I recently received a question from a boat shopper:

“I’m looking at used boats in the 35-45 ft. size range. One of the prerequisites for any boat I buy will be for it to have built-in air-conditioning as we live in the southeastern part of the US where summers can be really hot and humid. I’ve heard that the EPA has mandated that all of the currently used refrigerants must be phased out and new environmentally refrigerants phased in. Are there any problems with older air-conditioning systems that will preclude the use of the more environmentally friendly refrigerant?”


Dometic's Emerald Condensers are 16% smaller and 25% lighter than earlier models.

This is a great question, and quite timely for those looking at older used boats. This one falls into the good news/bad news category, but I think it mostly falls on the good side.

Effective January 1, 2010, manufacturers of air-conditioning and refrigeration systems were required to stop using the traditional “R” series refrigerants like R-12 and R-22. In the marine realm, these have been replaced with a new “R”, 410A which meets all of the EPA requirements. The older R-12 and R-22 will gradually be depleted between now and 2020 when they will become essentially banned substances. So if you own a boat with an older system installed, you’ve basically got another 9 years before it becomes totally obsolete. This all seems pretty reasonable, since in my experience system service life of a little more than ten years fits into the norm for these types of appliances / systems.

And it’s not just different refrigerant that will make any system built prior to January 1 2010 obsolete. Once an older system loses its refrigerant charge (which most systems do after many years of service), a service technician will not be able to simply repair the leak and recharge the system. Why? Because the new systems utilizing the R-410A refrigerant are running at much higher pressures than the old systems. And the key components of the system (compressors, evaporators, condensers and refrigerant tubing) were not designed to carry the higher pressure.

The Dometic Group, which to my mind is the pre-eminent distributor of marine cooling and refrigeration systems, has been hard at work on updated systems for some time now. Actual machinery has been made more compact and lighter, both of which are issues on boats. Their Emerald Condenser series is 16% smaller and 25% lighter than earlier models. It’s also dramatically more efficient,d offering up to a 17.5% BTU capacity improvement for a given size. The engineers have also figured out how to reduce the electrical consumption by as much as 41%, another big plus.

So besides being better environmentally, as engineers redesign their systems to use the new refrigerant there are other tangible rewards for boaters.

But enough of the background. Should you worry about this if you’re looking at used boats with air-conditioning?

The simple answer is: no. You’ve got 9 years before the expense of system replacement will be a factor in any purchasing decision.