Some of us enjoy nothing more than a crisp morning on the water, clutching a warm coffee with both hands while taking in the fresh winter air.
While many seafarers use their boats almost exclusively in the summer, sailing during chillier months can serve a unique blend of lustrous views and quiet seascapes – alongside the added benefit of extending your cherished boating season.
Of course, we can’t forget that many seacrafts also operate year-round by necessity. Scores of workboats will continue to face the elements while their crews assist with essential services – including public transportation and military exercises – irrespective of the climate.
Whether you’re setting sail in the winter or tucking your boat away until June, its vital to remember that its maintenance won’t hibernate until graced with fairer climes.
Your air conditioning unit is an essential piece of equipment that needs regular attention.
Air conditioning may seem redundant in winter, but that’s not the case for everyone – some air conditioning units can also be used as a heat pump, extracting heat from the outdoor and transfer it to the indoor (reverse cycle heating).
Even if your air con is used purely for cooling (and you’d rather keep your boat docked on winter water), you should ensure it remains in good condition while out of use. Otherwise, you could risk the first day of glorious boating weather being spoiled by a neglected unit that refuses to chug to life – losing precious time during high season. Diligent maintenance is the only way to ensure your air con is ready to spring into action, the moment you need it most.
There’s no denying that the conditions for both docked and active boats are harsher in winter – so what should you do to ensure your air con is protected?
Here’s our 10 top tips….
1. Have a well-maintained shore-side connection for reverse cycle heating.
If you plan to run a heater continuously throughout the colder months, this could prove laborious for your AC electrical system.
Your shore-side connection must always be connected securely and be free of dirt and corrosion.
The mix of a high current and a poor connection could prove disastrous if the system overheats, so inspect your AC shore-side outlet regularly. It should always be clean, free from corrosion and tightly fitted to ensure it’s safe for use.
2. Ensure reverse cycle inverters are not left on standby.
Many air conditioning units with inverters come with a standby feature for convenience. However, using this feature during the colder months can be risky.
While on standby mode, the inverter senses AC input and will start creating its own AC output the moment this input is lost.
Experiencing an AC outage isn’t uncommon during winter, particularly when you consider the likelihood of bad weather, tripped breakers, or accidentally disconnected shore-side connections.
During an AC outage, the inverter will be left to draw battery capacity to power heavy loads. This can often flatten a battery within a few hours, leaving you with a chain reaction of unwanted consequences – from failing bilge pumps to silenced alarms. In addition, the flat battery will be at increased risk of sulfation, where a build-up of lead sulphate crystals renders it unable to charge.
Instead of putting your inverter on standby mode and leaving it to underpin heavy AC loads, its best to connect to shore-side power only. This will prevent damage to your batteries and any further risk that an AC outage could cause.
3. Winterise the sea water system.
If you don’t plan to set sail in winter, your air con needs to be drained of all sea water. By pushing the remaining water out, you eliminate the risk of pipes freezing up and even splitting.
By pumping potable antifreeze through the system, you’ll ensure that any water trapped in low points will be displaced by antifreeze solution.
If you’re not sure how to do this, you can check the user guide for your AC unit or contact the supplier directly for advice.
4. Prioritise smaller AC repair and maintenance issues.
If you’re about to winterise your AC unit by flushing the system, consider scheduling an air con service just before. This will give you a crucial opportunity to uncover any potential problems before they become emergency repairs.
It’s indisputable that the best time to fix any niggling air con issues is when you are not actively depending on it.
Leaving problems to fester could mean they become urgent or unsalvageable when you need air conditioning the most, so take advantage of the seasonal downtime to check that rattle, inspect that tiny leak and fix any issues while they are still minor.
5. Consult the owner’s manual.
The manual for your air con unit is the key to keeping it healthy – but you’d be surprised how often it’s overlooked or forgotten about, until a major maintenance issue occurs.
By referring to the owner’s manual and checking the recommended annual service points, you’ll find maintenance advice which is brand and model-specific, allowing you to take the appropriate steps to mitigate preventable damage. So, read it from cover to cover and make sure you understand the care that your air con needs.
6. Service the cooling water intake strainer.
Checking your air con’s water intake strainer is an essential job that’s relatively easy to undertake yourself – so make a point of doing so during your winter spot-checks.
When your air con is running, the strainer stops objects from being sucked inside and clogging up the water intakes. You’ll find it sitting between the raw water intake seacock and the unit’s pump.
You can make sure the strainer is able to work correctly by:
- Shutting off the seacock, then removing the strainer basket and make sure it’s clear of any dirt and debris
- Opening the seacock briefly to ensure nothing is clogged
- Checking the strainer basket for damage
- Checking the condition of all hose runs and connections.
7. Inspect hoses.
Failure of cooling hoses can spell disaster – especially if the air con is left running while your boat is unmanned. It’s entirely possible for faulty hoses to keep pumping water until the boat is submerged, causing immeasurable and costly damage to your precious vessel.
So, don’t waste any time. Once you’ve checked the strainer, you can work your way down the system to see if you can spot any maintenance issues such as leaks, corroded or broken hose clamps, collapsed hoses and any sign of deterioration.
8. Check the drain.
Much like damaged hoses, a faulty drain on your air conditioning unit can result in water where you’d never wish to find it. Drain pans don’t take long to check, so be sure to give it a quick test in the winter.
All you need to do is briefly plug the pan, then pour water into it. It should drain fully within about 30 seconds.
If the drain hose is blocked, you may be able to clear it with compressed air or pressurised water. If the pan is corroded, however, it’s best to get it repaired or replaced right away.
9. Flush coils.
Coils should be flushed periodically with a weak solution of biodegradable acid to remove both scale and marine growth, but you will generally only need to do this every two to five years.
Be sure to note when you last serviced the coils and work them into your winter checklist as required.
10. Examine air filters.
Air filters protect your conditioning unit against dirt and dust. You should clean them once a month to ensure they stay in good working order, but by making them a part of your winter maintenance tasks, you can be confident they’ve had a thorough clear-out.
All you need to do is give them a once-over with a vacuum or – better yet – remove them fully and give a thorough rinse with plain water.
Nauticool is a leading supplier of turnkey air conditioning and refrigeration solutions for marine settings. You can trust us to supply, install and service industry leading brands, to your exact requirements.
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