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Old 03-03-2015, 14:05   #1
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Marine refrigeration career

I am thinking of getting into marine refrigeration. It seems like it is a good way to make money while cruising and also a good business to be in here in the states. I read some other posts on the subject, about buying the books and starting by building your own systems. Then where would one go from there? Is there a decent demand for the profession, and if after reading the books and building your own system, is it possible someone would hire you to gain the needed experience? Would an apprenticeship be possible? Also, how hard is it to get the needed licenses? Can you just study for a test and take it? People say the going rate is around $100 an hour, that seems too good to be true, what are the down sides to it? How feasible is it to have a small profitable business with the proper tools, know how, and pickup truck? And how do I get to that point? Any information or input is greatly appreciated!
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Old 03-03-2015, 14:13   #2
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

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Originally Posted by sailingarborist View Post
I am thinking of getting into marine refrigeration. It seems like it is a good way to make money while cruising and also a good business to be in here in the states. I read some other posts on the subject, about buying the books and starting by building your own systems. Then where would one go from there? Is there a decent demand for the profession, and if after reading the books and building your own system, is it possible someone would hire you to gain the needed experience? Would an apprenticeship be possible? Also, how hard is it to get the needed licenses? Can you just study for a test and take it? People say the going rate is around $100 an hour, that seems too good to be true, what are the down sides to it? How feasible is it to have a small profitable business with the proper tools, know how, and pickup truck? And how do I get to that point? Any information or input is greatly appreciated!
It's probably a good career, especially in warmer areas.

I suggest going to a school that will give you the education and a degree or certificate in HVAC installation and repair. Buying books and building one isn't really going to cut it.

As for the $100 per hour, that's not all profit like it would be as an employee. You have to get yourself trained and keep up with new developments, you have to buy tools and supplies, service manuals, have a shop or truck and storage area to work out of, pay for advertising, phone, electric, etc., pay taxes (including self employment tax), buy health insurance, and put something away for vacations and eventual retirement. And of course, you're unlikely to be booked 40 hours per week, there will be times when you have no work and no $100 per hour but you're still paying for expenses.

It's a good career though if you are good at it. You could do far worse.
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Old 03-03-2015, 14:38   #3
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

I believe HVAC (land-based, anyway) is a trade where you have to have some sort of certification. But it seems there's always a demand for skilled HVAC technicians, so it's a good trade choice. I believe the usual entry path is something like a year at a technical school, then apprenticeship, then some tests to earn certification.

As already mentioned, the billed rate can be high, but there's usually a fair amount of overhead to deal with: truck, tools and equipment, inventory, premises, insurance, etc. And it's rare to do 40+ billable hours a week. A friend of mine who runs an active and successful one-man marine electrical business says his annual income, averaged out, is equivalent to around $40 to $45 an hour in a regular job.
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Old 03-03-2015, 17:37   #4
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

Thanks a lot for the replies! I kind of envision a one man operation also, then being able to do it while cruising. Can you guys recommend any schools for it? I have looked and didn't really see any programs dedicated to marine refrigeration. They all seem to be HVACR programs. I saw some places would have one class on marine refrigeration.
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Old 03-03-2015, 18:05   #5
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

Many community colleges teach HVAC for land based systems. Marine systems are not terribly different. But I would still pick up a copy of Richard Kollmans books from his website. One problem you might encounter is buying certain refrigerants without a license.
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Old 03-03-2015, 18:32   #6
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

If you have a talent for fixing all things broken, you can do very well in the HVAC/Refrigeration trade.

I had a talent for fixing things, a background in the USAF as a radar specialist so a great understanding of electrical circuits and taught myself the principles of refrigeration. I repaired heat pumps and made a very good living at it. You can too if you're willing to work at it.

You will need a good understanding of electrical circuits, a knowledge of refrigeration principals , tools and experience using them. Get some good books and start studying, I would also suggest you contact some of the equipment manufacturers and retailers and see if they have a position that may help you learn.

Lisencing requirements vary from area to area but always requires a cert from the EPA for refrigerant handling, any HVAC equipment distributor can tell you where to test in your area an may even be able to help you gain experience.

Good luck
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Old 03-03-2015, 18:39   #7
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

Look online. You can take some exams for the cost of the exam, others will require a class and sitting for an exam , IIRC. These are federal EPA licenses to handle the refrigerant gasses.


You will need a separate set of equipment (supply, recovery, vacuum pump, gauges) for each type of gas that you work with, and you will need to collect the old gas from systems, each in a different tank, and submit them for recycling. And those licenses are valid only in the USA. It may be illegal to carry or possess some of those gasses once you go outside the US.


