Narrowboat Diesel Stoves/ Heaters… What’s the Deal?

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Anyone that is involved with narrowboats will probably have noticed the increased interest in diesel stoves on canal boats over the past few years. Traditionally multi fuel stoves have been the go to option, but these days diesel stoves are gaining in popularity.

Actually, the first time I saw a diesel stove on a boat was when I was watching a sailing video where some Scandinavian dude had one on his boat. Seemed to work well and made me think about the possibility of having one on a canal boat.

Why Are Diesels Stoves Becoming More Common in Canal Boats?

In my opinion, there are several reasons why these diesel stoves have been growing in popularity on the canals. These include:


Simply put, a diesel stove is a cleaner form of heating than a multi-fuel stove, especially good if you have allergies or don’t like dust! Burning coal or wood in a multi-fuel stove will lead to ash that will probably end up all over your saloon. With a diesel fired stove there is no ash or dust to worry about.

And it’s not only the fact that dust isn’t being spread around your boat but also that the stove itself is self contained and requires little more than a quick wipe over to keep clean.

And last but not least, you don’t have to store and handle dusty and dirty coal bags on your boat, and you certainly don’t have to venture out in the cold of the night to get coal to restock your fire 🙂


Thanks to websites such as Aliexpress, canal boaters now have access to some cheap Chinese knock offs of popular diesel heaters/stoves. These end up being much cheaper than buying the official version of the stove, and because they are pretty much an exact copy, most people seem to find them equally as reliable and efficient. That said, make sure you only buy one that has a good amount of good reviews from real customers. If you find a good one they are a much cheaper alternative to the traditional multi fuel stove.

YouTube Stars

As with the van life movement in America, we now have several prominent YouTube stars or influencers within the narrow boating community. As more and more of these are moving across to these diesel stoves, it’s inevitable than many of their followers will follow suit. Below is a video of one of them (Boating Beyond) getting their diesel stove fitted.

I am pretty sure a lot of their followers switched to a diesel stove after watching this.

What to Consider When Buying a Diesel Stove for a Canal Boat?

Will My Canal Boat Smell of Diesel?

Many boaters are worried that they will fill up their boat interiors with the smell of diesel after installing a diesel stove. Most of the time this is totally not the case, you won’t smell anything inside your boat. It’s only on a particularly windy day that this may happen occasionally. For most, this really isn’t an issue. If this is not the case, it probably means your stove is not set up properly and too much diesel is flowing into the stove. Too much to all be burned off.

Diesel Tank

These diesel stoves can be setup to run from your main diesel tank whilst others can have their own separate diesel tank. Unless you have a particularly big main diesel tank, you may want to opt for the separate tank. It’s not only a matter of making your main diesel tank drain faster, meaning you can’t go as far on a full tank. Some also find it annoying when moored up for long periods. This is because a lot of boaters like to keep their main take as full as possible at these times to help alleviate the possibility of the dreaded diesel bug. This is much easier to manage with a separate diesel tank for the stove.


I would always recommend getting a professional to fit your diesel stove, unless you have experience of doing so yourself. If you insist on a DIY approach, you should get a qualified person to at least look over your handiwork when you are done to make sure you haven’t done anything wrong. For safety more than for aesthetics or convenience!


Although it might not be as obvious with a diesel fuelled stove, ventilation is equally as important. When diesel is burned, some harmful gases are produced. If this gas isn’t removed from the boat, then it could harm those who are inside. You probably already have a carbon monoxide detector on your boat, if not get one installed pronto!

Water Heating

It is possible to use your diesel stove to heat your water too, either by linking it up to a calorifier, or using the included water heating coil that some models come with. Make sure to review the exact specifications of any diesel stove that you buy and make sure it fits your water heating requirements.

Can you cook on a Diesel Stove?

Many people use their multi fuel stove to cook on (albeit very slowly). If you have a diesel stove in your canal boat, can you cook on it too? Although cooking on a diesel stove is also slow, many of them have a hob like plate on the top of them to give you a good surface to place your pan on and cook like on a regular stove. This makes it even easier that using some multi fuel stoves for cooking. You can see one of my favourite YouTube Vloggers Chugging Along using their diesel stove for a cook off below:

Fuel Feeding

When fitting a diesel stove on a narrow or canal boat one of the major things to consider is how you intend to feed your unit with diesel. The best way is by using gravity. Look at how your boat is trimmed and how it sits in the water. Whichever side of your boat is sitting higher in the water, then that is the side to place your diesel tank in. Otherwise you may have to overcomplicate everything with fuel pumps, which is best avoided in my humble opinion.

Coked Up

The diesel heater/ stove looks very clean on the outside, so many people mistakenly think you don’t need to maintain it as you might a multi-fuel stove. That would be totally wrong, as on the inside of these diesel stoves they can get coked up with soot and need to be regularly cleaned out and maintained to make sure they don’t become a fire hazard. These stoves can also become inefficient is not regularly cleaned out. Granted, it is not as often as a multi-fuel stove, but it still has to be done 🙂

Fuel Cut Off

If, God forbid, you get into a dangerous situation with your diesel stove; you need a quick and easy place to position a fuel cut-off valve so that you can quickly remedy the situation. A lot of people forgot about this, but it could be the difference between a small fire and a fire gutted boat! Trust me, it’s worth thinking about!


If you already have a multi-fuel stove, you don’t have to rip it out and start again with a diesel stove. There are people out there that will happily help you convert that multi fuel stove into a diesel powered variant. Just make sure you are dealing with a reputable organisation.

In Summary

I can totally see why more and more canal boaters are going for these diesel powered stoves. They are clean and easy to use and can be bought for a cheaper price than the more traditional multi fuel stoves. Just make sure you think through the whole process carefully before taking the plunge.

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