Choosing the Right Boat Refrigeration System
For groups that like to spend all day on a boat or fishermen who bring in big catches each fishing trip, a plain old cooler or ice chest probably isn’t enough of a boat refrigeration system.
Standard coolers are fine for keeping a handful of snacks and drinks cold for a few hours, but they can’t handle constant opening and closing, and won’t cool for very long on a hot day. If you find your ice chest is full of lukewarm water every time you return to the dock, it might be time for a more permanent refrigeration solution on your boat.
Boat Refrigeration Options
Exactly the same as your fridge/freezer at home, but scaled down to fit within the confines of a boat. They’re easy to install, and provide the same convenience as a domestic fridge/freezer while on the water.
- Easy installation
- Capable of cooling to freezer temperature (0° F or -18°C)
- Visually appealing
- Can be expensive, and difficult to find a dedicated space to install the unit in a cramped cabin or galley area
A self-contained, electrically powered refrigeration system. The simplest method of adding refrigeration to a boat, it’s basically an ice chest/cooler with a built-in refrigeration system.
- Needs no installation, and can be placed almost anywhere on a boat
- Can also be used at home, in an RV, or anywhere with a power source
- Portable but also heavy, particularly larger capacity models
- Not all models are capable of cooling to freezer temperature (0° F or -18°C)
Adding refrigeration components to your boat's built-in icebox, thereby converting it to a fridge/freezer with an evaporator plate and compressor installed.
- Doesn't take up additional space
- The most effective boat refrigeration system, capable of cooling to freezer temperature (0° F or -18°C)
- The trickiest type of refrigeration system to install, should only be done by experienced "do-it-yourself" pros
There are three options for icebox conversions:
Refrigeration System Conversion Kit
A full kit containing an evaporator, a condenser, piping, refrigerant and thermostatic controls.
- Kit contains everything needed to convert an icebox into a fridge/freezer
- Components are matched by the manufacturer to complement one another
- Uses more electricity than fridge/freezer units
Holding Plate System
Similar to a refrigeration system conversion kit, but replaces the flimsy evaporator with a much more robust holding plate, or cold plate. Holding plates are very efficient, and reach extremely low temperatures of 0° F (-18°C) or less.
- The most effective boat refrigeration system available
- High efficiency, low electrical use
- Generally more expensive than other refrigeration systems
Separate Evaporator and Condenser Units
You mix and match the evaporator and condenser units to create a tailor-made refrigeration system conversion kit.
- Flexibility to choose the units to precisely match your refrigeration needs and to fit in the available space
- Poor refrigeration performance if the units are mismatched
When choosing a method of icebox conversion, you’ll also need to decide whether to opt for an air or water-cooled system. Refrigeration system conversion kits, holding plate systems, and separate evaporator and condenser units are all available as:
- More economical to run than water-cooled models
- Do not require below waterline through hull fittings
- Not as efficient as water-cooled models, and not as suitable for hot climates
- More efficient than water-cooled models, and better suited for hot climates
- Less economical to run than air-cooled models
- Require below waterline through hull fittings
- Both economical and efficient to operate
- More expensive than air-only or water-only cooled models