater, and a holding tank,and a pump system to move the hot water to bus heaters in different areas of the boat !! warm and toasty!! we did leave the heater unattended with no problems ! but never for more then an hour or two! we did have a Tall chimney so never had a blow out problem !! it's neat want ya can do with a fan or two and some old bus heaters !! LOL just our 2 cents
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Old 16-08-2012, 17:19   #6
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

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Originally Posted by bobconnie View Post
We did a couple of Travel Nurseing jobs in Alaska, both in winter and ran a Dickerson heater 24/7 and except for the money it cost! we have no complaints !! we had the water heating coils in the heater, and a holding tank,and a pump system to move the hot water to bus heaters in different areas of the boat !! warm and toasty!! we did leave the heater unattended with no problems ! but never for more then an hour or two! we did have a Tall chimney so never had a blow out problem !! it's neat want ya can do with a fan or two and some old bus heaters !! LOL just our 2 cents
Can you tell me if starting from scratch how long to warm up a cold boat?
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Old 16-08-2012, 18:04   #7
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

I'm afraid there is some bad info here. The Dickinson heaters (and Fab-All/SigMar) use a carburetor-like design, in that there is a float valve that keeps the level of diesel in the "carburetor" at a constant height. This provides a constant driving force through the metering valve into the burner. If the flame goes out the diesel will rise in the burner to the height of the fuel in the carburetor and then stop. The only way for diesel fuel to overflow a burner is for the float valve to stick open. Even then, the extra hose connection on the carburetor is meant to allow this excess to flow somewhere safe (a container?) instead of into the burner. Personally I have never had it happen, or heard of it happening. I spent a winter in Gothenburg, Sweden, and I left my Sigmar running full time - no problem.

The liability insurance and lawyers get into this is as a result of the old Hi-Seas diesel heater. They could and did overflow, and did ignite, and did totally destroy boats. It was a terrible design. There were lawsuits, and insurers refused to cover them going forward, and they went out of business. I had one, and I came back from the store to find diesel fuel on the sole from an overflowing burner that was still lit. If anyone has one of these, please destroy it immediately. Please do not sell it to some unsuspecting soul, and risk destroying their dreams. The local marine reseller just sold one to a dockmate, and I had to deliver the bad news. Not happy...

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Old 16-08-2012, 18:17   #8
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

I should add that I have friends that have lived aboard for a quarter of a century with Dickinson stoves on their boats. They always left the stove on 24/7, even when away at work. They really are that reliable. That said, to be safe run the overflow hose away from the burner.

Greg
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Old 16-08-2012, 18:39   #9
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

As far as how long it takes to heat up a boat ! it depends on the size and the way it's heated !! with our bus heaters in different compartments and the 80 gals of hot water we had, the boat would stay warm for about 6 hrs and then start to cool off !! in the coldest of winter we left our stove going all the time even when gone for longer then 2 hours !! cus when its as cold as it gets up there ya don't want to have COLD boat it can cause a bunch of damage ! I feel like most of the other posters , try useing it and see how safe ya feel !! and go from there ! our 42 ftr took up wards of 4 to 5 hrs to get toasty when it was started from a real cold boat !!
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Old 16-08-2012, 18:41   #10
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

Let's assume for a moment that your diesel heater is safe to run 24/7, and the marina will allow it. Why do it that way? Here in the Northeast I have found that a couple of very small electric heaters will heat a 37-foot boat comfortably in New England, for less than other fuels, and there is no dealing with messy diesel in the middle of the winter. I know in many marinas it is illegal to refuel in the slip, so what do you do for fuel? Plus, if for some reason the burner goes out, and if for some reason it is blowing a gale at the same time, are you certain your boat won't fill with noxious diesel smoke as I have seen several boats do? We used to leave only one heater going when away from the boat, turning on the second if it dropped below about freezing if we were onboard, but at night we usually went down to a single again. And those were two tiny, ceramic, 1200-watt jobs. But, if you are determined to run diesel 24/7 please check with the marina and your insurance first to see if they will allow it. A good combination might be diesel for when you are there, and a small electric for when you are not there.
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Old 16-08-2012, 18:43   #11
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

We also have a fab-all and live aboard on the South coast of BC. Incidentally, Fab-all is not a knock off of the Dickinson, it is actually the precursor to the Dickinson. Regardless, during the winter, we turn the heat down to minimum when we go out and supplement with a small electric heater. We are plumbed with an overflow container and forced air intake. We also had one or two blow backs of exhaust but not to the degree you had Jim. That's when I installed a fan in the air intake and we never had another problem.
I don't think anyone can give an accurate answer to your question of how long does it take to warm up a boat, as there are too many variables. Size of boat, size/type of heater, outside temp, water temp, air circulation?
Probably the best, safest and most expensive heating system would be the espar or wabasto systems.
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Old 16-08-2012, 18:48   #12
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

By the way, in a marina in the winter there is excess power around and plenty of power pedestals to hook into, so you can set it up so you have dual power cords running to your boat if necessary. You are protected by both the dock's circuit breakers, and your own boat's circuit breakers. No open flame. Pretty fail safe if you set it up carefully. But, it is great to have a back up that does not depend on shorepower for when the electricity goes out on a cold night.
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Old 16-08-2012, 19:15   #13
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

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Should I have any concerns about leaving the Dickinson Newport heater burning when at work.
We have a Sigmar and number 1 - no thermostat or any other auto shutoff. So you need to set the manual controls to pretty low when you leave. The PO lived in DE for a winter at a marina and plugged in reverse cycle A/C but basically left the boat cold all day while at work and used the heater during the time he was there. Reverse cycle gets poor at heating when the water gets under 50 F depending on how cold it is outside.

They are dog simple devices so long as you maintain the fuel pump. Bellows pumps eventually leak. So watch that and the cycling of temps will in all likelihood trash your fuel tanks by spring from the heating and cooling cycle causing condensation and thus algae. I don't see how you avoid that either.

You'll still get a slight build up of soot in the cabin as diesel will do that anytime you don't have the damper perfect. if you don't have the air supply piped in from the outside I wouldn't count on using the heater while gone. Adding a CO detector is a cheap insurance policy too. Mine detected an exhaust leak on my engine too.
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Old 16-08-2012, 20:26   #14
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

The solution to the annoying, and not terribly reliable, pulse fuel pump is a gravity tank - it only takes a couple of inches to provide the flow needed. I put a day tank in for the engine, and use it to directly provide fuel to the heater. No tick-tick-tick... Heaven.

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Old 17-08-2012, 05:02   #15
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Re: Constant Burning of Diesel Heater

Thanks to all that responded for your great imput.
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