October 21, 2009

How to install a Dickinson Marine Heater - an easy guide.

Are you planning to install a Dickinson marine heater? My marine fireplace has kept my sailboat cabin warm on many stormy nights and added a bit of old world charm in the process. However, putting a source of fire on a boat can be a bit intimidating . . .so, I put up these installation directions to show how to do it safely. In this post, I'm installing the Dickinson newport solid fuel heater (i burned driftwood as I sailed north to Alaska) but the instructions I give and the accessory parts are similar to the other versions of Dickinson marine heater (the Dickinson marine diesel heater and Dickinson marine propane heater).

I initially wrote this post in 2009, but I continue to update the post so all the links are accurate. The good news is that 10 years after the install, I still had no leaks in the cabin. 

install dickinson marine fireplace
freshly installed Dickinson marine fireplace in my Newport 30 sailboat

The Dickinson marine fireplace installation

Steve and I mounted the heater unit on the starboard teak bulkhead in the main cabin with a sheet of stainless steel behind it - the stainless sheet acts as a heat guard to protect surrounding wood. This 3 inch stainless steel flue pipe fits over the stove top. I think, all told, I used 3 of these 22 inch sections of flue pipe, in order to connect my heater with the cabin ceiling. I hack-sawed them to the right length, then you can fold and squeeze one end into the reciprocal end of the other.

All the flue pipe and other fittings mentioned in this post are Dickinson brand. You may be able to get away with buying 3 or 5 inch stainless pipe from a metal shop and save some cash in that regard.

You want to run the 3 inch flue pipe up to the ceiling of your cabin in a way that allows at least 4 feet of exposed stove pipe. This serves to get the most heat out of the pipe and also to prevent the pipe from being too hot when it runs through your deck. To achieve this, I  used the 45 degree stainless steel elbows to curve the pipe to the exact spot I wanted the pipe to exit the roof. As seen in the above picture.

install dickinson marine fireplace
5 inch hole drilled through balsa core deck

To install the 3 inch flue pipe through my fiberglass deck, we first drilled out a 5 inch hole with a 5 inch circular drill piece. This gives an inch of space surrounding the flue pipe - which serves as a heat break, it keeps the hot pipe from touching your boat deck. Next we epoxied over the exposed balsa core of the fiberglass deck - to seal against rain that might sneak in (i live in Seattle..).

install dickinson marine heater
teak winch mount sanded to lay flush on deck

Then I ran the flue pipe through the deck using a 3 inch deck fitting with dress ring. This is a critical piece. There's a rubber gasket that comes with this deck fitting that also helps keep out rain. Here's the link to the deck fitting. It comes with circular steel plates to flush it up clean with the deck and ceiling surface.

 A teak winch pad was installed on the exterior of the boat, to keep the chimney top at level. There's a curve of my boat deck, so the teak winch pad counters out that slope. You can use the same 5 inch circular drill bit to take out the circle in the middle of the teak winch pad. I then sanded the teak pad until the curve was flush with my deck, thus keeping the chimney top level.

install dickinson marine heater
we drilled in holes, then coated base with 4200 marine sealant
You can find teak pads at West Marine. We ordered this one and saved a bit of cash.


Then I popped on this medieval looking clover leaf smoke cap, that keeps out the back-draft. I found this at a used boat shop.

install dickinson marine heater
clover leaf smoke cap fit on a teak winch mount

Dickinson Marine Heater

It's now 2019 and I have nothing but cozy fires to report. The only downside is you need to keep well stocked with small pieces (6-8 inch) of wood or wood pellets, or my favorite - chunks of duralog. Any type of compressed fuel log, is nice because you can just use a big screwdriver to break off baseball size chunks. This means not having to wield a hatchet in the rain while you're standing in your fiberglass cockpit at 10 pm (I've been there...)

