Little Buddy Heater

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

Oh, I wish I'd known about this -- and had one -- BEFORE the first cold snap! Such a great addition to the boat.

When overnight temps dip into the 40’s (Farenheit) or a norther comes thru with winds over 20 knots, pouring rain and a daytime high around 60, it can get a little chilly on the boat. Okay, a lot chilly.

Let me say right at the outset that this post isn’t for people who are wintering over in cold places, such as the Chesapeake or further north. No, we’re in south Florida where it’s usually warm during the daylight hours and only cools down after sunset.

Yesterday, I woke up to a boat that was 41 degrees on the inside. YIKES!

Time for some serious action.

We needed a heater. For safety reasons, we weren’t going to let it run all night (read about a boat fire from a heater) – but to warm up the boat in the evening and again when we first wake up, yep. While Dave and I aren’t exactly luxury cruisers, we do believe in having a decent lifestyle. And that means not freezing.

I first figured I’d pick up a cheap electric heater for use in the boat yard and whenever we were at a marina. But that would leave us “out in the cold” when we were at anchor.

We learned that several people here in the boat yard use small propane heaters that run off the 1-pound camping/grill canisters. A-ha! Thanksgiving morning, one even gave us two propane canisters as an incentive to go buy a heater!

We got the Mr. Heater Little Buddy and it has made a huge difference in our quality of life. Yes, we still take other measures to stay warm but having the boat in the mid-60’s during the evening instead of the mid-50’s is so much more pleasant. And 61 in the morning after running the heater for a half hour and making a pot of coffee means that I can type without my fingers going numb.

The Mr. Heater Little Buddy runs off a single propane canister (you can also rig it to run off your main propane tank – for us, that’s not practical) and at least around here, is the heater that most boaters are using.

  • A one-pound canister will last 5-1/4 hours – for us, that’s two to three days of use.
  • There’s no thermostat – it’s on or off.
  • It has two important safety mechanisms – it turns itself off if tipped over or if it senses low oxygen.
  • It looks top heavy but isn’t at all.
  • Convenient handle on the back for moving it when it’s lit.
  • Easy to use.

Admittedly, you probably couldn’t use it in a rolly anchorage (particularly in a monohull) where it might tip over, but otherwise it’s great.

No, it doesn’t turn the boat into a sauna . . . but it makes it comfortable to sit and read. And if I’m warm when I go to bed – and the sheets aren’t freezing – my body heat warms up the bed and I’m comfortable to fall asleep. Without the heater, when I was cold when I went to bed and the sheets were also cold, it took forever to warm up enough to fall asleep.

Wish we’d known about this before we came down and went through not one, but two cold snaps! From talking to friends here, a heater is almost a necessity not just in Florida, but the Bahamas as well. And I know there were a few days we wished we had one in La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.

The Little Buddy can be hard to find, particularly if you are trying to find one in the middle of a cold snap. Around here, home improvement stores only carried the larger models that are too large to be practical on most boats. Walmart and Target only carry electric heaters in the stores. Ace Hardware and Tractor Supply (the two other local stores we tried) don’t carry propane heaters. We happened on one (the last one) at Northern Tool & Equipment, where we’d gone to get a Honda generator on a Black Friday sale – if they hadn’t had one, I already had one in my Amazon cart and was prepared to pay for overnight shipping to get it ASAP!

Best price I’ve found is on Amazon:

Walmart offers the consistent best price on the one-pound propane bottles that we’ve found (others may beat them at times with sales). Mr. Heater also offers a refill adapter so that you can refill the small bottle from your primary tank.

I’m serious, get a heater BEFORE you need it.

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  1. We have a little buddy on our boat in Morro Bay!

  2. The larger model has the same safety features and really toasts the boat up nicely! Seen here in MN last month when overnight temps were 34F!

  3. This looks like a brilliant solution for when the temps drop! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. We just started using a Mr. heater (18k BTU) to extend out season on the Chesapeake and love it. We keep a port cracked though in addition to dorads and don’t sleep with it on. Also wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a gas engine.

  5. Have any of you noticed if it adds moisture to the boat?

  6. Michael Shrum says:

    We use a Coleman SportCat (5,000 BTU) aboard our ‘Lily Pad’. It lacks the safety features of the little buddy, but we take care. We use the wide base the fits the 1# canisters, it is secured to the grating on the cabin sole when in use.

    We are often on the Delta in Nor Cal. In the morning is sweet to look across at the shore covered in frost, coffee in hand, and not be shivering.

    Love your web site

    • Rosie Gammelgaard says:

      Michael Shrum,

      If you ever see this note – I’d love to discuss your Caroline. Could you drop me a line at rosiegammelgaard — at — gee-mail *dot* com?


  7. We found this a lifesaver during our 2nd weekend anchoring during Christmas in San Diego. The first time the cabin was a chilly 51′! I bring it into the head, cabin, galley & cockpit! Since I couldn’t microwave my rice bags, I used good ole fashioned water bottles filled with hot water to place inside our bed to warm the sheets & toes!!! $15 at CVS. Also a lifesaver!

  8. Jim Shell says:

    Please use carbon monoxide monitors when using these heaters in an enclosed space.

  9. Another $20 gets the larger model with two settings and auto ignition. I love it and it’s well worth it’s footprint in storage.

  10. Deb Kurtz says:

    We just bought our little buddy to use next summer for those cool nights in the Spring on Lake Ontario. We plan to cruise to the Bahamas in the Fall and are hoping to use it during our trip south. I appreciate the article and everyone’s feedback. We bought ours at Walmart but noticed that not all Walmart stores had them on their shelves. I guess we lucked out.

  11. We have had a Little Buddy for over a year now and LOVE it. It’s kept us warm on chilly mornings when camping, on a cross-country road trip last winter, on our sailboat and in our cabin in Alaska when the power goes out. I do agree with the poster about using a carbon monoxide detector or not using it for prolonged periods of time in enclosed spaces. Me and the hubs agree that our Little Buddy was totally worth the money!!

  12. Dave Paoletta says:

    While doing some looking around for pros and cons of this heater I happened onto this “Practical Sailor” article. Based on this I’m looking for other alternatives. Please use caution operating any propane device inside your boat as they are not recommended for such use by manufacturers.

  13. Deb Kurtz says:

    We just purchased the 4000 BTU buddy Heater and it does just as others say. It take the chill out of the air. Also, we find it takes moisture out of the boat. Cooking on the stove adds moisture, but the Heat Buddy takes it away. We turn it on for 15-20 minutes then turn it off. We use it in the morning to warm up the cabin and during the day on those cold damp days. We are presently in the Cheasapeak and last night and this morning were cold. Our Little Buddy heater was just what we needed.

  14. We used those small canisters of propane to pack into our bush cabin in Alaska for cooking on a small portable burner. They were easy to pack in and very easy to use. Brings back memories of long ago !! Thanx for the share. I’ll be looking for one for our boat. Great that there is an oxygen depletion sensor.

  15. What would you suggest for places further north when not near power… I can’t stand the way kerosene /diesel smells…

  16. I have two friends who burned up their boats with these! careful with them!..pets were the cause in both cases..

  17. Propane heat doesn’t work for boats, a small wood stove is the way to go.

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