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By Dugan Meluso
Job one for marine holding plate refrigeration is to make the boat owner's life easier. In fact, if you had to identify two characteristics of a really good 12-volt holding plate system, they'd be simple and steady.
To elaborate, the simpler the system, the less power drain and chance for something to go wrong. Simple also means something you can order by mail, install yourself, using common tools. As for reliability, the steadier the system operates on a 24/7 basis, the less power it'll draw and the more you'll be willing to trust it during your absence.
We recently researched the market and bought a system that embodies these characteristics. It's the CoolBlue from Technautics, Inc., a leader in energy-efficient 12-volt marine refrigeration for over 30 years. CoolBlue is the newest edition to the Technautics family of holding plate refrigeration. Consuming only 1/2 the energy of comparable systems, the new CoolBlue is as reliable as your kitchen refrigerator yet only uses the equivalent energy of a small cabin light.
After years of pouring money into the aging 110-volt/engine-drive system we inherited when we bought the boat, we finally gave up and reverted to yup, ice. Best I can say about that year is that it's over. There's nothing like ice to crush, soak, mangle and occasionally freeze your perishables.
The basic CoolBlue unit pulls only 21 amp hours per day for a well-insulated 6 cubic foot freezer/refrigerator. Energy savings are also achieved because the system comes pre-charged with earth-friendly 134a refrigerant, and includes a multi-speed compressor fan and oversize condensing coil, which lowers the running power needed to 0.9 amps.
When we decided to re-automate the ice box, we looked at our current boating style to make fundamental decisions about our refrigeration needs.
We decided up front that an engine-driven system was overkill. Passage-making, like a circumnavigation, simply isn't in the cards anymore. At anchor, we top our batteries off with a small portable gas genset so we didn't fancy firing up the diesel engine too, just for the sake of the refrigeration. Underway, we also found that the PTO took its toll on engine speed.
The second decision involved selecting a 12-volt DC system over a 110-volt AC model. Yes, we're plugged into AC shore power 80% of the time, but design of the Technautics unit, convinced us to stick with the 12-volt model. It's a low draw system and if the battery goes below 12 volts, the CoolBlue shuts off automatically. We plan to add a small flexible solar panel to run it with our bilge pump when we're off leash from a power cable.
Regardless of the type of system you select, it is box size and the amount of its insulation that will determine the size of the unit you'll need. Radiant's top-loading box is very well insulated, with a 5" depth all around, including the top. Technautics recommends a 1" plate for a 6 cu. ft. box, however since ours is an 8 cu ft, double-box, we specified the 2-1/2 inch cold plate upgrade.
While there are considerable similarities between different refer systems, we picked the Technautics for its size, simple installation and low power electrical consumption. What will work best for you? Talk it through with various dealers and consider the options. Every time we phoned, we found Technautics to be very helpful in answering ordering and installation questions.
A strong selling point for us was the fact that the CoolBlue system eliminates the need for water cooling and its associated problems. Boat owners who use refrigeration systems which require water cooling, use 20% more energy to run the system, and increase risks to the vessel due to water leakage or salt water intake. Maintenance and costs associated with a water-cooled system may also be significantly higher due to water pump breakdowns and replacements.
When it came to installation, we initially planned to have a professional put it together, but hit a scheduling log jam so we ended up doing it ourselves, a project that proved easier than anticipated. Tearing out the old water-cooled system took four hours; installing the simple new system took only three, including prep time. The CoolBlue refrigeration system really is self-contained, and "as advertised" it can be installed by the boat owner in less than four hours with a pretty basic set of tools: two wrenches, a hole saw, a screwdriver and wire.
The job consisted of a few major tasks. We fastened the new compressor under the galley sink, where it took up only half the space of its predecessor. At 12" x 10" x 10" high, the CoolBlue compressor is compact and weights just 23 lbs. The next item was to mount the cold plate in the box. Then we ran the pressurized coolant lines run from the compressor to the plate, a distance of approximately 12' on Radiant.
Working with pre-charged lines made all the difference. When they clicked into place, the system activated immediately and ran smoothly with no loss of refrigerant. Over the next several months we took the boat on a couple of fitting out runs to Ensenada, Mexico, and back. Beating home, we would have shaken anything loose that wasn't stable.
So far, so good. We've followed the CoolBlue's usage directions "Turn it on and never turn it off," to a "T". We made the Newport-to-Ensenada Race in record time with chilled cold cuts, frozen steaks, cold beer and a lighter boat. Simple rules.
All Technautics units are pre-charged and factory tested. The system includes: a compressor receiver module, a eutectic holding plate (13x24x2.5 inches in dimension with the capacity of 2500 BTU's at 0°), thermostat, electrical panel and 12.5 foot tubing sets. The CoolBlue high-efficiency 12-volt DC compressor with 1" thick holding plate for one box retails for $2,288*. The 2-1/2" plate upgrade for a double-box set-up (13 X 24 X 2 1/2 inches, 2500 BTUs) is $149.
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