Patagonia on a Budget: Why We Chose a Chinese Diesel Heater for Our Boat

Ahoy, from Sweet Ruca in Patagonia! We’re sitting here warm and toasty, with our cheap Chinese diesel heater keeping us cozy in the midst of snow-capped mountains. As we sip on our coffee, we can’t help but think about the other boats here in the fjords, with their owners shivering in the cold, waiting on expensive repair parts for their Webasto and Wallace heating systems.

We installed a 5000-watt (5kW) Chinese diesel heater on our boat and it has been a lifesaver during our voyage. Compared to the cost of the name brand heaters, the Chinese version is a fraction of the price, which means we were able to purchase two units for less than the cost of one high-end heater. We even carry an extra complete unit onboard as a spare.

Installing Our Diesel Heater

The installation was a bit of a learning curve, but once we got the hang of it, it was a relatively easy process. There are a few problems to overcome when installing it on a boat, and a few extra parts you will need to purchase to do it right:

  • A fuel pickup was required to run the heater off of our boats diesel tank.
  • The fuel filter that came with the diesel heater was cracked, we replaced it with a more robust marine grade filter.
  • The hose clamps that come with the chinese diesel heater are junk, just throw them away and replace them with marine grade stainless steel for a few extra dollars.
  • We had to buy a separate stainless steel exhaust outlet for our boat. We also did not use the included muffler, as they are not sealed and not safe to use inside the boat.
  • The heater only included a few feet of hose, and one outlet, so we purchased high temp heating duct and more outlets to run throughout the boat, and also had to drill holes in bulkheads for this.
  • To have the controls at our navigation station, we needed to extend the wiring harness, so basic electrical wiring skills were required.

All in all these hurdles and extras were easy to overcome and really did not cost that much. The biggest challenge was converting our heater to run off of our boats built in fuel tank. We ran into some slight challenges here as the fuel pump could not pull adequate fuel through the larger tanks fuel pickup, we had to modify it to accept the smaller tube that came with the heater. We also learned a lesson about placement of the exhaust and had to create a piece to deflect deck runoff and rain when underway. 

Once we ironed out the bumps and added some marine grade accessories the heater has been reliable, easy to use, and has been great at maintaining a comfortable temperature on board. We’ve also found that the fuel consumption is very efficient, with a full tank lasting us several days even with the heater running 24/7.

One thing to keep in mind is that our boat is a sailboat, and while we’re cruising at heeling angles, the heater can continue to work well, with no issues or interruptions. We’ve found that the Chinese diesel heater has been more than capable of keeping up with our needs, even in the extreme conditions of Patagonia.


Are We Happy With Our Heater on Our Boat?

While we’re currently happy with our Chinese diesel heater, we understand that if we were to spend more time in high latitudes and make that our permanent sailing location, we would want to add additional redundancy in the form of a Refleks or Dickinson heater to our boat, and likely a hydronic system. However, as we’re just passing through and headed to warmer waters in the Pacific, our current solution is more than sufficient.

To summarize, when it comes to boat heating solutions, the options can be overwhelming. The Chinese diesel heater has been a great choice for us, with its low cost, efficient fuel consumption, and reliability. While there are more expensive options on the market, we’ve found that the Chinese heater has performed just as well, if not better, than some of the high-end name brands.

However, installation can be tricky, so be prepared to do some research and troubleshooting. We highly recommend the Chinese diesel heater to anyone looking for a cost-effective heating solution for their boat, especially for those who plan to sail in high latitudes. One quick note, we do carry a complete second heater kit as a spare. At least consider carrying an electronic control board, glow plug, fuel filter, and fuel pump at the bare minimum for spare parts. Stay warm and cozy, fellow sailors!


Here is a list of popular choices and alternatives:

Forced Air Diesel Heaters

  • Chinese diesel heaters: These heaters are often cheaper than other diesel heaters, making them an attractive option for many boat owners. However, quality and reliability can be variable, and installation can be challenging. The benefit? In true Made-In-China style you can buy 3-5 of these for the cost of one name brand equivalent, and if you have a problem, just throw one away and pop in a new one.
  • Webasto: These heaters are known for their high quality and reliability, and are a popular choice for many boat owners. However, they can be expensive, and repairs can also be costly.
  • Eberspacher: These heaters are another high-quality option, and are known for their energy efficiency. However, like Webasto, they can be expensive to purchase and repair.


  • Wallace: Another high quality and more expensive option of a slightly different design than the Webasto and Eberspacher.

Drip Type Diesel and Solid Fuel Heaters

  • Refleks: These heaters use diesel or kerosene to heat a metal stove, which in turn radiates heat into the boat. They are popular with sailors because they don’t require electricity to operate, and can be used in a wide range of conditions. However, they can be expensive to purchase and install, and require regular cleaning and maintenance.
  • Dickinson: These heaters are similar to Refleks, but use solid fuel like wood or charcoal. They are popular with sailors who prefer the traditional look and feel of a wood-burning stove. However, they can be difficult to regulate and control, and require regular maintenance. These heaters really are the prettiest of the bunch in our opinion, and can add a touch of class to the interior.


Propane Heaters

  • Force 10: These heaters are a popular choice for many boaters because propane is widely available and easy to use. They are also relatively inexpensive to purchase and install. However, they can be less efficient than diesel or solid fuel heaters, and require a good ventilation system to operate safely.
  • Sig Marine: These heaters are another popular propane option, and are known for their quiet operation and low power consumption. However, like all propane heaters, they require proper ventilation and can be less efficient than other fuel types. Keep in mind burning propane generates water vapor as a byproduct and can increase humidity inside the boat.

Hydronic Heating Systems

  • Hydronic heating systems use hot water or coolant to provide heat throughout the boat. They are often used in larger boats and yachts, and can be very efficient and comfortable. However, they can be expensive to install and require a lot of maintenance. The big advantage is they can distribute heat to the far ends of the boat in smaller water hoses which can be run through existing passages, rather than drilling large holes for air ducts, and water has better thermal efficiency than air. Most diesel heater manufacturers also make hydronic compatible units.


Bus Type Heaters

  • These heaters are often installed in the engine room or another compartment. They work by blowing hot air through ducts and vents throughout the boat. They can be efficient and comfortable, but require a lot of power and can be noisy. These are great for trawlers and motor sailors that are running their engine often, or as a backup to another system such as a Refleks for use while underway.


Electric Boat Heaters

  • Finally there the the good old electric heater. They aren’t much use at anchor, as using a generator or engine alternator to run one is incredibly inefficient, however they work great at the dock when plugged into the marinas shore power supply. We keep a small one on board for emergencies, which we can also run from our invertor. Boats which spend more time at the dock can benefit from larger units.

Don’t forget with the purchase of a heater for your boat, be it diesel, solid fuel, electric, or propane, as every boat is different, you will likely need to purchase some additional equipment to install and run it properly on your boat. They can be installed DIY, but be careful, and if your skills are not up to the task it is best to call a professional, as there are serious risks of fire and carbon dioxide poisoning if installed incorrectly. In fact, you should also purchase a smoke detector and CO2 detector for each cabin, and as always, make sure to have fire extinguishers aboard and have a safe exit plan.


Each of these types of heaters has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice for you will depend on your specific needs and circumstances. It’s important to do your research and consult with experts in order to make an informed decision.

As always we wouldn’t recommend something we would not use ourselves, and we do get a small commission from the affiliate links in this post. If you enjoyed this article and would like to help support our journey at no cost to you, please make your next Chinese diesel heater purchase through one of our links. Wishing you warm sailing!

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