Are Ice Fishing Heaters Safe?

Winter is my favorite time of year for a few reasons, the first, and most exciting, is ice fishing. The ice fishing sport originated in Scandinavia and was brought over by Scandinavian settlers to Minnesota, has become one of the most popular winter sports for all people outdoors.

The only problem with this sport is that you are sitting for long periods of time in the COLD! Unlike skiing, snowboarding, and snow machining, where you can take a break and sit in your truck, or lodge, or a nice heated place, ice fishing is a one spot deal where if you take a break to sit in your truck, you lose out on fish. In order to combat the cold frigid winter, people started using heaters for warmth in their ice shacks and huts.

One question that has been asked over and over again, is are heaters safe to use when ice fishing? There are several different types of space heaters on the market, and we are going to dive in and give you some answers to this question, which I think might actually surprise you.

Portable heaters, whether electric or propane can be very safe for ice fishing if used properly. There are some major concerns though that you really need to take care in watching for when using a space heater because there can be very harmful side effects if you do not.

There are two major concerns when using spaces heaters in an ice fishing situation. The first is with a propane heater which is very popular amongst winter fishing, and that is Carbon Monoxide poisoning, which can start out as a headache, to feeling lightheaded, and can ultimately result in death if gone unnoticed. The second situation is having some sort of electrical heater plugged into a car, or generator outside your fishing shack.

Since water is a huge conductor of electricity, the risk of electrocution is a major factor when identifying risks of using space heaters on a frozen lake. Fear not though, there are safeguards you can do that will help with both of these situations making heaters perfectly safe to use ice fishing, and also keeping you warm and toasting in freezing weather.

Propane VS Electric

Propane is by far the easiest and most popular heater to use while out ice fishing. There are many different types and brands out there and can be hooked up to small propane canisters, and also big 5 – 50 gallon propane bottles.

Some single space heaters will take a small little 16-ounce propane bottle and are meant for smaller one-person use. Electric heaters are less common because there really are no battery-operated space heaters on the market. The reason for this is because electric heaters really pull a lot of amps, and would drain a battery, even a 20-volt one, in a matter of an hour or less.

There are some fishing shacks that are very robust and expensive that you could supply a quiet Honda generator to, that would be more than capable of handling a heater with no problem. Propane will almost always pump out more heat than an electric heater and are usually less expensive and easier to carry and maneuver around.

Warning Signs

It is important to know the signs of Carbon Monoxide poisoning when dealing with propane heaters, especially if there is no oxygen sensor on them to let you know. If you have any of these symptoms, please seek fresh air, and get ventilation into your ice tent or cabin:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired Judgement
  • Confusion
  • Collapsing from exertion

It is important to be aware of these symptoms when using a propane heater because after a while, loss of consciousness will occur, and possible death if exposed for too long.

ice fishing tent

Types Of Heaters And BTU

BTU or British Thermal Unit is the typical measurement of heat. All heaters are rated on how many BTUs they can pump out over a period of time. Here is a general breakdown of the BTU output for the most commonly used style of heaters used when ice fishing.

  • Single Burner Radiant heater: Around 3,000 BTU per hour. These will cook you, check out a great model HERE from Comfort Zone.
  • Radiant Heater / Cooker: Around 8,000 to 15,000 BTU per hour. I love the MH18BRV heater from Mr. Heater, you can see it HERE. It is also rated for indoors.
  • ODS-Equipped Radiant Heater: Around 4,000 to 9,000 BTU per hour. World Marketing puts out a great cabin heater, check it out HERE.
  • Catalytic Heater: Around 1,220-3,700 btu per hour. Mr. Heater puts out a nice small Little Buddy heater for smaller shacks. You can find a great deal on it HERE.

Size Matters

When it comes to buying a heater, size really does matter because of the BTU output on them. If you have a pretty big propane tank, you can step up into the larger heaters, or dual head heaters to really crank the heat out. If you have a smaller shack or tent, you may want to go after the Little Buddy I recommended above to keep you warm with a few 16-ounce bottles of propane.

Smaller heaters are much easier to carry, so if you have a backpack handy, you can get a heater and three bottles of propane to be completely fine for a day of fishing. Always check the size dimensions out, and the BTU output is extremely important depending on how big your ice fishing cabin is, and how many people you are going to have in it with you. The bigger the heater, the more ventilation it is going to need to vent the carbon monoxide gas out.

What About A Wood Stove

Since there are some fishing shacks that are almost like a cabin on the water, you could potentially have a nice small fire-burning wood stove to heat your shack.

The only downside we can see to this is that you would have to lug a lot of wood out to your fishing hut which could possibly be in the middle of a lake, but most people that are extremely avid ice fishers, will have some sort of snowmachine (aka snowmobile) to get them where they need to be, so hauling a load of wood out for the day would be easy.

heater for ice fishing

Wood stoves can crank out a lot of heat depending on the type of wood you burn, so this may be the best option if you have something bigger than just a one or two-person ice tent. There is a safety concern of smoke inhalation if the stove pipe is not put on right, or starting a fire in your shack, so a fire extinguisher is a must.

Will It Melt The Ice

When you think about heat and ice, you automatically are going to think of ice melting back into the water. Even though this is a very valid concern, most ice shacks have a floor where only a couple of square pads need to be pulled up and the whole floor is generally not exposed to ice.

Since there is some insulation in ice cabins, you should not have to worry too much about melting the ice where it could possibly crack and sink your cabin. The ice should be extremely thick for you to move an ice shack out onto, so the probability of melting through the ice is very low.

If you are in a situation where you have an open exposed floor, make sure that you don’t set your heater directly on the ice, and have the head pointed up at you and not the ground. It would take a lot of heat to melt through two to three feet of ice in some areas.

Other Options

If you just cannot afford a heater or do not have the room for one in your ice tent or cabin, there are some other options for you that will keep you warmer than just sitting there in snow pants and a jacket while fishing all day on a frozen lake. Here is a small breakdown of things you can get to add to your wardrobe that will keep you warm.

  • Heated Gloves: Rechargeable heated gloves that last 2 – 4 hours will keep your hands extremely warm. I have used Savior Heated Glove for motorcycle riding and they work great!
  • Heated Vest: A rechargeable heated vest that will keep you warm for up to 15 hours. Check it out HERE.
  • Heated Socks: HERE are some heated socks that have up to 5 hours of heat time on them. I have not used these, but they look awesome!
  • Heat Packs: HotHands Hand Warmers are my go-to heat source when fishing, especially in cold weather. I highly recommend them!

As you can see, there are a few options for clothing that will keep you warm for a while out on the lake. I do not recommend having full exposure out on the lake, and to at least try and get a small tent, so the wind and cold are cut down by as much as possible. Winds that kick up on the lake can be below freezing and hypothermia is a very valid concern.


As you can see, when you are out ice fishing, the need for heat is going to be very important for your health. Space heaters are a very common and practical device to stay warm, not only in your home but also in an ice tent or shack. Knowing how to use a heater, and having proper ventilation for it is going to be the best defense you can have against things like carbon monoxide poisoning.

Be smart when using heaters, and if you do start to feel unwell, or sick, step outside and get some fresh air. If it’s too cold outside, go sit in your car or truck, but do NOT stay indoors. Be safe, stay warm, and have a lot of fun on the frozen lake this winter. If you do have any input on battery-operated space heaters, please leave us a comment, so we can add them to this list.

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