Ventilation Basics: Keeping Your Boat Cool, Dry, and Smelling Fresh

Boaters often associate the term “ventilation” with keeping cool and comfortable below decks on a boat. But ventilation isn’t just about preventing a sweaty hot night on board—it’s also about keeping smells at bay and fighting mold and mildew growth.

So what’s the best way to keep things comfortable below and eliminate odors at the same time? Most every boat with an interior cabin or enclosed space of some sort has opening ports or hatches, but what if they’re simply not enough? Here are some different types of vents you can buy right off your marine supply shop’s shelf to help. As always, if you’ve got a particularly stubborn problem, enlist the help of one of the pros at your marine shop.

A stainless-steel clamshell vent. Photo courtesy of Sea Dog

A stainless-steel clamshell vent. Photo courtesy of Sea Dog

Clamshell Vents

Clamshell vents look exactly as the name implies and like many vents, are made of plastic, stainless-steel, or other marine metals. Imagine one half of a clam’s shell and you get the idea. The shape is designed to scoop air when placed in one direction and help vent it outward in another, thanks to the Bernoulli principle.

A Dorade-type cowl vent. Note the assembly below, which allows air in, but funnels water away from the deck opening. Photo courtesy of Vetus

A Dorade-type cowl vent. Note the assembly below, which allows air in but funnels water away from the deck opening. Photo courtesy of Vetus

Cowl Vents

Cowl vents are one of the oldest types of vents found on a boat. They’re typically made of soft plastic, although some fancier boats might have ones made of stainless-steel or bronze. They work by taking air in passively—either from the outside wind flow or from the movement of the boat when it’s underway. Most modern cowl vents are the Dorade type, which allow air to flow belowdecks while keeping water  out.

A stainless-steel solar vent. The solar cell on top powers a small electric motor that turns an internal fan that brings in or exhausts air. Photo courtesy of Nicro

A stainless-steel solar vent. The solar cell on top powers a small electric motor that turns an internal fan that brings in or exhausts air. Photo courtesy of Nicro

Solar Vents

Solar vents are generally stainless-steel or plastic devices that look much like a flying saucer. On top of the solar vent is a photovoltaic cell that powers a tiny motor that turns a small fan blade to move air into or out of the boat. Each solar vent kit usually comes with two fan blades—one for exhaust and one for intake. There are even solar vents with small backup batteries that allow the fan to keep turning at night, or on cloudy days.

A dome vent, which relies on outside air flow to exhaust or take in air. Photo courtesy of Beckson

A dome vent, which relies on outside air flow to exhaust or take in air. Photo courtesy of Beckson

Dome Vents

Dome vents are like solar vents without the fan. They look almost exactly like many solar vents, but instead of a solar cell and an active electric motor turning a fan to do the work, a dome vent simply relies on airflow over it to pull air into or out of the space over which it is installed.

A typical louvered vent. Photo courtesy of Sea Dog

A typical louvered vent. Photo courtesy of Sea Dog

Louvered Vents

Imagine a louvered window blind like you might find in a home, and you get the idea of a louvered vent. These metal or plastic vents have multiple slats in them that are often angled one way or another not only to scoop or exhaust air, but also to keep rain and spray out.

Whether you’re interested in keeping your head compartment dry and smelling fresh, or making sure your engine gets plenty of clean air to burn, keeping things well ventilated on board is a big step toward maintaining a happy boat.

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