Buyers Guide & Information

Marine AC Reviews

Boat ACs are designed to keep your cabin cool during the hottest parts of the day or night. We have found the best marine air conditioners for your needs.

Boating is a fun experience that can easily be ruined by high temperatures. Often on bright, sunny days, the air temperature at sea is much higher than on land. To combat this heat, you can install a marine air conditioner.

Boat ACs are designed for boats, yachts, and marine craft to help keep your cabin cool during the hottest parts of the day or night. This article will examine the best marine air conditioners, explain what to look for when making a purchase, and help you find the best model for your needs.

The Importance of a Reliable Boat AC

Having an AC on your boat may not be the highest priority when buying the boat. Unless you are spending millions on a yacht or cruise ship, air conditioners are an aftermarket product in most cases.

This makes the marine air conditioner aftermarket business better for the consumer. Because prices have to be competitive, the consumer wins. You get better units, more features, and a lower price.

Installation can be done during purchase, after-sale, or at any time on an existing boat. This makes the marine air conditioner market wide open, and easy to find the best deals on a climate control system that will work for you.

Boat in Sea

Different Types of Marine Air Conditioning Setups

Marine air conditioners, like home and commercial units, need to be fitted and are specific for the application. When looking for an air conditioner for your boat, you have a few different options.

Self-Contained AC

Self contained marine ACs are similar to package air conditioners. These units are built into a cabinet, under a bed or seat, or even in their own closet. The compressor, condenser, and evaporator are all together with holes through the bulkhead to cycle seawater.

Using the seawater to cool the refrigerant keeps the system working while the R410a or R-417a refrigerant cools the air in the living area of the boat.  These systems are best for boats up to 40 feet.

Split (remote) AC

A split air conditioner system, also known as a central unit or a remote air conditioner, is similar to the residential unit in your home. Instead of having all components in a single cabinet, they are split. The condenser, seawater compressor, and pumps are generally mounted in the engine room or mechanical room, while the air handler and vents are mounted in the living space.

The copper tubing carries the refrigerant between each component keeping the air cool (or heated) depending on the needs of the user and system. A split air conditioning unit is best for boats up to 80 feet.

Chilled Water AC

Instead of refrigerant, chilled water air conditioners use seawater piped through a chiller or heater to bring heat and cold to the cabin and living spaces. These are the largest and most expensive systems but have major capacity potential (up to almost 3 million BTUs).

As the water is cooled, it is passed through tubing to the air handlers, where the cold water chills the air providing cold air to the rooms. These systems are best for the largest of boats, cruise ships, and superyachts.

Marine Air Conditioners Compared

Image
Webasto A/C Retrofit Kit
Dometic EnviroComfort ECD10K-HV AC Retrofit...
ASA Electronics ACM135 Advent Air 13,500 BTU...
12V Compact Refrigeration Cooling Systems Air...
Model
Webasto A/C Retrofit Kit
Dometic EnviroComfort ECD10K-HV AC Retrofit...
ASA Electronics ACM135 Advent Air 13,500 BTU...
12V Compact Refrigeration Cooling Systems Air...
Climate Capabilities
Heating & Cooling
Heating & Cooling
Cool Only (heat strip optional)
Cool Only
BTU
10,000 BTU
10,000 BTU
13,500 BTU
1535 BTU
Dedicated For Marine Use
Image
Webasto A/C Retrofit Kit
Model
Webasto A/C Retrofit Kit
Climate Capabilities
Heating & Cooling
BTU
10,000 BTU
Dedicated For Marine Use
Price
Image
Dometic EnviroComfort ECD10K-HV AC Retrofit...
Model
Dometic EnviroComfort ECD10K-HV AC Retrofit...
Climate Capabilities
Heating & Cooling
BTU
10,000 BTU
Dedicated For Marine Use
Price
Image
ASA Electronics ACM135 Advent Air 13,500 BTU...
Model
ASA Electronics ACM135 Advent Air 13,500 BTU...
Climate Capabilities
Cool Only (heat strip optional)
BTU
13,500 BTU
Dedicated For Marine Use
Price
Image
12V Compact Refrigeration Cooling Systems Air...
Model
12V Compact Refrigeration Cooling Systems Air...
Climate Capabilities
Cool Only
BTU
1535 BTU
Dedicated For Marine Use
Price

What To Consider Before Buying Air Conditioning For Your Boat

Before you buy and install your new AC, upgrade or replacement, there are several factors to consider. Below, we cover those factors with a brief explanation as to why they are important.

