A Confession From (Not So) Intrepid Northern Explorers


It’s been a long day of steaming in thick fog, keeping a good lookout for ice (there’s lots around), and trying to keep warm in temperatures of only 3˚C (37˚F). Finally we make harbour and get the anchor set.

We dash below where the engine heat exchanger, forced-air heater has kept everything warm and dry. Everything, that is, except our bunk. At bedtime I drag things out getting ready, hoping John’ll get in there first and start warming up the bed. But, no, he’s dawdling, too. Oh, well, nothing for it…aaagh!

Oh, but, wait…that was in the old days. Everything is different now. These days our bunk is always warm and dry.

Is it some new kind of dry bunk material, you ask? No, our little secret is an electric blanket—now you know that we aren’t being modest when we say we’re not really very intrepid!

Motoring days make for a very toasty bunk, as we’ll run the blanket the whole time we’re underway. If we’ve been sailing or are at anchor for the day, we’ll sneak (if we have crew aboard, since they don’t get this little perk) into the aft cabin 30 minutes before bedtime, and turn it on. Though nowhere near as toasty as when it’s been on for hours while motoring, it still makes a big difference to our comfort level. Those heartrending evening cries of, “Yikes, it’s freezing in here!”, echoing across northern anchorages, are a thing of the past.

And the good news is that a modern electric blanket doesn’t use as much power as you might think: only 36 watts (3 amps at 12 volts), so 30 minutes only uses about 1.5 amp/hour out of the battery.

The way I see it, using an electric blanket is our little contribution to maintaining the peace and quiet of the north.

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Meet the Author


Phyllis has sailed over 40,000 offshore miles with John on their McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, most of it in the high latitudes, and has crossed the Atlantic three times. As a woman who came to sailing as an adult, she brings a fresh perspective to cruising, which has helped her communicate what they do in an approachable way, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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28 comments … add one
  • Mick O'Flanagan Dec 10, 2015, 11:02 pm

    What! You’ll be telling us that Santa Claus doesn’t exist next! What happened to good old rubber hot water bottles….pah youngsters.

    • John Dec 11, 2015, 9:39 am

      Just so everyone knows, when it’s cold, Mick coats himself in warm stockholm tar and then wraps in a piece of canvas. The hot water bottle is supplementary.

      • Marc Dacey Dec 23, 2015, 1:52 pm

        Well, I wish I had not had a mouthful of coffee when I pictured that.

  • Bryant Dec 11, 2015, 4:11 am

    AAAAArgh 3 more amps! going to have to upgrade to LiFePo4!
    No seriously, next you’ll tell us you use breathable fabrics and merino instead of oilskins and hair shirts.

  • Gus Wilson Dec 11, 2015, 5:01 am

    We go the hot water bottle route – rubber in fuzzy covers, and they also work well stuffed under a foul weather jacket.

  • Jonathan Dec 11, 2015, 8:32 am

    Wow, brilliant idea I say, and (seriously) could be justified as a safety item if someone with hypothermia needed to be treated on board.

    • John Dec 13, 2015, 10:40 am

      Hi Jonathan,

      That’s a good point I never thought of, although these low draw electric blankets do take a long time to warm up, so perhaps not to be relied on as the primary warming source.

  • Ed Finn Dec 11, 2015, 8:53 am

    Phylis and John
    My , my, an electric blanket in your berth… how hedonistic.
    Reading your history of arctic ocean cruising, and somewhat anal retentive boat preperation and maintanence for all these years , I naturally though you guys were so “hard core”. I should have known, and there really is ‘no Santa either!
    Well I have to confess, our long time marina neighbors hail from Labrador originally, so when they told us they use an electric blanket all the time,we were shocked( no pun intended) So, we threw away all our self pride, and in the dark of night – and inder cover of a Northeast wind and in a snow squall, we sneaked an electric blanket into our berth as well…
    It dried up every bit of dampness and moisture in the vee berth. Its great!
    A hidden benefit, it heats up my lower back, removes those kinks and helps relieve lower back pain, resulting in a better rested crewmember-me, and hats got to count for something in the safety department…
    Well thats the story I’m running with anyway, its not that I’m getting soft as the years go by, I use it for lower back pain! Strictly therapudic , Doctors orders.
    I hear they are “on sale” at Walmart , Perhaps we’ll get one for the house as well…

    • John Dec 11, 2015, 9:29 am

      Oh no, Ed, I’m devastated. I thought that there were no wimps in Newfoundland!

  • Bob T Dec 11, 2015, 8:59 am

    HAPPY WIFE HAPPY LIFE! Happy wife onboard marvelous life.

  • Blair Dec 11, 2015, 1:08 pm

    We use an electric mattress pad. It has two zones so when one of us doesn’t want as much (or any) heat, we can adjust each side for personal preference. It really only needs to be on for a short while before going to bed because once you’re in bed, body warmth tends to be sufficient to stay cozy.

