Airconditioning — to sweat or not to sweat

Having finally go back on Pearl after essentially six months of traveling around (Portland, Atlanta, 3 cross country trips, South Carolina, etc.,), Pearl is in serious need of some TLC. Given that it summer in Florida, one of the first orders of business as far as I was concerned was to get the boat air conditioned again. Without an AC, working below decks makes working in a sauna sound attractive.

So, on to the ACs. There are three basic options for air conditioning one’s sailboat. The one you choose, as with anything else, depends on a combination of budget, storage space, and aesthetics.

Option #1: Sea Water Cooled ACs

This the ideal. It’s integrated with the boat, making it a magical oasis of blissful cool in the tropical sun. All you need to do is plug into shore power or fire up your generator and the magic will happen — but for a price. These babies cost about $2500 for the necessary hardware and about the same for installation by a professional. As an added benefit, these ACs can also be used as heaters if you happen to be somewhere cold. Check out this handy guide at Dometic for more details.

Option #2: Portable ACs

This was the first option I tried. The basic idea is that you park the air conditioner some place in the salon or head, run the ducting to a port light, power it up and you are off to the races. Sounds simple enough, and really is — until you get hit by rain, have to close the port light so the boat doesn’t get flooded, and en up broiling below decks.

I was really pretty excited about this option (actually used it for most of last year) and it worked pretty well until Lisa and Harley came on board. Adding two more bodies seriously cut down on the available space and increased the heating requirements. Next.

Option #3: Window Unit

On first glance, a “Window Shaker” seems like the least attractive option for adding AC to the boat, but as it turns out, this solution has great merit. Firstly, this is the least cost per BTU if you get a household unit from Home Depot. Secondly, you don’t lose interior space. Thirdly, if installed correctly, it works great even it it’s raining! Ok, so it looks a bit “ghetto,” to have an AC strapped on deck, but for the price, I can live with that.


Initially, I was really keen on getting a sea water cooled system, but given a choice between spending $5000 on an AC or comparable amounts on either a water maker or upgrading the navionics, I decided to choose the latter. My rationale here is that if we are cruising, we aren’t likely to be using the AC too much as I don’t want to add a big generator, the fuel to run it, blah, blah. Quite frankly, I would rather have balmy tropical breezes at an anchorage. Air conditioning, however, is mandatory when you are at a slip where there is access to shore-power etc. If we find ourselves at a slip outside the US for any length of time, my guess is that we would be able to replicate the window-shaker solution for relatively low cost.

More shortly on how to I handled installing a Window Shaker Air Conditioner on Pearl….

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