Keep Your Cool


Power & Motor Yacht - - BOATYARD - BY MIKE SMITH

Who doesn’t like a nice, cool drink on a hot sum­mer af­ter­noon, espe­cially while laz­ing in the cock­pit, catch­ing rays, and feel­ing the tickle of the sea breeze? The tin­kle of cubes in the glass (prob­a­bly plas­tic, but still), the sweat of con­den­sa­tion on an icy can, the fizz of cold car­bon­a­tion in a parched throat: These are all joys of sum­mer, and of boat­ing. But with­out a con­ve­nient source of cold—a nearby cooler, mini-fridge, or even a bucket of ice— these joys will be less en­joy­able, dis­turbed by the oc­ca­sional need to mo­sey into the gal­ley to fetch an­other cold one. Who needs that? You could twist an an­kle on the com­pan­ion­way steps! In­stead, make your boat safer and more lounge-friendly by adding cock­pit re­frig­er­a­tion. It’s eas­ier than you think.

Maybe you al­ready have a re­frig­er­a­tor on deck, or at least a place to put one: Cock­pit wet bars are com­mon aboard ex­press cruis­ers, big bowrid­ers, and other day­boats. A ba­sic setup has a sink, a work­ing sur­face, and ei­ther an ice­box stowed in its own locker, or an un­der-counter elec­tric re­frig­er­a­tor. The reefer is usu­ally an op­tion, but the fur­ni­ture is stan­dard (and maybe the wiring for the op­tional reefer is too), so adding a re­frig­er­a­tor means sim­ply find­ing one that fits. The boat­builder can tell you what model was in­tended for the space; buy it, in­stall it, and start en­joy­ing cold food and drink with­out mak­ing the oner­ous jour­ney be­lowdecks. Case closed. We should all be so lucky.

Truth is, most of us don’t have a re­frig­er­a­tor-ready locker wait­ing to be filled. We need to use a bit of creativ­ity to find an empty space in the cock­pit that’s large enough and ven­ti­lated enough for a re­frig­er­a­tor. Com­pres­sors give off heat, and there has to be suf­fi­cient air­flow to carry the heat away; oth­er­wise, the reefer is go­ing to be un­happy and less ef­fi­cient. Even a small-ish re­frig­er­a­tor takes up a lot of space. Build­ing a con­sole to hold one doesn’t make sense—might as well buy an­other boat with a full-up wet bar. But chances are there’s

space some­where that can be hi­jacked to hold a small reefer, one that’ll fit in a drawer.


Dometic (, Isotherm ( in­del we­bas­tom­a­, and Vitrifrigo ( vit­frigo .com) build drawer-style re­frig­er­a­tors that of­fer roughly 1 cu­bic foot of vol­ume. They’re made to slide into the space un­der a set­tee or seat—the fiber­glass riser un­der many helm and/or com­pan­ion seats is ideal for a drawer-style reefer. Like many ma­rine re­frig­er­a­tors, the best drawer fridges use an en­ergy-ef­fi­cient com­pres­sor (Dan­foss is the name to look for); run off 12-volt, 24-volt, or (with an adapter) 120-volt power; and draw around four amps at 12 volts. With 1.3 cu­bic feet (9.6 gal­lons) of vol­ume, the Isotherm Cruise 36, a typ­i­cal drawer-style re­frig­er­a­tor, will fit in a cutout that’s 18 inches wide by 10 inches high, and re­quires a depth of 28 3/16 inches. How­ever, the depth re­quire­ment can be re­duced by 6 inches by mov­ing the com­pres­sor from the back to the side of the box, or mount­ing it re­motely within a few feet of the box. These drawer re­frig­er­a­tors aren’t huge, but they’ll hold enough bot­tles of wa­ter, 12-ounce cans, and sand­wiches to get you through an ar­du­ous af­ter­noon of to­tal re­lax­ation.

The trick­i­est part of in­stalling a drawer re­frig­er­a­tor is se­cur­ing it in place; if it’s go­ing into an ex­ist­ing locker, for in­stance, the cutout will never be the right size—too small is easy, too large means fab­ri­cat­ing a filler of some kind. Oth­er­wise, the unit is self-con­tained and re­quires only wiring, at least in the­ory. But if the com­pres­sor has to be moved, that makes the in­stall job more com­plex. If the drawer space has no ven­ti­la­tion, a hole, or maybe two, will need to be cut, and fin­ished with a lou­ver or clamshell; and the wiring should be done to ABYC stan­dards. So bot­tom line, I rec­om­mend hir­ing the yard, or a qual­i­fied ma­rine elec­tri­cian, to do the in­stal­la­tion. And these things

aren’t cheap to start with: The Isotherm Cruise 36 men­tioned above lists for more than $1,000; a com­pa­ra­ble Dometic CD-030 runs about $800. Add the in­stal­la­tion, and you’re look­ing at some real money.


