Mailport: Boat heaters, digital charts, photophobia, downsizing



I just saw, with interest, your article about onboard fireplace safety, with the emphasis on safety (see “LPG Fireplace Safety Guidelines,” Inside Practical Sailor). I have no problem with your comments on safety; they are excellent. But the picture that’s included with the article shows an installation that may be safe but is seriously deficient for the purpose of comfortably heating the inside of a sailboat. The reason is that the heater is installed about five feet above the cabin sole. Heat rises; it will never descend, so that the space below the bottom of that heater will remain close to the outside temperature, and will be of little value heating the cabin space where people would be sitting, eating, doing chart work, etc. This is not a problem in the South perhaps; but for those who prefer Maine and/or Canadian waters (like I used to do), that heater is useless.

Peter Engles
Portland, ME

Thanks for the letter. You are absolutely correct. A forced-air unit with low-mounted ducts is a better choice for serious heating through the winter. Luckily, there is a cabin fan mounted a short distance above and to the side of the heater, which was mounted on a 32-foot catamaran. In operation, this fan is run on low, blowing across the flue pipe and blowing the heat downwards and in slow circular path around the cabin. Since this path is outside center of the salon, there is no draft, and it is quite effective and cozy, warming the cabin quite evenly when temperatures outside are around 30°F. Insulation that helps prevent heat loss includes exterior window covers, double glazing, bubble wrap on the inside of windows, foam coring of the hull and deck, and the hull liners (see “Dirt Cheap Insulation for Liveaboards,” PS January 2018). A live aboard boat in colder climates would surely benefit from a heater that is mounted lower in the hull.


Thank you for the informative article on UV protection (see “Fortified Defenses Against the Sun,” PS September 2023). While ZZ Top sunglasses may be easily acquired and unregrettably lost, the lack of clarity of vision is something I would strongly caution against. Cheap sunglasses are just that, cheap. If one has experienced French made, real glass Vaurnet sunglasses they will immediately know there is little room for the bargain spectacles aboard. A quick read of the Vaurnet website will inform the reader of the strong resistance to damage of the lenses. Salt spray has no lasting effect, just rinse and wipe with a cloth. The protection factor is unmatched with 100 percent of UV light blocked. Perhaps the greatest attribute is the ability to peer into the water due to the excellent optics and the superior polarization. Similar to a cherished set of binoculars, quality sunglasses have no replacement. If one is worried of losing them, simply fit an eyeglass strap, affectionately known as Croakies. Keep up the good work.

Russell Robins
M/V August
Boston, Ma

Our lab testing found that high quality glass lenses have less distortion and are more scratch resistant than polycarbonate or acrylic lenses. However, the optometrist who consulted us on the project did not recommend these for sailing because of the risk of the lenses breaking and harming the eye. Glass lenses—even those with shatterproof design—are not recommended for active use. Nevertheless, the editor cruised for 10 years with glass lens sunglasses that he used explicitly for eyeball navigation as you describe. The conditions when he wore them were almost always benign, so the risk of impact on the lenses was extremely low. The glasses stayed on the boat and, like the binoculars, they were stored in dedicated space at the nav station. For everyday use, he relied on less-expensive, polycarbonate lens sunglasses


For years I’ve suffered from headaches when being out in bright sunshine and especially out on the water. I always was wearing polarizing sunglasses. I have worn prescription glasses since I was 12. A couple decades ago I had a complete eye examination which revealed that I was extremely photophobic, meaning I was very sensitive to light. Maybe this was the reason I see so well at night? At this time my optometrist was able to source a type of polarized lens from an Israeli company that supplied their lenses to soldiers serving in the desert. These are now widely accessible to optometrists in the US. I have had maybe two headaches in those past 20 years wearing these lenses.

Ed White
Taffy 3
Hull, Ma


Regarding your recent report on vision and chart reading (see “Navigating with Impaired Senses,” PS September 2023), as one who is Red/Green colour blind, I find the “pure” colors from LED chart plotters helps considerably over paper charts—the UK charts are easier to read than the American charts with their blandish shades. At night the greatest issue I have is discriminating between white and green lights on buoys and ships at a distance. In this situation I find using binoculars useful. Chart plotters, GPS and AIS have been a godsend.

David Trossell
Cool Blue, Hanse 315
Lymington, UK


Regarding your report on downsizing to a smaller boat (see “Downsizer’s Dream,” PS February 2020), There is more to downsizing than just day or weekend sailing. What if you want to live permanently on the boat? All the same adages apply, stick to the bare necessities, stay as small as possible and keep it simple.

I worry about the sheer amount of kit, especially electronics, that the average yacht carries onboard and the complexity that people think is essential now. At best, every single thing that is not absolutely required is something to be maintained, repaired or replaced in the future. At worst, it may fail at the least convenient moment when you have previously relied upon it.

Downsizing is about the bare necessities and emphasizing basic seamanship above all else.

Timothy Millea
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349
Nydri, Lefkas, Greece

Autumn Reading for the Restless

Fall is a good time to tackle do-it-yourself projects and onboard maintenance or systems upgrades. It’s also when many of us will shop for that next “new” boat.


Here are a few DIY projects worth tackling in the off-season. We detail building a simple winter boat cover frame in the September 2011 issue. For those with tired-looking decks, be sure to check out our reports on nonskid options for the do-it-yourselfer (PS November 2013); these include mats and paints. Have an electronics installation or rewiring project on tap? Get some pro tips for rewiring (PS July 2016). If you’re looking for a boatyard where you can actually do the work yourself while hauled out, you can find a rundown of DIY-friendly boat yards (PS June 2009), as well as a list of reader-recommended DIY yards in the Oct. 29, 2013 Inside Practical Sailor blog post. Other good cool-weather projects worth considering: fuel tank cleaning (blog post, June 6, 2018), sail cleaning (blog post, Dec. 6, 2016), making your own chafe guards (PS July 2011), and building your own dinghy wheels (blog post, August 15, 2017).


In the market for a new-to-you boat? We highly recommend reading our checklist for DIY boat surveys (PS June 2012 online) and our “Sailor’s Guide to Marine Insurance” (PS October 2012 online). Cruisers should also be sure to check out the April 2009 issue’s look at cruising boats over 35 feet long and under $75,000, “Affordable Cruising Sailboats.” If you’re considering a boat that’s well-weathered (or possibly storm damaged), the January 10, 2017 blog, “Buyers Beware of Post-storm Bargains,” is also useful.


Our new three-volume water report will ensure that your crew will stay healthy and hydrated with clean, fresh-tasting water straight from your tanks.

Volume One compares the most popular water filters on the marine market and describes some cost-saving, do-it-yourself options. In Volume Two you’ll learn secrets to ensuring that your water supply remains clean and good-tasting throughout your voyage. In Volume Three, you’ll see the results of our head-to-head testing of the major brands of watermakers sold today. Available at

Darrell Nicholson
Darrell Nicholson is Director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division and the editor of Practical Sailor. A lifelong thalassophile, he grew up sailing everything from El Toro dinghies to classic Morgans on Miami's Biscayne Bay. In the early 90s, he left a newspaper job to sail an old gaff-rigged ketch across the Pacific and has been writing about boats and the sea ever since. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at