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. 

Boat refrigeration coolers

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 fish icebox

Boat Refrigeration Options

Marine Fridge/Freezer

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.

 

Pros

  • Easy installation
  • Capable of cooling to freezer temperature (0° F or -18°C)
  • Visually appealing

Cons

  • Can be expensive, and difficult to find a dedicated space to install the unit in a cramped cabin or galley area

 

Boat refrigerator freezer

Portable Cooler

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.

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • Portable but also heavy, particularly larger capacity models
  • Not all models are capable of cooling to freezer temperature (0° F or -18°C)

 

Boat refrigeration portable cooler

Portable electric cooler

Icebox Conversion

Adding refrigeration components to your boat's built-in icebox, thereby converting it to a fridge/freezer with an evaporator plate and compressor installed.

Pros

  • Doesn't take up additional space
  • The most effective boat refrigeration system, capable of cooling to freezer temperature (0° F or -18°C)

Cons

  • 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. 

Pros

  • Kit contains everything needed to convert an icebox into a fridge/freezer
  • Components are matched by the manufacturer to complement one another

Cons

  • Uses more electricity than fridge/freezer units

Boat marine refrigeration

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.

Pros

  • The most effective boat refrigeration system available
  • High efficiency, low electrical use

Cons

  • Generally more expensive than other refrigeration systems

Boat refrigeration holding plate system

Separate Evaporator and Condenser Units

You mix and match the evaporator and condenser units to create a tailor-made refrigeration system conversion kit.

Pros

  • Flexibility to choose the units to precisely match your refrigeration needs and to fit in the available space

 

Cons

  • 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:

Air-Cooled

Pros

  • More economical to run than water-cooled models
  • Do not require below waterline through hull fittings

Cons

  • Not as efficient as water-cooled models, and not as suitable for hot climates

Water-Cooled

Pros

  • More efficient than water-cooled models, and better suited for hot climates

 

Cons

 

Air/Water Cooled

Pros

  • Both economical and efficient to operate

 

Cons

  • More expensive than air-only or water-only cooled models

 

 

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