Additional Dickinson units

You can find product spec. info and pricing for additional heater models and all the accessory parts I talk about below at the Dickinson Marine store on Amazon. Certain high quality boating stores may also carry these parts. I found everything I needed at Fisheries Supply in Seattle. Now, I'm based in San Diego and we have Marine Exchange down in Shelter Island area. If you don't have a store like that where you live, then online is probably the way to go. 

Good luck with the install and stay warm!

still keeping the cabin warm 10 years later

My dock mate just dropped off a pile of dense, chopped up burl wood. We burned these while out on anchor on a chilly evening in Mariner's Cove. You can see this dense fuel burning in the picture.

The heater still works fine. The pretty painting of a Spanish galleon on the ceramic tile has faded. But aside from that, the structure remains un-compromised.

My girlfriend and I spent the evening drinking wine and reading books on old trading ships. 

No complaints...


kelvin freely said...

I thought this was a joke. The photo tells me otherwise. Well I'll learn how to work it and do my best. All you can ask of me is to do my best. But you cannot expect me to sustain my best for too long. This would be tiresome.

kelvin freely said...

Dead and downed timber. Hmmm. This is pretty old school. Which is fine. But I think maybe, just maybe, you've been reading too many of those old books. Just how often will we be making timber fuel stops?

What happened to your minus ten down sleeping bag?

kelvin freely said...

It might be nice to swing past the enchanted islands and stock up on giant tortoises too. That's meat, man! good eating for up to a year.

Anonymous said...

freeny i am glad you are getting into the vibe,
i want you to re-read treasure island and moby dick as a way to bone up for the trip

daniel said...

oh great, where am i going to sleep now? that fancy temperature increaser is taking up my space! i demand a refund.

Anonymous said...

Hi Curran.

Neat installation! I just ordered a Newport solid fuel heater and while waiting for it to arrive,I am sourcing the parts to install it. I also tought of using a winch base for the wooden ring on deck. What is the diameter or the deck fitting? (what size whinch base should did you use?)
Cant find dimensions anywhere!



Toddy said...

But, won't you drown?

Anonymous said...

Hey Alex,

Right, so the teak winch mount is critical if the point on your deck where the chimney exits has a slope on it.
So, cut the teak to fit flush to the deck. I picked up a 7 inch teak winch plate, then shaved it down to fit the deck. (fisheries supply).
You need 3 inch stovepipe, (3-4 feet of it for proper draft)and you also need elbows to turn corners (if you need to turn corners). I went with the adjustable elbows, which i would seriously recommend, because it allows a margin of error with the installation.
You need a through deck chimney piece. I bought mine at fisheries supply. It includes a rubber gasket and fittings for the three inch stove pipe.
They recommend a 5 inch hole to be cut in the deck, this should be done with a 5 inch hole saw that mounts on a drill - The 5 inch hole ensures the 3 inch stovepipe has 1 inch of clearance on all sides. This minimizes the heat exposed to the balsa and fiberglass in the hole.

I dont know - good luck, I think you will be very happy - its a great little unit.

Anonymous said...

Toddy -

That type of thinking would have never put a man on the moon


Alex said...

Thanks for the info Kevin!

Can't wait for my heater to get in.


Unknown said...

This is adding a whole new level to Alize....I'm impressed

Danielle said...

I just think you look hot in that flannel, Kev. Does the stove mean you're staying on the boat for the winter?

Tammara said...

A fireplace! In the Puget Sound area, where I am, that would be great even for use in the Summer! Lord knows Summers here are like a warm winter - lol. Good idea to install the unit. Got marshmallows, and a Hershey's bar? :)

zakku said...

Freeny, wood stops are built in on the Alize. Just grab a few branches during the obligatory morning dinghy excursion...

Sailing in Squamish said...

What about a Barometric damper? Did your instructions say you needed one? Did you use one?


Captain Curran said...

sorry...I just saw your comment.
I did not go with a barometric damper. I vaguely remember talking with the sales guy at Fishery Supply about the pros and cons. And then I decided it wasn't necessary. There is a lever to control air intake at the base of my heater. So that gives some control over fire intensity - But, all I can report is that, this thing works fine without a damper.