Size of AC Units

When we talk about the size of an AC, we refer to the physical dimensions as well as the capacity and output. On a boat, you are more limited in physical size. Unlike a residential unit, you can’t put half of the system outside. Make sure you have the physical room for the unit.

You also want to pay attention to the BTU rating of the system. This will tell you how many square feet the system can heat or cool. On average, a marine air conditioner will cool about 5 square feet per BTU and heat about 10 square feet per BTU.

Size and Layout of Your Boat

Using the BTU output as a guide, the size of your boat, and in particular, the cabin, crew, and living areas are most important. You want a system rated for the size, but you also need to account for the layout.

Corners, separate rooms, and long distances between living areas can affect the overall size you need to install.

Ventilation Type

Proper ventilation is important as well. When it comes to boat ACs, there are two types, active and passive. Passive ventilation is what you find in most homes and commercial properties.

It is an air handler connected to ductwork with vents, louvers, or gates where the air circulates. These are the least expensive and easiest to install on a boat. However, if the boat or ambient air isn’t moving, neither does the AC air.

Active vents use intake and exhaust fans (boat power or solar power) to move air, even when everything else is calm and still. While more expensive, you can configure a system to properly move air at all times in any direction.

AC’s Power Requirement

You can expect a power draw of about 8 to 10 amps per 10,000 BTUs. Depending on the size of your system, this can be difficult to maintain while underway. You will need to consider a properly sized inverter and battery banks to power the system while still accounting for all other electronics on the boat.

Sailing Climate

Your average sailing climate will be important as well. If you regularly find yourself in temperatures over 85 degrees (Fahrenheit) with 80 to 90 percent humidity, you will need a more capable (and often larger) system.

Cooler climates and those with lower relative humidity can get away with smaller systems (cheaper) but will still need to ensure the system is appropriately sized for the space.

Unit & Installation Costs

Unit and installation costs will vary based on several factors. Before you can answer how much does it cost to install a boat AC, you have to weigh all the possibilities. This includes the AC type, installation location, time of year of install, contractor abilities, time frame and labor costs, as well as other smaller factors.

Each region and contractor will have different fees, and if you have a smaller, self-contained option and a little knowledge, a DIY install isn’t out of the question (though not recommended for warranty’s sake). On average, you can expect to pay between $1500 and $4500 for an AC install.

Of course, this can double or even triple for larger boats and systems.

Warranty

AC warranties are among the most critical aspects of your buying process. Each brand, style, and even model will have different warranty coverage. You need to understand the coverage terms, duration, and requirements.

Many marine AC warranties will require professional installation and annual (or bi-annual) professional inspections. You also need to ensure that parts, labor, and even repair fees are covered (where possible).

Ease of Maintenance

Unlike home ACs, boat air conditioners are harder to clean and maintain simply due to access restrictions. When selecting your unit, you need to consider the cleaning and maintenance aspects, which include installation location, access, tools and equipment, as well as time.

Air conditioners that are easier to access, clean and maintain, may be great, but they may also take up more living space or have various requirements you can’t live with. Be sure you know all of the factors mentioned above while thinking about maintenance before you buy.

Several Boats anchored in Docks

5 Best Boat Air Conditioners Reviewed

Boat air conditioners come in various forms, from small and compact to premium. Because there isn’t a universal boat or cabin size, there isn’t a universal air conditioner size. There also aren’t universal cooling options.

Below, you will find 5 of the best styles and types of marine air conditioners, reviewed, compared, and rated. Scroll through the list and find your next boat air conditioner.

1. Webasto AC Retrofit Kit

Best Marine Air Conditioner
Digital Programmable Thermostat No (capable)
Climate Capabilities Heating & Cooling
BTU 10,000 BTU
Dimensions 24 x 21 x 15 Inches
Warranty 24 months
Dedicated For Marine Use Yes

This retrofit kit is ideal for smaller boats or cabins. It uses seawater for cooling and eliminates the need for larger units. With 6000 BTUs, you can easily cool spaces and rooms up to 100 square feet.

The packaged unit comes with the compressor, condenser, evaporator, and pressure controls all in one sleek, installation-ready cabinet. It works much the same way as window air conditioners, with a forward-facing outlet fan and a self-contained compression unit.

Because the system is small, it can be installed under a bunk, behind a bulkhead, or almost anywhere in a galley, cabin or living area. You will need to supply the hoses, seawater pumps, and through-hull connections, but everything else is included.

