It’s nearly Easter and the daffodils outside my boat are looking decidedly miserable, having been crushed by the snow. Our Bubble diesel stove is struggling to battle against the temperatures outside because it is waiting for a new component. With this in mind I thought I’d give you the ‘low-down’ on diesel stoves, for those considering living on a narrowboat all year round.

Diesel stoves are made by a number of companies. We’ve always had a Bubble corner stove, which is good, but my boating friends have also been happy with a Reflex and a Kabola. Ours runs off the diesel tank from the engine. With this set-up we need to be sure that the tank does not run too low (i.e. below the stove feed pipe), as the stove will then go out. (Although the stove may go out there still may be sufficient diesel to run the engine below the stove feed pipe.)

Alternatively your boat may have a separate tank dedicated to feeding the diesel stove. If your stove is gravity-fed this tank can then be positioned ideally to ensure a good flow of diesel. The fuel supply feeds a small puddle of diesel into the bottom of the stove; I then drop a tiny piece of burning kitchen roll or firelighter into the pool to ignite the fuel. This then burns happily for weeks on end until the stove becomes ‘coked up’ and requires cleaning. Once in a while the stove must be turned off and black deposits must be scraped from inside the bottom. (This can be an awkward and unpleasant job.)

Our diesel stove has a back boiler which then heats pipes running all down the boat, leading to the back cabin radiator. The fat copper pipes running through our bedroom in the middle of the boat heat that room. The water from the radiators may or may not require an electric pump to aid circulation. We used to have an electric pump but we made changes to the system as the pump could be noisy at night and used up valuable electricity!

Red diesel can be bought from your local marina or boatyard. Ours is delivered to us by our local fuel boats. These are 70ft working boats who travel a regular route delivering fuel to boaters. This can include various different types of coal, logs and diesel. When buying diesel you must declare what percentage will be for domestic use (i.e. heating) and how much will be used for propulsion (leisure boating). These two are taxed differently. Our family therefore declares about 95-100% domestic use in winter. Our only ‘leisurely’ cruise is from our mooring to the water point to fill the water tank.

Folk that work the fuel boats are generally hard-working, fun-loving people that enjoy stopping for a chat while they fill your tank. The arrival of a traditional pair of working boats chugging up beside your own is one of the most romantic parts of living on a boat. But you don’t have to be home when they arrive; they will leave an invoice which you can pay by credit card, debit card or Bacs.

If you’re looking for a live-aboard boat we have plenty of boats for sale around Hertfordshire and London, many of them with moorings.

Image credit: Jules Fuels braves the ice to deliver on the Grand Union.


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