If you’re fortunate enough to own, or consider owning, a cruiser yacht then naturally you’ll want the experience of spending time aboard your vessel to be as comfortable as possible. After all, you might choose to live on your boat for weeks or months at a time, so creature comforts are a must if the experience is going to be enjoyable.
Air conditioning is one of the most fundamental of all such creature comforts; in hot and humid climes in particular, things could quickly become unbearable without the option to cool down (and ideally dry out) the ambient air on board.
If you haven’t already got an air con system installed on your boat then you might well be thinking about either getting one installed, or installing one yourself. It is quite possible to install an air con system by yourself, saving all the installation costs you otherwise spend getting an installation technician out to do the job for you.
If your reaction to that proposition is ‘no thanks, it sounds like far too much work’ then think again. Whilst it’s certainly true that some systems can be a challenge to work with, most modern ‘self contained’ air con units are pretty simple to install, requiring just a little bit of thought with regards to peripheral equipment and installation positioning, and there are even ‘plug and play’ systems that more or less just need to be clamped to the cabin roof, plugged in and away you go.
Well perhaps there’s a little more to it than that, but you get the idea!
Types of Easy to Install Air Con Units
Self Contained Units
I’ve got a fair deal of experience of designing and fitting ‘self contained’ air con systems to boats, they’re the most simple ‘permanent’ air con solution for a boat, and ideal on smaller cruisers and cuddys with no more than two or three living spaces to cool.
Any more than this and this solution gets a bit on the pricey side, given that you need an individual self contained unit for each living space.
The main advantages to self contained units are that, as the name suggests, every part of the system is more or less fully integrated in the same package. This is in contrast to larger systems that use a chiller unit (usually in the engine room), with refrigerant lines branching out into each accommodation space, each of which have their own air handler/blower.
So for a self contained unit you haven’t got lots of complicated plumbing to worry about (besides a salt water inlet), and besides the unit itself you’ll need a sea water pump, and a condensate overflow (whether directly into the bilge or a small header tank). This makes them very simple to install, so simple in fact that you can quite reasonably expect to do the job yourself, without having to pay for the expertise of a dedicated HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) engineer.
There is one important potential weak point that could result when installing a self contained air con unit; the need to ensure that the sea/raw water inlet line is sealed and securely installed is necessary to prevent corrosion, and more importantly to prevent water leaking in and sinking the boat!
Portable Air Con Units
If you don’t want the hassle of any wiring, plumbing or fitting work there’s always the option of using a portable air conditioner.
These are especially popular on cuddys and other small boats where air con is an occasional benefit rather than a permanent fixture. We’re talking a few hundred bucks versus a few thousand, so it’s easy to see the appeal.
These are available in 12 Volt or 24 Volt varieties and plug directly into your boat’s house electrical system.
Some portable systems take the form of a ‘suitcase’ type design that you quite literally wheel into the cabin or area of the boat you wish to cool, while others mount directly over a roof hatch (usually over the V-Birth).
Such roof mounted portable units are good because they have a direct source of fresh air in, and can exhaust straight to atmosphere.
On the downside, a lot of people have issues getting a good seal over the hatch when using such a unit, sometimes with dire consequences (if it decides to rain for instance!)
Furthermore a lot of people don’t like the idea of having a big lumpy air con unit spoiling the look of their boat, especially in such an obvious area as the foredeck, but that’s really
Roof Mounted Air Con Units
Besides portable roof mounted units, there are also dedicated, permanently installed roof mounted air con systems.
Once again these aren’t to everyone’s aesthetic tastes, and they don’t have the advantages of being out of the salt water environment that internal systems do in terms of resisting corrosion and environmental degradation.
However the great advantage of roof mounted units is that the condenser is air cooled rather than water cooled as per other systems. This is much like the air con system you might find in your car.
The great advantage is of course that no plumbing or penetrations through the hull are required, so as long as your installation on the roof is correct, and the cool air ducting is installed correctly; no other work is required beyond hooking the unit up to your boat’s electrical system.
Vessel Suitability – Larger Boats Require More Specialist Installation Knowledge
Whilst the above air conditioning methods are ideal for smaller boats of less than 40 foot, they are more limited in their effectiveness for larger vessels. Larger vessels use alternative systems, which while highly effective and any many ways more efficient
Larger vessels tend to use either:
- A ‘Split Gas’ system. As the name suggests the system is split, such that the condenser unit is located in the engine room, while the refrigerant line then splits and routes to several evaporators (air handlers) in each accommodation space. The major advantage of this is that the air handler units can be much smaller and quieter than several self contained units (which each have their own condenser unit).
- Chilled water systems. Instead of routing the refrigerant line to air handlers, which is ineffective beyond about 50 feet; the cooling system is contained to the engine room (like a big self contained unit) whilst the refrigerant line chills a coolant water line, which is then pumped throughout the boat to the air handling units. There is no limit to the scale of this system as the cooling water can be pumped to any distance.