The older I get, the less com­plex I want things to be, so rather than in­stall a per­ma­nent re­frig­er­a­tor, I might go with a por­ta­ble elec­tric cooler, one that op­er­ates off both 120 volts and 12 volts, switches be­tween volt­ages au­to­mat­i­cally, can re­frig­er­ate and freeze (some mod­els can do both at the same time), and can be taken home and stored at the end of the sea­son—or af­ter every trip, if you pre­fer. A por­ta­ble cooler still isn’t cheap—fig­ure on spend­ing sev­eral hun­dred bucks for a good one, but that’s about it. In­stal­la­tion cost? Zero, un­less you don’t al­ready have a 12-volt cig­a­rette-lighter-type plug in your cock­pit. Main­te­nance

cost? Zero, un­less you fac­tor in the price of the soap you use for pe­ri­odic clean­ings.

Por­ta­ble cool­ers, by the way, come in sizes from too heavy to carry eas­ily, to small enough to sling over your shoul­der. If you have an ice chest on board, there’s a por­ta­ble cooler that will fit in its place; if you want a minia­ture box to keep near the helm, there’s one for that too. Most re­frig­er­a­tor man­u­fac­tur­ers sell porta­bles; the Nor­cold NRF 30 re­frig­er­a­tor/freezer ( thet­ is a typ­i­cal full-fea­tured smaller (8-gal­lon) model, with an elec­tronic con­trol panel, a stain­less-steel in­te­rior, and user-ad­justable bat­tery pro­tec­tion. It weighs 40 pounds empty and draws about 4 amps at 12 volts. Cost? About $600. Dometic and Isotherm sell sim­i­lar prod­ucts.

ICE IS NICE And fi­nally, con­sider this. Me­chan­i­cal re­frig­er­a­tion is cool, but what’s wrong with ice? Most peo­ple don’t spend weeks, or even days, on board. If your cruis­ing time tends to be lim­ited, why has­sle with elec­tric re­frig­er­a­tion, espe­cially when there’s prob­a­bly a reefer in the gal­ley any­way? Put food that has to be kept cold and dry there, but dump snacks and drinks for the on-deck crew in an ice chest. A good Igloo ( igloocool­ or Yeti ( will do the trick, even in the sum­mer, with the added ad­van­tage of a sup­ply of ice cubes for drinks. I’m an Igloo man my­self, but Yeti ice chests sup­pos­edly have the ad­van­tage of be­ing bear-proof, which I’m told can come in handy at times. For non-boaters, of course.

How Much Juice?

When the en­gine’s run­ning or the shore cord’s plugged in, who cares how much elec­tric­ity the reefer needs to stay cold? The al­ter­na­tor or charger takes care of that. But when swing­ing at an­chor for any length of time, run­ning off the bat­ter­ies, power us­age is more crit­i­cal. Noth­ing sucks up amps like a 12-volt re­frig­er­a­tor with a com­pres­sor that’s work­ing over­time. But how much power does a reefer re­ally need?

Ex­perts es­ti­mate a ma­rine re­frig­er­a­tor’s com­pres­sor typ­i­cally runs about 40 per­cent of the time. I think 50 per­cent’s a bet­ter es­ti­mate on a hot sum­mer day with peo­ple open­ing the door re­peat­edly, and it’s safer to over-es­ti­mate power drain, any­way. Con­sult the man­ual for your reefer to dis­cover how much power it uses; some man­u­fac­tur­ers spec­ify watts, so di­vide by volt­age to get amps. (Most 12-volt re­frig­er­a­tors draw be­tween four and six amps.) Four hours at an­chor with the en­gine shut down means two hours of com­pres­sor op­er­a­tion, and a bat­tery drain of 12 amps or so, over and above the base­line drain. An­chor overnight, say for 12 hours, and you’ll use roughly 36 amps. At any rate, keep­ing an eye on bat­tery volt­age will head off power is­sues be­fore they be­come overly dra­matic, and al­ways switch to one bank of bat­ter­ies when there’s no recharg­ing tak­ing place. That way you’ll have plenty of juice left to fire up the en­gines when you need to go ashore for more re­fresh­ments.

High-qual­ity re­frig­er­a­tor draw­ers have top-shelf com­pres­sors and use fewer amps to keep things cold.

In­stalling a drawer reefer beaneath a wet bar in a cock­pit is both com­mon and su­per-con­ve­nient.

Com­pa­nies like In­del-We­basto build res­i­den­tial-style re­frig­er­a­tors as well as smaller drawer-type units.

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