You also get a digital thermostat and a 2-year warranty to cover any problems you may have. This retrofit kit is ideal for new installs, replacements, or upgrades to existing systems.

What We Like
  • Simple to install and use
  • Comes complete out of the box
  • Low maintenance
What We Don’t Like
  • No shell for counter install

2. DOMETIC EnviroComfort ECD10K-HV AC

Best for Small Boats
Digital Programmable Thermostat Yes
Climate Capabilities Heating & Cooling
BTU 10,000 BTU
Dimensions 24 x 28 x 15 Inches
Warranty 24 months
Dedicated For Marine Use No

With reverse cycle heating and cooling, retrofit kits are becoming more and more popular. They take the effort out of cooling your boat and make heating larger spaces possible.

The Dometic kit is one of the top sellers and is ideal for small boats or those with smaller sleeping quarters. At 10,000 BTUs, you can efficiently cool and heat up to 250 square feet at a time, and through proper ventilation, you can extend this a little to cover both your living quarters and cabin.

The main difference between this model and the Webasto model is that this uses R-410a refrigerant instead of seawater. It is also designed as an upgrade replacement and not intended for a new install.

Because of the compact size and easy installation, it is also ideal for RVs, campers, and larger vehicles. This model also comes in two other capacities (6000 and 12000 BTUs), which can combine to replace existing capacities between 5000 and 16,000 BTUs (R-22 refrigerant).

With a 24 month warranty, low maintenance, and a swivel blower that allows for vertical or horizontal output, you don’t need much else.

What We Like
  • Includes remote installed digital thermostat
  • Easy access filter
  • Swivel blower for variable install
What We Don’t Like
  • Not the most efficient system available
  • Higher cost than most other retrofit kits

3. ASA Electronics ACM135 Advent Air

Best Roof Top AC Unit
Digital Programmable Thermostat No
Climate Capabilities Cool Only (heat strip optional)
BTU 13,500 BTU
Dimensions 27 x 30 x 13.5 Inches
Warranty Varies
Dedicated For Marine Use No

If you already have a standard rooftop mounted AC, the odds are it is from Dometic. This model, from ASA Electronics, is a stand-alone model that is compatible with the Dometic units. It is important to note, though, that this is only the top side mounted portion.

It has 3 fan speeds and connects to a standard 14.25 opening. You can wire it into your existing thermostat and venting system, or as a new install for building your own.

It is self-contained and comes charged with either R-410a or R-417A refrigerant. However, if you are installing this yourself, you may need to hire a professional to make the connections.

Even with three fan speeds, this system is cooling only. However, ASA Electronics makes a plug-in heat strip for this unit (separate purchase) that will allow you to run the heat and fans to blow hotter air into your boat, RV, or camper.

The only downside is that there isn’t a warranty unless purchased, installed, and maintained by a professional dealer. It also features a steel collection pan that may corrode more quickly with constant saltwater exposure.

What We Like
  • Compatible with Dometic Brisk II series
  • All-inclusive unit
  • 3 fan speeds for better output
What We Don’t Like
  • May not have warranty
  • Might need professional installation

4. Dometic Luxury Marine Air Conditioners

Best Luxury Air Conditioning
Digital Programmable Thermostat Optional
Climate Capabilities Heat Only/Cool Only/Heating & Cooling
BTU Up to 180,000 BTU
Dimensions Various
Warranty 24 months
Dedicated For Marine Use Yes

Dometic is easily the largest and arguably the best marine air conditioning company in the industry. They offer a massive line of products to keep you cool (or warm) while at sea. From seawater cooling systems to rooftop space savers, Dometic has you covered.

Dometic manufactures and produces everything from super yacht complete cooling systems to small craft, rooftop systems for both boats and RV campers. They also range from 5000 BTUs up to 180,000 BTUs. And, if you need air conditioning in an additional cabin, control room, or living space, Dometic also carries an optional air distribution kit.

From retrofit to complete systems, Dometic has it. Each of their systems comes with a minimum 2-year warranty, and their more premium water cooling systems are safeguarded against corrosion.

Using titanium parts and brushless motors, you won’t need to ever worry about seawater corrosion or harsh marine life complications.

