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Date: 26 January 2019. Catalytic Heater Won't Light Remedy.


As the temperatures plummet, I have a solution for those of you with the Coleman catalytic heaters that don't light easily. I too had that problem with my original heater. Because I was sure the first one was broken I threw it away. The replacement developed the same issue. Here is how I solved the hard-to-light heater fiasco aboard Seaweed.

Catalytic heaters require ventilation. Aboard Seaweed, I've got enough drafts to not worry about that issue. If your boat is air-tight be aware and crack a portlight or window. Additionally, always use both smoke and CO2 alarms.

My Coleman catalytic heater put off 1500 BTU's. I liked it until one bitterly cold day when I couldn't get warm.


Theory: The water was unusually cold. That compounded with frigid winds and a drafty boat was too much for the heater. Seaweed's main cabin (the galley) simply couldn't get warm. I took the heater into the forward cabin. My room is smaller than the galley area. It quickly heated and I was finally comfortable.

That day, being all alone at anchor in the Carrabelle River was probably the worst. It also injected a large dose of caution to the idea of doing the loop. I had considered staying north over winter and now, well, that's not even on the radar. Being unable to heat Seaweed's galley area was frightening.

And yes, I have taken steps to ameliorate any similar situation since then. The water was extremely cold and that contributed to the inability to heat the main cabin. Additionally, Seaweed's galley is drafty. My forward cabin is not as large and easily warmed up.

The problem is that eventually the Coleman catalytic heater would not start easily. At first it is quite simple to light a match or butane lighter, then hold the flame to the top of the unit. Those days passed all too quickly, especially as I was using my heater frequently.

Even if it was not bitterly cold I would run the heater to take the chill off Seaweed. I used the Coleman catalytic heater daily for between 30 and 45 minutes. That small amount of time would take off the chill. It provided a bit of comfort first thing in the morning. Being warm is important for my happiness quotient.


Using the Coleman for those few minutes on cool mornings was a dose of decadence. I could toast an English Muffin on a piece of aluminum foil while the boat was warming up.

Life aboard Seaweed is amazing!!!

The one pound green propane bottles burns for 14 hours in a Coleman catalytic heater. The catalytic heater only has one setting. It's either On or Off. There is no adjustment possible.

On a drafty 23' boat the standard Coleman catalytic setting is mostly fine. For a boat larger than mine, one unit may not be enough to heat your home. Of course larger boats often close off all but one area in order to make the most of the heating available. 

A Coleman camping burner allows a person to adjust the amount of flame, and heat.

Burner assembly atop a one pound propane bottle.
The wider base offers stability when the boat rocks.


Many of us who heat with propane also have purchased a back-up Coleman stove for our boats. The burner assembly screws on to the top of the one pound propane bottle. It is always good to have a secondary way to cook and the burners are an option to consider. I found one for $10 at a thrift store.

Placing the unit into the sink is a good idea too, especially if the boat is rocking. My crock-pot lives in the sink when in use. There is not a lot of counter space in many smaller boats.

Boaters not only look at items for their utility, but other factors come into play as well:

  1. Where can it be secured while being used?

  2. How easy is it to clean?

  3. What locker it will live in when not in use?


But I digress...
Eventually my Coleman catalytic heater became harder to start. Lighting it became more and more difficult. I had to have a solution.

I remembered that a catalytic heater has a surface that emits heat. Once it is lit via a lighter or match it continues to work by burning propane from the green bottle. I needed to circumvent the whole matches/lighter business.

I must heat my home. For many years my only source of cabin warmth was a catalytic heater.

When I could not light the unit, I was in real trouble. I had to have a solution to stay warm aboard Seaweed.

Of course, follow in my wake at your own peril. This works for me. I present it here as an option to consider.

ALWAYS remove the green propane bottle first.

First, shut off the heater. Remove the bottle. Place it upside down on top of a burner on the stove.

Next, turn the propane stove burner on medium heat.
*I don't know if this would work with electric burners.

In one minute the catalytic heating surface will be hot enough to self-ignite.

Remove the heater from the stove. Be careful: It's hot! Screw the one pound green bottle on to the heater assembly. Invert so that the heating element is right side up. Turn it on. You're all set. The catalytic heater should work just fine.

DOUBLE CHECK and CONFIRM: If your heater does not continue to put out heat, turn off the propane. It is not working. At this point, I cannot offer further advice. I simply don't know what else to suggest -- except to contact Coleman if it is still under warranty.

I must offer thanks to my friend Irene who took the photos of her Coleman catalytic heater for me. I've already upgraded so no longer have a heater for the burner pictures. Thanks Irene!

For the curious, I opted for an Aladdin Genie III from Lehman's.

Depending upon which source I believe, this lamp puts out either 2,000 or 2,500 BTU's.

What I know for certain is that the Aladdin keeps me warm here in Florida. It is more powerful than the Coleman catalytic heater which is rated at 1500 BTU's. I like the Aladdin. On sale I paid $140 or so if memory serves me.

Please note that I opted for a clear glass font. The font is where the lamp oil goes. It is important to not overfill with fuel. A clear font makes that process easier. I chose a table model, without a pedestal for added stability.

I can verify the Aladdin makes a perfect toasted marshmallow, in case you wondered.



What you need to know: When new, Coleman catalytic heaters are easy to start. I've had two. Both eventually developed issues. They became impossible to light the "regular" way. This is how I managed to use them after they quit on me:

Follow my advice at your own peril.
In other words, use your own judgment!

  1. Make sure your Coleman catalytic heater is turned off.

  2. Remove the one pound green bottle of propane from the heater.

  3. Place the burner assembly upside down on top of your gas stove.

  4. Turn the stove on medium heat for one minute.

  5. Remove the heater from the burner, carefully screwing the bottle of propane back in place.

  6. Place the unit right side up.

  7. Turn on the catalytic heater. It should be lit/putting off heat. Confirm that the heater is working. If not, turn off the propane.


For me this method worked well. I hope it helps you stay warm. If in doubt, always opt for safety first. That is the most important thing. 


It is rainy here in Florida. With temperatures dipping into the 40's I'm grateful for the Aladdin Genie III lamp from Lehman's. It is keeping me warm today.

Life is Very Good aboard Seaweed. I am truly blessed.

To you and yours, stay warm and thanks for reading.

Addendum. 29 January 2019. Please understand that I do not have any problems recommending a Coleman catalytic heater. This option is acceptable for those of us on a tight budget. Larger units such as the Mr. Buddy burn significantly more fuel. A one pound can of propane costs about $3 for 14 hours of heat. The reason I chose a catalytic heater in the first place was price.

Much later Tom from Apalachicola told me about the Coleman200 mantle lanterns. I was intrigued because I love oil lamps. They put off significant amounts of heat. Unfortunately I was unable to locate a Coleman200 in working condition. I do continue to look for one. Having a back-up source of heat is important to me.

System redundancy is critical to safety afloat.

Further research suggested for my purposes an Aladdin Genie III would be best. That is what I purchased. It has proven itself over this cold snap. The bonus for me is that I already have lamp oil aboard Seaweed.

I'd love to hear other methods of making a catalytic heater cooperate.
And, what heating system do you utilize aboard your boat?

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