Unknown said...

The space between the pipe and your 5" deck hole - did you leave an air gap or filled it with insulation like glasswool or rockwool?

Captain Curran said...

Hello Leonid,

I left the space as an airgap - the way the deck connector is set up - makes for a good seal - so i don't think too much heat is escaping - the 1 inch air gap seems to be sufficient to prevent balsa core deck from heating up - or overheating - i have seen no evidence of heat damage to surrounding deck and I have definitely over-heated the stove pipe a few times...

Unknown said...

Long time now Captain ! Hello from Canyon !
Do you happen to recall which of the two larger teak fittings you bought
so that the flue's upper deck fitting dress ring kit fit so nicely ? Seven and 3/4's
is the larger.. just nice to know so I can line up all the pieces in advance ... Or
I can just order the deck dressing kit in advance and just shuffle on down to West
Marine and size it right .. Did i mention to you- I've bought a kindling burning
Tiny Pet .. It's waiting for me up in Marin.. going to be my first cozy winter in a while !

Captain Curran said...

Hello Canyon!

Glad to hear you have committed to the solid fuel lifestyle - it makes for a cozy cabin.

So - I don't remember the specs on my teak platform -

But I know that the upper dimension of the teak platform was wide enough to fit the base of the deck fitting -

Here's the deck fitting I used

Dickinson Marine 16-050 3 in. Deck Fitting with Dress Ring

So, you can tell by my photo that I had about 1/2 inch of extra space on the teak - so the fitting could screw in nice without risk of awkward overhang.

Captain Curran said...

So - since you went with a non-Dickinson stove - I am not sure what the deck fitting dimension is - you need to get that info - the diameter of the fitting base, then make sure your teak platform diameter is a bit larger -

best of luck

post a photo on here - once you get a fire crackling..

Unknown said...

Are you operating your sailboat under motor or sail while heater is running. If so, how fast is safe? Any down drafts? Any risk of CO poisoning at nite or smoke back flow?
Thanks, enjoyed your post very much!

Captain Curran said...


I do operate the fire while moving. I run it with the engine no problem, I have probably ran the fire while sailing a few times, but it is not recommended. You don't want your dacron or lines getting too close to the hot chimney - plus there is some black soot coming out of the chimney - so it will get a bit messy if you're tracking around.

I have not had any problem with backflow, but I have a nice chimney hat that prevents down drafts. You can see this is in the photos.

I always crack my hatch to keep fresh air in the cabin - however if you install the stovepipe correctly then there should not be any CO leaking into the cabin - that should mostly head out the stove.

The thing with the fire is - as soon as you fall asleep - it will slowly burn out. So, that is bad in the sense that your boat won't stay toasty, but its good in the sense that you don't need to worry about dying in your sleep from toxic gas build-up...

Dave Freeman said...

Great post! How often do you have to stoke the stove? It would be interesting to know how it differs with different wood/fuel. Scrape oak versus driftwood versus duralog, etc. I have heated with wood a lot and it seems like such a small firebox would need to be stoked every 20 minutes. Thanks for any info you can provide. Also how much time do spend on the boat and use the heater?

Captain Curran said...

Dave Freeman

You are correct, due to the size of the internal space, I need to stoke every 20-30 minutes. After much experimentation, I found the best bang for your buck is a duralog type of deal. This is good when cruising because you only need a large screwdriver to break off a baseball size chunk and put in the fire. You don't want more than that - or the chimney can overheat.
But - that said, anything works - I also collect driftwood and then break it up with a hatchet. Though you will want to do that on shore.

I used this a lot on anchor in Seattle and on my trip to Alaska.
But I only use it once every couple months in San Diego. Usually when on anchor in the bay and trying to impress my girlfriend....

Good luck with your fire endeavors!

Wilderness Classroom said...

Thanks for the info. Sounds like the wood burning stove has worked really well for your needs.

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Anonymous said...

burning seawater drift wood can be toxic. salt burns to
not good [ dioxin ?]