What We Like
  • Almost any option needed is available
  • Highly corrosive resistant
  • Sized for almost every boat
What We Don’t Like
  • Prices are fairly high
  • Some models can be large and bulky

5. Campelify 12V Air Conditioning System

Most Compact 12v AC Unit
Digital Programmable Thermostat No
Climate Capabilities Cool Only
BTU 1535 BTU
Dimensions 13 x 8 x 5.5 Inches
Warranty None
Dedicated For Marine Use No

If you need quick, cold air quickly, a compact solution is a great opportunity. Campelify creates a 12-volt system that fits almost in the palm of your hand. Using automotive refrigerant (R-134a), this small unit can produce up to 1335 BTUs of output power.

While it won’t be strong enough to cool an entire boat, it can cool a control room, truck cabin, RV drive space, or small camper. These units are also found installed in train cabins, helicopters, and semi-trucks.

These units don’t have any heating capacity, though, so they aren’t designed for year-round comfort. In the winter months and colder climates, you will need an alternative heat source.

However, for the warm spring and hot, muggy summers, this 12-volt unit can keep you cool. The 12-volt connection can be connected to a car or auto power cell, battery, solar, car power, or even grid power.

You can power at the dock, on the trailer, or even at home. Wherever you need the cooling power of this tiny unit, you have it. The bad news, though, is that you don’t get a warranty. There is no installation coverage, and you need to encase it yourself.

What We Like
  • Ultra-compact design
  • Easy cleaning access
  • Extremely low maintenance
What We Don’t Like
  • Not designed for large spaces
  • Not seawater resistant

How Do Marine Air Conditioners Work?

Marine air conditioners have many parts and work slightly differently from residential units. While some of the features are the same, they work in different ways.

The return pulls in the air from the cabin and living spaces. The hot air is passed over refrigerant coils or seawater tubing to pull the heat from the air. The cooler air is then blown through the vents back into the room.

Unlike a residential model, marine air conditioners have the possibility of using seawater for cooling (both air and equipment) either alone or in conjunction with refrigerant. Because you can use seawater with the compressor and condenser for cooling, it adds a new dimension to the system that isn’t used anywhere else.

How To Get The Most Out of Any AC on a Boat

Once your system is installed correctly and running, you want to ensure it stays at its operational best. Getting the most out of your marine AC isn’t as difficult as it may sound. There are a few things you want to know beforehand, though.

For example, if your warranty requires annual inspections and maintenance by a professional, you need to budget and schedule those appointments. You may also be required to maintain records, so you should have copies of every maintenance appointment and a detailed record of what repairs or improvements have been completed.

Cleaning is the biggest DIY tip for any air conditioner. You want to ensure the filters are changed regularly, seals and hull breach areas are secure and not leaking, and that any saltwater is promptly removed to prevent corrosion or damage.

With annual maintenance inspections and regular cleaning, your system will last a long time and perform at the top of its abilities.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

How long do marine air conditioners last?

On average, with proper cleaning and maintenance, a typical residential air conditioner will last 15 to 20 years. Marine air conditioners have harsher conditions and more usage requirements. However, even with that limitation, a well-maintained marine AC can last 8 to 12 years, on average.

Why is my boat air conditioner not pumping water?

When you pull the hose from the water or remove the discharge hose from the pump, if there isn’t any water movement, there are two main causes. First and most common, the pump itself has burnt out. Most pumps won’t have any warning and will just fail on one start-up in the future. The second most common reason is faulty wiring. If the electrical wiring to the pump or from the thermostat gets burnt out, the pump won’t work.

How do you prime boat air conditioners?

To prime your seawater pump, the easiest method is to remove the discharge hose from the pump and open the through-hull with the boat in the water. Once the water begins to flow through the discharge, your system is primed.

How many amps does a marine air conditioner draw?

Marine air conditioners generally draw between 4 and 13 amps for 5000 to 16,000 BTU systems. Larger systems, water-drawn systems, and those designed for super yachts or larger boats will have higher amp draws.

Can I run my marine AC on solar power?

Yes, there are several aftermarket solar powering systems that can install on a boat to power your air conditioner. Names like Renogy and WindyNation offer systems made specifically for boat air conditioning.

Conclusion

Marine air conditioning is a huge business, and there is a great need. When your boat is underway, and you are enjoying the sea life, you need to remain comfortable. That air conditioner will keep your living spaces and below deck area at the right temperature.

With various brands, models, and even styles, you have a choice to make. However, when you find the perfect match, your boating sessions become that much more enjoyable. If you are still on the fence, take a second look at our top pick again.

The Webasto C Retrofit Kit is a seawater retrofit unit that will expand your system using the newest refrigerant options.

Josh M
Top