Until now I’ve never owned a boat with a refrigerator, all my past boats have had an icebox. This was not necessarily by choice, my electrical system has been for the most part pretty minimal and I’ve not had sufficient electrical capacity to operate a fridge, but this changed when I got Seaglass my Grand banks 32. By comparison to my other boats, electricity is profligate, not only do I have a huge battery bank but additionally I have a generator, able to supply 120 volts AC at the push of a button.
Like many marine and RV refrigerators the unit fitted to Seaglass is able to operate from either AC or DC. When the boat is connected to shore power, or the generator is operating, the unit runs from this supply, but disconnect or interrupt the AC and the fridge defaults to 12 volts. Up until now I been manually selecting AC or DC on the breaker panel and it was only after I spoke to the good folks at Thetford that I found out you can leave both breakers turned on.
The fridge on the boat was, I think, original and although it had soldiered on for 25 years it was showing its age. The old fridge didn’t look too bad but after 25 years time was up.
The door seals were worn, the flap to the freezer compartment was missing, and it ran almost all the time in an effort to maintain its temperature – it had to go.
When the boat was built the buyer had two options, have a meat locker cold plate style fridge replete with solid teak door and stainless steel interior or a standalone marine fridge. Frankly I wished my boat had come with the former option and although I could have had one built, the cost, along with the siting and mounting of the separate compressor/evaporator was more than I was prepared to tackle. The simpler option then was to replace the fridge that was there with a complete new unit. I had assumed that this would be a fairly simple matter of unbolting and sliding out the old unit and replacing it with new fridge of identical dimensions. Sadly it was little more complicated than that, as a direct replacement is no longer available. So after looking at all the available options I decided on the Norcold 0788, the closest in size to the original.
Here’s how I did it.
- The first step after turning off the power was to get the old unit out. To make this easier I first removed the door.
- Screws through a flange around the fridge secured the fridge to the surrounding woodwork. With the screws removed the fridge could finally be pulled forward to reveal a quarter century of dirt and crud.
3. After double-checking that the power was off I disconnected the power connections, both 12 volt DC and 120 volts AC were hard wired through separate terminal blocks.
- With the old fridge off the boat I measured the opening, as I knew that I would have to make some adjustments to ensure a neat and tidy installation of the new unit. Because the new fridge was slightly smaller in both width and height compared to the old one it was necessary to make up a new teak surround to blend seamlessly with the existing teak joiner work.
- To promote good air circulation and give the fridge a firm base on which to sit two half-inch marine plywood skids were screwed into the base of the cabinet.
6.The new fridge came with a right hand hanging door so I had to swap the hinges to the other side – an easy job – so that it swung the other way to make it more convenient for the cook.
- Before I bolted the fridge in position I had to connect up the power cables. I’ve said it many times before but don’t be tempted to use wire nuts, which should never be used on a boat at any time. I used proper crimped connections and cable of the correct gauge to extend the wiring that was then reconnected to the terminal blocks.
- One final check before turning the fridge on is to make sure the door seals correctly. The instructions that came with the unit explain how to do this but a dollar bill should just be pinched between the seal and door edge. If the bill slides out too easily, or not at all, then the hinges need adjustment.
- The completed job after the fridge was bolted in place through its feet into the ply skids installed earlier. An added bonus was being able to repurpose the space above the slighter shorter new refrigerator with a new cutlery drawer, which is made of teak then varnished to match the existing joiner work.
Many thanks to the good folks at Thetford for help with this project.