Cooking And Heating With Kerosene (Paraffin)

[While living on Polaris for a month, I wrote about the boat’s kerosene stove (cooker), which sparked a lively debate in the comments about the benefits and drawbacks of various cooking fuels on boats.

Continuing that theme, we just got a note from our good friend and Norwegian Correspondent for the Norwegian Cruising Guide, Hans Jacob Valderhaug, who cruises extensively with his wife Eli Husum on their Hallberg Rassy 32, Anna. In fact they are bound for Svalbard as I write.

If you are thinking of kerosene for cooking and/or heating, what follows by Hans Jakob will be useful.]

We have used paraffin/kerosene for heating and cooking for 30+ years. I quite agree with John that there is hassle involved, although we do not regularly sacrifice a small animal.

Cooking/heating with paraffin requires dedication. You need to get intimate with the burners at regular intervals, meaning a couple of hours bathed in paraffin once a month or so.

There are leaks, build up of carbon deposits, broken pricking needles – you name it. For users of the Optimus/Taylor range of cookers there is the added confusion of two different burners available, requiring different spare parts and the two-legged variety requiring longer pre-heating than the four-legged variety. There is also an issue with different types of aluminum washers required.

The pre-heating ritual is less of a problem, flare ups are rare once the routine is established. We pre-heat using methylated spirits [industrial alcohol]. We tried pre-heating using a blow torch one season but did not like it.

Our set-up for the last 10 years is from Taylor: A two burner stove with a one burner oven and their K 79 heater, both units run off the one tank. There are numerous joints in this set up, and we have had issues with leaks. I have no knowledge of the Bertschi burners, but they seem rather complex.

Paraffin/kerosene should only be considered if your boat, your cruising area or your safety hang-ups rule out propane/butane. If your decision is made I would strive for simplicity.

If making a new installation I would consider the two burner cooker Optimus 155W (now in production again) with integrated tank. I had one of these in a previous boat and it worked perfect until I brought it home one winter and put it in the dish washer—the cooker was fool proof but not idiot proof. [I was not able to find a source for these online, but the Taylor stoves are readily available.]

For heating I would go for a diesel heater of the Reflex type and a gravity-fed diesel supply. You need a long unsightly flue and there are issues with downdraught but these are issues that can be dealt with.

Eli informs me that we will NOT sail without an oven, so for us I guess it is sticking to our Taylor and accepting the ongoing maintenance battle.

[Me (John), I’m sticking with propane despite the dangers! Mind you, cooking and heating with kerosene saves Hans Jakob and Eli from the cruel fate of smelling faintly of diesel and musty bilges like most of us live-aboard voyagers. Instead they smell faintly of kerosene!

If anyone else has experience with kerosene, please leave a comment.]

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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