Generally, a very good, very efficient, self-employed person makes about 1/3 of the prevailing hourly rate. The rest gets consumed by extra taxes, medical and retirement plans, vacation time (you gotta pay that out of your own pocket), paid holidays, ongoing training, and all sorts of other overhead. You'll probably need a business license in each state you operate in, sometimes each municipality, and you'll have to file and pay sales tax in each one as well. That's all part of the overhead that eats some 70% of your gross income.


Or, if you chose to fly illegally under the radar...it is cash in pocket, until someone official says "Gee, you've got a lot of refrigerants here..." and the roof caves in. Or asks you to fix their fridge.(G)


Cooling is like poker: The rules are simple, really simple, but there are so few people who really seem to do it well.
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Old 03-03-2015, 19:15   #8
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

You can take all the courses in the world, read all the books you want but without "practical" experience, you'll know nothing. Take a basic a/c course @ a community/technical college, then find a company that is willing to hire you as an apprentice & learn the trade. You need EPA certifications in order to reclaim or even buy freon in the U.S. When you have several years of A/C troubleshooting under your belt, hang your shingle & enjoy. If you're plan is to get paid for your services remember, this isn't a science experiment.
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Old 03-03-2015, 19:44   #9
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

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You need EPA certifications in order to reclaim or even buy freon in the U.S. .
Ah, well...not quite.
Every Auto parts store in the USA sells R134a refrigerant gas and even in California you can buy a 30lb bottle of R134a off ebay for heavens sake and ship them into California. You can buy all the tools, gauge sets and equipment needed online or at most retail outlet, no certs or licensees needed either.

Dupont Suva 134a 30lbs Can Refrigerant Freon R 134a Factory SEALED | eBay

So what you are talking about here isn't really a certification problem it's a Skill and Knowledge problem. In order to charge someone $100 (or I've seen up to $120/hr) for your services you actually have to have some skills and knowledge to offer! How do you get that? Well classes and certifications are one way and if you want to be a LEGAL Business of course you will want to have all of them, but how many marine electricians, riggers, AC techs, diesel mechanics, etc actually have some sort of certifications behind them? From experience, not many! Calm down damn it...YES you want to be clean with your local State and Federal regs governing AC work...but folks...

What matters more to me as a boater needing a service and skill is simply Does He Know what the heck he is doing!!! If you don't, then the word will spread faster than a STD at a swingers party, but if you DO and show up on time, leave the boat clean, are not drunk on the job, and can speak and communicate professionally....****...you my friend will be busier than you will want to be and can make a nice living as a marine refrigeration guy. You are not going to do it overnight, because there is a lot to learn, but there really is no such thing as an overnight success. An overnight success is years in the making that people only notice after the years of groundwork is laid.
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Old 03-03-2015, 19:58   #10
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

S/V Third Day, I was thinking about the older gases that are still used in older units. I have zero experience but pretty sure you need a license to buy the older "banned" gases.
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Old 03-03-2015, 20:05   #11
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

Oh you will for those...but what's the percentage of those old school gasses in use today in the marine market? The reality is that if those systems need to be recharged and serviced, they are usually converted or replaced to an R134a system.
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Old 03-03-2015, 20:22   #12
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

The more I read these posts the more I realize how little I know about fridges. Ten years ago I ripped out a water cooled Crosby 120v/engine drive and replaced it with an air cooled Adler Barbour. Followed the instruction book exactly. Its worked flawlessly since then and thats all I need to know...
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Old 03-03-2015, 21:48   #13
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

Here in Canada HVAC technician is a proper trade and requires a 4 year (or so) apprenticeship.

Not sure about other countries, but I would bet some are the same.
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Old 04-03-2015, 05:19   #14
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, sailingarborist.

You might ask marine refrigeration guru, Richard Kollmann, for advice.
Cruisers & Sailing Forums - View Profile: Richard Kollmann

See also ➥ Marine Refrigeration Classes
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Old 04-03-2015, 06:34   #15
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Re: Marine refrigeration career

I'm licensed HVAC, high pressure I think is what the license says.
I've never charged anyone for it, and do very little work period, so I am no expert
But I'll second the better the electrician you are, the better HVAC tech you will be, very often the problem lies in the controls, inadequate wiring or high resistance connections etc., often there is nothing wrong with system, it's an electrical issue and people will often try to solve an electrical issue by adding refrigerant, especially if they are new at it.
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