Yachts often have the best amenities, rivaling that of any luxury home. But given the summer yacht seasons, it can get extremely hot on board, so the concern over air conditioning can be a very real one.

Whilst the whole romantic notion of a yacht trip is the breeze through your hair and the sound of the waves, when you get into your cabin, yacht AC will be absolutely essential… but is air conditioning available on yachts?

Well, yes yachts can have air conditioning, including different types of AC such as self-contained air con, direct expansion systems, chilled water systems, split systems, or the fallback option of portable air conditioners.

Yachts are super fun but, if you’re sleeping below decks without an open window or air conditioning, it could get stifling very quickly. Keep reading to find out all about the different air conditioners offered on a yacht.

Types of air conditioning on yachts

When you have a yacht, you have a few choices for your personal comfort. Those choices will include which type of air conditioner to get and where to place it. Qualified professionals can help you if you are custom building a yacht but if you’re not so lucky, we’ll run down the different types available to you.

Remember that air conditioning can not only cool you off but will also allow air to circulate around your boat, preventing mold.

As mentioned above, there are different types of air conditioners available for your yacht:

1. Self-contained, direct expansion system air con

This is a compact system, making it a good choice for smaller yachts. You can run this from three different sources:

  • Direct Battery
  • Shore Power
  • Generator

When in a marina, you should definitely use shore power. When you’re out to sea, you will have no choice but to use either a direct battery or a generator.

Even though this system is smaller than other air conditioning systems, you will still need space to house the different components, which include:

  • Fan coil
  • Condensing unit
  • Thermostat
  • Seawater pump
  • Pump relay
  • Ducting and transition boxes
  • Seawater kit
  • Refrigerant line sets

Normally, you can put all the major components under a bunk or in a locker, mounted on a chassis. So, although you need space for the components, it won’t take up so much space that it should interfere with your living area.

This is good for yachts from 33 to 40 feet, so larger ones should pick something else. It can cool one cabin or can be ducted to two or more cabins to save cost and space.

2. Chilled Water System air con

Chilled water systems are better for larger boats because you have to have the space to put all the components on board. Those components can take up a lot of space. Depending on how large the yacht is, you may need multiple chillers.

These are the types of air conditioning systems super yachts have.

Here’s how a chilled water system works:

  • Water is cooled using a central plant
  • Water is pumped through insulated piping loops around the yacht to the individual units
  • Water goes back to the chiller to be re-cooled

Chilled water flows through a coil of pipe and a fan blows or sucks the air back through it, cooling the air as it passes through.

In this system, pipes must run to each cabin that is to be cooled and room must be set aside for each cabin’s air intake and discharge grilles. The chiller plant is normally located in the engine or equipment room and consists of several sea-water cooled compressor/condenser modules. Each of these is designed so that they get equal run time.

This system is efficient because it uses the seawater you’re floating in as the refrigerant. It’s mainly used for boats over 80 feet in length, due to the space of the equipment.

There is no limitation on the number of air handlers in the system. These systems are available from 16,000 BTU up to 2,000,000 BTU.

Depending on the size of your yacht, you may need several of the chillers, plus a one-time installation fee of the pipes and air handlers. One chiller can cost you upwards of $1,000, so this is a system that will cost you thousands of dollars to install.

3. Split system air con

Split systems, also called split-gas air conditioning, are excellent for mid-size yachts under 80 feet in length. With this system comes two air handlers per condensing units. The condensing units are located in the engine or equipment room, so your only limitation is how many condensers you need and how much room you have.

Split systems also have evaporating units, which contain an evaporator coil and a blower. These units need to be mounted in the living area.

The condensing unit and evaporating units are joined by insulated copper tubing. The refrigerant passes through this tubing.

The advantages of having a split system air conditioning unit are:

  • Less space needed in living areas for air handlers
  • Quieter than other systems
  • Wide selection of air handler types available

You will need a good source of power for both this system and the chilled water system. You can use either a large generator or big solar panels to power these systems. For both, you also need space.

4. Portable air conditioners on yachts

Portable air conditioners are not very powerful but might be your only option for yacht AC. They will cool one room at the maximum. Also, even though they’re called portable air conditioners, it will take two people to move them. For these reasons, they are not a good fit for large yachts.

Think of these systems as similar to a window-mounted home air conditioner. You’re not going to cool your entire boat with one unit, but it can be useful if you’re just trying to cool one small enclosed area of your yacht.

Portable air conditioners sit on the floor of the yacht and have a duct that goes out to a nearby window or hatch, allowing hot air to vent outside. The condensate is used to cool the motor and any moisture goes out via the duct.

Portables typically come in three different sizes:

  • 10,000 BTU
  • 12,000 BTU
  • 14,000 BTU

You do not want to put the unit in an area that’s out of the way. Place it in the room you want cooled and have it facing the center of the room or the area of the room where people will gather.

You’ll have to secure the unit so that it doesn’t tip over in bad weather. Hook the duct up to a vertical window near the unit. Make sure the hose is protected from the rain, as you do not want rainwater pouring back into the ductwork.

On these units, you also need to clean the air filters every few days and then thoroughly dry them before putting them back into the unit.

These are the cheapest of the air conditioning systems for yachts, but we would not advise them for any large yacht.

Final thoughts…

For a good rule of thumb when choosing air conditioning for yachts, go with this:

  • Use a self-contained system for smaller yachts up to 40 feet
  • Use a split system for mid-size yachts from 40 to 80 feet
  • Use a chilled water system for larger yachts over 80 feet

You’ve spent a lot of money on your yacht. You want to be comfortable in it and not sweaty and hot while you are lounging in an inside cabin. Determine how much room you have for an air conditioning unit and the size you need.

Work with professionals to get it installed and you’ll be able to cool off, no matter how hot it is on deck.

Happy yachting!

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