REFRIGERATION BUYERS GUIDE - Cold Play
Our liveaboard tropical crew MERILYN MACKENZIE gives the low-down on keeping your onboard provisions cool and safely consumable this summer
So you have decided to make the cool change and now you are spoilt for choice. I’ve lived aboard five different boats over the past two decades and have used fridges including Engel, Waeco/Dometic, MobiCool, EvaKool, and Consul.
The various onboard refrigeration units easily handled partially smooth waters. However, if you plan to cruise off-shore you need to carefully compare the specs in relation to the types of units available.
KNOW YOUR BOATING
Dometic Waeco Group national service manager, Danny Newman says choosing between absorption or a compressor fridge is determined by your boating conditions. He says oceangoing yachts "will not get the same performance with an absorption fridge as with a compressor fridge".
"That is because it is important with absorption fridges that they are kept level most of the time," said Danny. "If you have a houseboat in the Tweed River, the gas fridge is fine but if you are in an oceangoing sailing yacht I would tend more towards the compressor fridge rather than an absorption LPG fridge."
THREE-WAY ABSORPTION FRIDGES
Basically, these fridges rely on a heat source that is derived from a gas flame or a 240V-AC element or a 12V-DC element to provide energy to drive the cooling system.
Gas fridges are popular on houseboats and catamarans, operating in smooth and partially smooth waters. I’ve had a domestic-sized gas electric fridge/freezer on a home cruiser I owned and an 80-litre gas fridge/freezer on a Norman Wright baycruiser and both units worked superbly in their day.
12/24V COMPRESSOR FRIDGES
As far as marine applications go, personally, I believe coupling a compressor system with an evaporator plate is the best solution for cruising yachties in oceangoing situations. To my mind, most compressors are easy to install, small in size and have a relatively low level of power consumption.
These systems are okay if you don’t mind running your boat’s engine twice a day for an hour or more. You will need to do this to keep the eutectic cold-plate frozen. The upside to this is you charge your batteries at the same time.
Eutectic is a popular choice with some in the bareboat charter industry. This system operates on a freeze-then-thaw-out basis. But what I don’t like about the Eutectic option is regularly running the diesel engine while on anchor so the motor is only under a small load. In the long term, this can cause problems like glazing of the bore. And even irate neighbours in some areas.
I recently spoke with 12V fridge-and-power proprietor Rob Kelly in Mackay about the fridge brands he stocks including the Engel range, Dometic/Waeco, and EvaKool.
In the EvaKool lineup, the 60lt portable is Rob’s biggest seller.
"EvaKool is a really good range for boating because they are all manufactured out of fiberglass," says Rob. "The white colour is good when it comes to being in the sun as it reflects the heat away rather than absorb it."
Rob says most boaties stick to 60lt or below as larger units beyond this size use larger compressors and more battery power.
EvaKool says its 60lt dual-temperature fridge/freezer weighs only 18.5kg and is ideal for yachts where low voltage is in use and low-power usage is required.
Rob says Engel’s MR40F Eclipse (38lt) is a very popular choice in Mackay among recreational fishermen and with customers who enjoy camping holidays.
"Engel’s latest unit is the MR40F, which they bought out in a plastic insulated case, and it’s good for marine use," said Rob.
"They are easy to use because basically you just plug into a 12V power source and they are away. They have a low-current draw and, when running, pull about 2.5amp," he said.
The Sawafuji swing motor (a purpose-built portable refrigeration compressor) is unique to Engel. It has only one moving part. Basically, a piston is connected to an electro-dynamic device powered by the use of magnetic fields. And because there is only one moving part it has a low startup current draw and very low friction loss, which makes for a highly efficient compressor.
On my boat Aardvark, Rob recommended a Waeco ColdMachine CU95 Danfoss compressor and a VD21 evaporator plate because it offered a tailor-made cooling solution for inshore and offshore sailing conditions.
Aardvark had a rather large and odd-shaped coolbox and the VD21 evaporator plate put to me has four recommended bend points, which meant I could shape it to fit. To date, my ColdMachine has delivered economic performance with extremely quiet operation — something I can vouch for as the compressor is in a cupboard right near my berth! (See DIY fit-up story following this article).
TO THE TEST
Wild Mob national operations manager, Bill Sykes is one man who has put a diverse range of fridges, freezers and esky solutions to the test in all-weather boating and island conditions from North Queensland to Tasmania.
Among other jobs, Bill is skipper of the 15m catamaran Wild Cat based at Mackay that takes volunteers to Brampton, Keswick, Scawfell and the Percy Islands.
The trips last six days and the volunteers spend their time weeding the islands of invasive species (five tonnes worth this year alone from Brampton Island), collecting rubbish, bushwalking and reef snorkeling. Occasionally they work with Bill Ellis from the University of Queensland and with National Parks tagging koalas.
Doing their bit for the environment makes Wild Mob volunteers a very hungry and thirsty lot. Bill says because the volunteers live and sleep on the islands in tents and swags rather than onboard Wild Cat he has a variety of refrigeration solutions.
This includes a 50lt Primus portable three-way refrigeration unit and eskies that are taken to shore; as well as inbuilt, separate 12V fridge and freezer units onboard Wild Cat.
"I anchor the boat on the beach… we camp on the island and we take the esky and the little gas Primus fridge, which is very important for keeping the meat fresh," said Bill.
"The portable esky was the cheapest thing I ever bought — it cost me $175 and it is great.
"What we do is we put ice in plastic boxes and put the boxes in the esky. The ice seems to last that way.
"I have just put ice in there now and in six days time there will be ice left," he explained.
Like all boaties the biggest problem for Bill — when it comes to refrigeration — is battery draw.
"To accommodate the power draw, we have a separate bank of starting batteries and two separate banks of house batteries," said Bill.
"Our onboard fridge and freezer run off the forward bank of house batteries and we have a Kubota 7kVa genset, which we use to charge up the batteries.
"Everything has been done so Wild Cat can lose a whole bank of batteries, but we will still survive," he said.
Another tip, says Bill, is to make sure you’re pedantic with an onboard recharging regime as many fridges will cut-out if the battery voltage gets too low.
"All the fresh stuff goes in the esky with the ice," said Bill.
"We find wrapping herbs and zucchinis in paper towels works well.
"And, we only put the lettuce in the eskies not in any of the fridges because if it ends up snap-freezing then it is gone," he said.
To summarise, the majority of better-quality portable fridges available on the Australian market are good performers designed for a variety of applications. It really just comes down to a matter of choosing which product is right for you. The Engel, Waeco/Dometic, MobiCool, EvaKool, and Consul units I’ve used on my boats all stood the test of time.
My rule of thumb, when it comes to refrigeration options, is you pay for quality to get performance. Cutting corners can lead to disappointment. But with the right refrigeration unit and adequate charging capabilities, gone are the days of spoilt food, warm drinks and flat batteries.
Engel Customer Service Centre
Phone 1300 302 653 or visit www.engelaustralia.com.au
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