Product Review: Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Propane Heater

It’s Autumn here in North America. Temperatures are sliding down to freezing at night in the northern states and many skippers are pulling their boats out for the winter layover. I can almost hear my Canadian readers shouting, “You’re about a month late, eh!” If you’re done sailing for 2015, I hope you made lots of great memories, sailed to some new destinations, made new friends, and learned a few things here on this blog that you were able to use on your boat.

If you’re not done yet and you don’t mind adding a clothing layer or two to stay warm, if you look forward to the yachties getting out of your way, if you welcome the stronger Fall breezes, if you’re hardcore, then you might be interested in a little cabin heat at dinnertime or to take the chill off in the morning before the coffee’s hot.

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Mrs. $tingy is definitely a creature of comfort. It’s not all her fault, though. She has hypothyroidism, which makes her very sensitive to the air temperature as I’ve mentioned before in my budget bimini top post. She’s comfortable between about 70°-80°. So to do any Fall sailing in north Idaho, auxiliary heat is a must.

When I looked around for a heater for Summer Dance, I had these criteria in mind:

  • Portable – I didn’t want to mount anything permanently. Space is too precious.
  • Compact size – It needed to fit in any of the storage lockers and take up the least possible space.
  • Simple and reliable – No hoses to connect, remote tanks, folding shields, moving parts.
  • Use existing fuel – I already have gasoline, alcohol, and propane onboard. No need to add something else.
  • Safe – An open flame inside an enclosed space is dangerous.

What I settled on was the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy propane heater. It met all my criteria with flying colors.

Compact convenience

Unlike tank-top and other style radiant heaters out there, the Portable Buddy was designed to be moved around to wherever you are. The big handle on top is easy to grab, even with gloves on. It has a wide, solid base that makes it hard to tip over, a big plus on a sailboat. The Portable Buddy can sit almost anywhere inside the cabin or in the cockpit without worrying about it tipping over or scorching nearby surfaces. The side clearance to combustible materials is only 6″ and the rear clearance is 0″.

It’s small size (9″ x 14-1/4″ x 14-1/2″) stows just about anywhere onboard and that includes the propane tank that tucks partly inside the heater’s shell. Don’t be fooled by its small size, though. It puts out more than enough heat in just a couple of minutes to warm up the interior of a pocket cruiser even with a hatch partly opened for ventilation.

Don’t underestimate that last point. The longer you have to burn a heater, the more likely oxygen levels in the cabin will get depleted. And the longer the heater runs, the more likely there will be an accident where someone or something gets too close to it. It’s better to run it for a shorter period, turn it off, and be done with it than to leave it on for hours.

The Portable Buddy stows away in even the smallest lockers
The Portable Buddy stows away in even the smallest lockers

I really like that the Portable Buddy is a one piece unit even after the propane tank is attached and ready to use. It seems like everything else on a sailboat has multiple parts and attachments. This heater is self-contained and has minimal moving parts: the handle folds down to make it more compact, there’s only one knob for lighting and heat adjustment, and the tank swivels to make it easier to attach. That’s it, simple and functional like the Mr. Heater blue flame vent-free heater I have in my workshop.

Worry-free warmth

We already carry one pound propane canisters onboard for the grille. The Portable Buddy uses the same canisters so there’s no added fuel containers to take up more space. By using an existing fuel source, the heater doesn’t add a new fuel management risk.

For those that don’t know already, propane is a heavier-than-air gas. That means if there’s a fuel leak, the gas can pool in the low spaces of your boat without you even knowing it. Propane explosions on boats are far too common, which is why there are so many rules about marine propane systems. For the little one pound bottles, it’s simple. don’t store them in a unvented space in your boat, especially anywhere near your alcohol flame thrower cook stove. The best place is somewhere above deck where the gas will spill overboard if there’s a leak and not down into the cockpit or cabin. For an inexpensive DIY storage solution, see Don Casey’s 100 Fast & Easy Boat Improvements.

The Portable Buddy is designed with safety foremost. It burns almost 100% efficient, which means there’s minimal harmful combustion byproducts. The primary byproducts from burning propane are carbon dioxide and water vapor. That’s why it’s a good idea to place a propane heater under a partially open hatch if the heater is inside the cabin. The hot carbon dioxide and steam can rise safely out of the cabin while the heat plate in the heater warms the objects in the cabin. That’s how the Portable Buddy works, by radiant heating that reflects infrared heat at objects rather than convection heating that heats the air around the objects.

If there isn’t enough oxygen for complete propane combustion, carbon monoxide is a byproduct. The Portable Buddy has an automatic shut-off switch if nearby oxygen levels fall below safe limits. The shut-off also engages if the heater tips more than 45°. So if you fall asleep with the heater running or your dog knocks the heater over in the night, it probably won’t kill you and everyone aboard in a giant fireball. Sleep tight, skipper.

For a quick walk-through of the setup, operation, and safety features of the Portable Buddy, watch this short video:

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy propane heater really extends our cruising season. Mrs. $tingy knows that I can easily warm the cabin up for her and anchoring out doesn’t have to be like spending a night in a meat locker. Truth be told, I like to be comfortable out on the water as much as she does. Order one today and use it next weekend!


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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Adam says:

    I sailed for a number of years in Halifax and many an evening I used my Mr Buddy portable heater to take the chill off. It was a fantastic heater. My new boat has a Dickson marine furnace so I don’t use it as much anymore.

    I could not agree more about your comments about the heater

  2. Tom Luque says:

    7 years ago I used to use this heater in my 19ft Potter for winter sailing on Puget Sound. I felt quite safe with it.
    Over the years, being out multiple nights or trailoring out for a day sail in the cold lost my interest.
    This year my sailing neighbor pointed out that we would use our boats more often for the morning and afternoon if we eliminated our rigging and mast.
    He was right! I put eye hooks in the garage ceiling to hange the mast up with ropes. Now that it only takes about 10 minutes to launch our boats, we go out more often for fishing as motor boats.

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