    Another perk is a silk duvet! We bought these at Costco and now have them on all of our beds both at home and on the boat. They are quite thin but offer excellent comfort both winter and summer. Since they are silk, they are mildew resistant and non-allergenic. Way warmer than a man-made fabric and not as difficult to manage as a down quilt. It’s amazing how comfortable they are year-round.

  • Ed Finn Dec 11, 2015, 1:20 pm

    One, apparently…
    Cheer up John, I’m getting the wife a chain saw for Christmas
    So, When we heat the house with firewood, then we won’t need the 2nd electric blanket.

  • RDE Dec 11, 2015, 4:19 pm

    Hi John,
    Looks like you have created a serious image problem for yourself. The only real cure is to put a bag of ice down near your feet every time you crawl into such a decant berth and post proof on the internet.

    • John Dec 13, 2015, 10:38 am

      Ice? Ice? I don’t even put ice in my whiskey, never mind my bed…seen too much of it in the sea.

  • James Dec 13, 2015, 11:11 am

    At last, we can COME OUT too. Never dared tell the world that we have had an electric blanket for many years, far safer than a hot water bottle.
    As you say may benefits,Warm Bunk = Happy Crew / Wife.

    • Mick O'Flanagan Dec 13, 2015, 11:28 pm

      Electric blankets far safer than a hot water bottle seems like a claim too far to me but leaving that aside, the versatility of the honourable HW over this electric upstart makes it a winner. Great for getting bread dough to rise; excellent for keeping the home-brew ticking over when you first start the batch, wonderful shoved inside the oilies on night watch or under the cats blanket and it airs a bed. Plus the water can be re-used, no not in tea but in the next HW bottle. Cheap too.

  • Robert Muir Dec 14, 2015, 1:58 pm

    Our bit of hedonism, other than the 40″ screen, is an electric towel warm. Guarantees dry towels come shower time, not to mention warm. Unfortunately, it sucks 100 watts, so it’s only good for dockside, but it sure is nice to have dry towels when we can use it.

  • Art Watson Dec 14, 2015, 2:24 pm

    Sorry, but do these blankets run on 12VDC?


    Art Watson

    • John Dec 14, 2015, 4:30 pm

      Hi Art,

      Sorry, should have clarified that. No, they are household appliances and must be run through an inverter.

      • npf1 Dec 22, 2015, 3:05 pm

        “…only 36 watts (3 amps at 12 volts)…” – seems rather low for a household appliance run through an inverter. I would have thought that 3amp at 12V, inverted to 110V wouldn’t provide any noticable heat. Do you mean 36W at 110V = approx 30A @ 12V?

  • Marc Dacey Dec 23, 2015, 2:04 pm

    My only concern with an electric blanket would be its viability, so to speak, in sea air. It’s a big grid of untinned wire, right? I can’t argue with the pleasant results, but I wonder if lava rocks in a bedwarming pan heated over the manifold wouldn’t address the issue as well without the issue of corrosion of the blanket’s innards.

  • Terry Mason Jan 12, 2016, 3:21 pm

    Hi John & Phyllis,

    Great idea! What brand did you get? Do you leave it in the berth when sleeping? What is the area of the heating element vs. overall size?

    From http://www.electricblanketinstitute.com/ I did find the Softheat brand which is UL listed and cuts the voltage to 18v but doesn’t state the wattage. They claim that their product is the only one on the market which will run properly on a modified sine wave inverter.

    Stay warm.

    • John Jan 18, 2016, 4:06 pm

      Hi Terry,

      I hadn’t forgotten you, just had to wait until I had been to the boat and checked. The answer is that our electric blanket is Sunbeam Style S85 and 160 watts.

      That last number brings up an interesting point. 160 watts would be 13 amps at 12 volts, but we were only reading 3 amps,so that tells me that our blanket is on the way out, and we need another one.

      • Terry Mason Jan 19, 2016, 2:02 pm

        Thanks John, what do you think of Softheat’s claim to be the only one on the market which will run properly on a modified sine wave inverter? We have a Sterling 2500 modified. Is yours pure or modified, and do you think that your blanket’s performance may be affected in that the controller may not have liked the modified sine wave and gave up?

        • Terry Mason Jan 19, 2016, 2:34 pm

          P.S. If you are in the market, the Softheat seems like a good bang for the buck. Not cheap but has a 5-year guarantee (not that it helps if you are out there) and claims to have lighter wires than the Sumbeam. We can get by with a twin. Softheat tells me that it only uses 66 watts at 120v, so we are looking at just over 6A, allowing for inverter inefficiecies.

          • John Jan 22, 2016, 10:01 am

            Hi Terry,

            Thanks very much, we will look into that option as a replacement, sounds like a good one.

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