Category Archives: Frugal Boating

Frugal Boater: A Household Refrigerator For Our Sailboat

Our old Norcold 6.5 cu ft refrigerator was slowly on it’s way to the graveyard. Mind you, it was at least 10 years old, so it’s hard to blame Norcold. The 12v board burned out, so we were running it on an inverter. No parts were available for such an old model. The seals were leaking causing excessive frost build up. It was using at least double the power it should. It was past due for a replacement.

After looking at direct replacements from Norcold and others we found it hard to justify $1400 – $2000 for a 6.5 cu ft refrigerator. It was time to get creative.

After lots of measuring and internet shopping we found that 9.9 cu ft home refrigerators had a pretty standard form factor and would fit (just barely) the space we had. We spent a lot of time measuring, planning and calculating.

One nice thing is that home refrigerators have an energy label with estimated annual power usage in Kwh. I initially planned for an energy star model, but in this size there just wasn’t enough difference to justify the cost. Ours was rated 392Kwh, so that meant 1.07Kwh per day. Less than our old one was using. If you’d rather think in terms of Amp Hours simply divide Watt Hours (1070 in this case) by 12 to give you 89ah at 12 volts. There’s also a little loss in the inverter, so we figured 100ah.

When a refrigerator we liked went on sale it was time to pull the trigger. We delayed our departure from West Palm Beach so that we could use the free town dock, plus nearby Uhaul and Home Depot.

Our day started with pulling our the old refrigerator to make sure there were no surprises, and mainly to make sure we only needed one trip to the hardware store. After determining bulkhead thickness and other details it was time for a ride in the Uhaul Truck.

Everything went smoothly at Home Depot. We purchased the refrigerator online to make sure it would be in stock. They had the refrigerator waiting and we had a list of necessary bits and pieces to do the installation.

Back at the dock, with the new refrigerator waiting in the truck, it was time to evict the old refrigerator. This operation had been planned carefully. It started with removing/folding out dodger out of the way.

We rigged a block and tackle, borrowed from our dinghy davits, to the main boom for use as a crane.

After removal of our companionway steps, we moved the old, 100 lb refrigerator to the spot they used to occupy. From here we would pull the refrigerator straight up to the cockpit with the hel
p of our 6:1 tackle.

Just a little padding to the protect the teak woodwork and it worked like a charm. Then it was a matter of swinging the boom, with refrigerator, out over the dock. Everything was going to plan.

Time to get the new refrigerator out of the truck. After temporarily removing the doors from the new unit it we simply reversed the process to put the new refrigerator inside the boat. The real grunt work was over, so it was time to get to work and make this new unit fit.

First, after more careful measuring we had to cut the hole to size. Our little Harbor Freight Multi-Tool made short work of the cutting, including a cut flush with the floor. Next was a “shelf” to support the refrigerator. This is mostly an installation aid, since it won’t be the sole support. You can’t see it in the picture, but the shelf is supported by brackets rated at 1000 lb plus steel strapping added to stop flex.

The new refrigerator is really supported much like the old one, with a flange screwed into the bulkhead. We used aluminum angle mounted flush with the front of the refrigerator. It’s held by #8 screws about every 6″, both to the refrigerator and the bulkhead. It should be pretty strong. Final details include hook and eye latches for when the boat is in motion. We still have a little aesthetic work to do. We plan to paint the aluminum black to match the refrigerator, and a trim panel will be added to the top. Other than that, we’re pretty happy.

We have a larger, frost free refrigerator for about a quarter the cost of an AC/DC marine/RV unit. Power consumption is manageable for us and the beer is ice cold!