Surface heat fluxes from four atmospheric reanalyses in the Southern Ocean are evaluated using air–sea measurements obtained from the Aurora Australis during off-winter seasons in 2010–12. The icebreaker tracked between Hobart, Tasmania (ca. 42°S), and the Antarctic continent, providing in situ benchmarks for the surface energy budget change in the Subantarctic Southern Ocean (58–42°S) and the eastern Antarctic marginal ice zone (MIZ, 68–58°S). We find that the reanalyses show a high-level agreement among themselves, but this agreement reflects a universal bias, not a “truth.” Downward shortwave radiation (SW?) is overestimated (warm biased) and downward longwave radiation (LW?) is underestimated (cold biased), an indication that the cloud amount in all models is too low. The ocean surface in both regimes shows a heat gain from the atmosphere when averaged over the seven months (October–April). However, the ocean heat gain in reanalyses is overestimated by 10–36 W m?2 (80–220%) in the MIZ but underestimated by 6–20 W m?2 (7–25%) in the Subantarctic. The biases in SW? and LW? cancel out each other in the MIZ, causing the surface heat budget to be dictated by the underestimation bias in sensible heat loss. These reanalyses biases affect the surface energy budget in the Southern Ocean by meaningfully affecting the timing of the seasonal transition from net heat gain to net heat loss at the surface and the relative strength of SW? at different regimes in summer, when the length-of-day effect can lead to increased SW? at high latitudes.