Non-Electric Heating Pad

Uggggh.  Yes, aches and pains are possible when on a boat.  Pulled muscles, sprains, general aches and more.  And heat is often prescribed.

But it’s tough for many of us to use a traditional electric heating pad.  Some of us don’t have enough power (or an inverter) and there may not be a convenient outlet if you do.  For others, being tied to an electric cord makes it hard to do needed activities — this is always a problem for Dave and I!

Over the years, we’ve come up with four ways to provide heat that don’t require electricity.  So here goes:

Chemical Heating Pads Our doctor recently recommended these when Dave pulled a muscle in this back, and Dave was quite pleasantly surprised at how well they worked.  There are two basic types of these:  ones that stick directly onto the skin and ones that slide into a fabric pouch that Velcros into place.

Dave tried generic versions of both (shown in the top photo) and greatly preferred the stick-on style.  The big advantage is that it stays exactly where you put it.  The wraps with pouches tended to slide out of position as Dave moved.  The stick-ons were also about half the price of the others, at least the couple of places where I’ve looked — about $1 each for generics (about $4 each for brand name patches).

Some brands provide heat for 12 hours and some for 8.  Since it’s a chemical reaction, the pads aren’t reusable.

If you can’t find the stick-on heat packs locally, the best price I find for a highly rated product (note: I haven’t tried this brand since we get generics at the local Walmart) are these:

These chemical heat packs heat up when you open the package and they come into contact with air.  So if you are buying them to have on hand, slip them inside a Ziploc so that the cellophane won’t tear and keep them in a place where they won’t be chafed by other items. And, of course, don’t buy any with an open package!

Hot Water Bottle  If your only experience with a hot water bottle is one of the older rubber ones that were seriously prone to leaking, you might be pleasantly surprised by the advances in hot water bottle technology.  Yes, there is such a thing as “advances in hot water bottle technology.”

Newer ones tend to be far more leakproof than the ones around when I was a kid (nothing is 100% leakproof).  In fact, this whole post was started by an email from a newsletter subscriber named Davey who wrote to highly recommend the one he got a year ago.

Here’s a product recommendation to pass on to your readers.  I have some back problems and it gets sore on the boat.  No electricity.  This hot water bottle has been a godsend.  Got it on Amazon.  Has never leaked and stays warm most of the night.  I boil water, let it cool just a couple of minutes and pour it in. Teakettle works well and it’s not hard to pour the water in.  Just do it over the sink because if the boat moves before you screw the top on it can spill.

Davey included a link to Amazon, so I took a look at it and found it’s the best-selling hot water bottle on Amazon (it’s listed as #2, but what’s listed as #1 in the category isn’t actually a hot water bottle . . .).  User reviews are 4.7/5 — sure there are a few people who have had leaks, but it’s rare to find any product without a few negative reviews.  It’s made of a thermoplastic material which seems to be both better at heat retention and less likely to leak than the old rubber bags.

One thing that many people loved is the fact that this bottle is transparent (over time, it may get a little yellowish, but you can still see through it), which means that you can see how full it’s getting as you’re pouring water it.  No more sudden overflows!

While a hot water bottle is infinitely re-usable, the one drawback is that it’s hard to keep one in place if you need to be mobile.  On the plus side, however, it can also be used with cold water for a cold pack.

You may want to get a cover for it or simply wrap it in a towel when you use it.

Hot Wet Towels Decidedly low-tech, hot towels tend to be messy but can provide a lot of comfort.  Basically, you need to heat water in a large pot to as warm a temperature as you can stand.  Put a towel or two in the pot, let them absorb the hot water, remove and quickly wring out, then place on the affected area.  It’s best to either use a large towel that you can fold into several layers or use 3 or 4 smaller towels and layer them on top of each other.

This provides a nice moist heat, but no matter how hard we’d wring the towel, there would always be water dripping from the towel onto the settee or bed.  We learned to put several more towels under the body area where the towel would go, in order to catch the extra.

We used hot towels a few times on Que Tal — when I had a severely pulled muscle in my back, the towels were the only thing that offered relief.

Snuggling Okay, laugh.  But several times when one of us would wake up in the middle of the night with a sore back or bit of a stomach ache, we didn’t really feel like getting up and getting something out.  Body heat from a partner (or a parent, for a child) can actually do a lot in the pain relief department.  Cuddle up close!

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  • Nicki Reineck
    Posted at 07 March 2014 Reply

    Another way to get a warm moist compress while on a sailboat. Dampen and wring out a towel, place inside a black plastic garbage bag and leave in the sun. It takes an hour or more to heat up but gets plenty warm to be soothing. You might want to do 2 or 3 at once so you can be using and heating if you want a warm compress constantly over a longer period of time.

  • Quinn
    Posted at 07 March 2014 Reply

    I’ve been using a “fashy” brand hot water bottle for about 6 years now, and I LOVE it! Mine is translucent red, so I can see the water level. I think the trick is to fill it about 2/3 then carefully push the air out before screwing in the plastic lid. I’ve never had a leak. A woolen “cozy” will help keep the water hot for many hours.

  • Chris
    Posted at 16 March 2014 Reply

    For the non-adhesive heat packs we find the same bandage used for sprained ankles holds them in place nicely.

  • Heather Chalmers
    Posted at 09 April 2015 Reply

    Ice. Not necessarily easier to come by but almost always more effective

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 09 April 2015 Reply

      Ice works for some things on me, but not my back — it’ll cause it to go into spasm.

    • Heather Chalmers
      Posted at 09 April 2015 Reply

      That’s terrible! So sorry.

  • Jo-Anne Gendel
    Posted at 11 January 2016 Reply

    These are great and come in different sizes. Using them now on my neck and shoulders.

  • Alex Fallon
    Posted at 22 April 2017 Reply

    I’m late to the party but if any readers want to try those stick-on chemical heat pads, make sure you know whether you’re overly sensitive to capsaicin or not. My dad loves them right on his surgery scars, but I tried one on my back and got a bright red mark that stayed for about two weeks. I’m not sure if it was a rash or a burn, but it hurt the entire time I had it.

    I will say, they definitely work while they’re on you– I didn’t feel any pain from the mark until after I took off the patch!

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