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Old 04-09-2014, 12:25   #1
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Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

On my four-month cruise from the UK through the Baltic, I had some refrigeration problems. My fridge stopped cooling efficiently. In Ystad, Sweden, I found a guy to come out and check it. It was low on refrigerant. He topped it up and it started working normally again. This is the second time in 5 years this has happened. Obviously it has a very tiny leak. Not worth chasing, according to this and the previous refrigeration tech.

How I regret that it did not occur to me to ask him to check the separate freezer at the same time . Because a few weeks later, that started cooling poorly. Next time was much harder to find someone to refill it. And both times were quite expensive.

Does it make sense for cruisers to learn some basic refrigeration technology and keep some basic things on board (pressure gauges, spare refrigerant)? Would seem to be more efficient than relying on professional help -- surely these very basic faults are not rocket science.
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Old 04-09-2014, 12:39   #2
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

I used to be a refrigeration tech long ago. It's not rocket science.

As long as you're using a modern refrigerant (like r-134) that's not banned, I think having a simple set of guages and some way to add refrigerant into the system is a great idea. Learning about how to 'top off' and detect low refrigerant isn't too tough.

I'm _not_ saying that "add a can every month" is a solution for a leak - better to find the leak.
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Old 04-09-2014, 13:34   #3
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

Dockhead, The basic faults with pleasure boat refrigeration will vary from type system and manufacturer’s design. Completely sealed systems that do not use O ring seals are generally leak free when properly designed. Open shaft compressor systems are known to have problems with refrigerant leaks. Refrigerant loss in most cases can be monitored visually some systems have refrigerant sight glasses and others with thin plate evaporators can by inspected for areas containing frost cover.

Most problems even with well designed refrigeration are electrical dealing with safety controls, pressure, amperage and supply power.

Describe your refrigeration system and maybe I can advise you what you need to be prepared for to handle the next DIY repair.
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Old 04-09-2014, 14:56   #4
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

I think a reasonably mechanically inclined guy with gauges and a couple of cans of R-134a could fix most simple problems with refrigeration.

It's when the problem is more elusive than just basically having too little/too much refrigerant or a broken wire, that's when you'll be glad to have guys like Richard Kollman around to help out. Take a look at the Seafrost thread, that's a pretty tricky problem that's taken a lot of time and effort. I'm sure it will get resolved, but in the meantime, yikes!!
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Old 04-09-2014, 15:18   #5
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

To me a system that needs to have refrigerant added regularly has an issue


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Old 04-09-2014, 15:28   #6
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

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To me a system that needs to have refrigerant added regularly has an issue


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Yes, but one that loses a couple of ounces per year, that leak can be difficult to find
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Old 04-09-2014, 15:35   #7
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

And adding a bit every five years is within the ability of most cruisers. Especially with R-134 as it is available in simple to use kits with instructions. Often you only need to add a little gas to get it running until you can reach a friendly repair stop. A basic set of gauges are not very expensive.
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Old 04-09-2014, 16:25   #8
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

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Originally Posted by Richard Kollmann View Post
Dockhead, The basic faults with pleasure boat refrigeration will vary from type system and manufacturer’s design. Completely sealed systems that do not use O ring seals are generally leak free when properly designed. Open shaft compressor systems are known to have problems with refrigerant leaks. Refrigerant loss in most cases can be monitored visually some systems have refrigerant sight glasses and others with thin plate evaporators can by inspected for areas containing frost cover.

Most problems even with well designed refrigeration are electrical dealing with safety controls, pressure, amperage and supply power.

Describe your refrigeration system and maybe I can advise you what you need to be prepared for to handle the next DIY repair.
It's an Isotherm (Swedish) system, two separate ones for freezer and fridge, with Danfoss compressors, and with the self-pumping condensors.
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Old 04-09-2014, 17:26   #9
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

Now if mine just had a high and low pressure port that I could hook gauges to
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Old 04-09-2014, 17:41   #10
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

After calling multiple technicians who won't even commit to looking at our refrigeration, we spent a few hours on the internet and went out and bought a set of gauges. I am not sure why everyone insisted we needed the whole gauge set, rather than just a gauge on the refrigerant can. As someone mentioned, we have read repeated warnings not to open the pressure ports. However, we now have everything we need for regular and "california" cans, so there is that. And we could work on our cars, as well.

We have also ordered a new thermostat and I just finished putting a coat of rustoleum on the evaporator before we hook everything up again.

We at least had an ice box when it wasn't working at all. Now that we are working on it, I have to leave it open and that is a good excuse to eat lunch at the marina restaurant.
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Old 04-09-2014, 17:53   #11
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

Isotherm are made in Italy, not Sweden IIRC. And they must build them on Monday mornings because my new "precharged system" arrived empty. When I called they said to just charge it myself. I bought a set of cheapo gauges (Harbor Freight if you're in the US) and it was fairly easy. Cost was under $100 and that was cheaper than paying a pro or figuring how to ship it back.

Thoughts.
-Buy r134 without stop leak sealer. It will work in a car but could clog up the tiny Danfoss.
-If it's really bad you need a vacuum pump to remove the moisture etc before adding new gas.
-As stated above the Danfoss don't have high side ports so don't waste your money on nice gauges. A single low side is fine and just add until the evaporator is 90% frosted.

So all in all, yes I will keep gauges and a small can aboard in case I need a future top up.
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Old 04-09-2014, 18:22   #12
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

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Originally Posted by a64pilot View Post
Yes, but one that loses a couple of ounces per year, that leak can be difficult to find

My current system is 13 years old and my last was 23 Yeats old, haven't added any ever.


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Old 04-09-2014, 18:38   #13
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

Yes, a perfect ref would never have any sealed system leaks at all. But unfortunately, sometimes there's tiny leaks that just can't be found. Only real solution there is to add a bit of refrigerant every now and then.

In automotive applications, the leaks are often at the valves.
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Old 05-09-2014, 08:50   #14
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailorboy1 View Post
My current system is 13 years old and my last was 23 Yeats old, haven't added any ever.
Lucky guy!

Two different refrigeration guys gave me the same advice about my very small leak -- it's not worth chasing unless it gets to be a once a year thing. The really small leaks, they said, are really hard if not impossible to find.


So what kit do I need to have on board? A couple of cans of R134a and a low pressure side gauge? Any other tools? Is there a book? Marine refrigeration for idiots?
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Old 05-09-2014, 09:32   #15
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Re: Basic Boat Refrigeration DIY

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Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
It's an Isotherm (Swedish) system, two separate ones for freezer and fridge, with Danfoss compressors, and with the self-pumping condensors.
Dockhead, what do you mean by "self-pumping" . Are they water cooled ?

Regards .
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