Boat HVAC Options and Selection

With a growing comprehension of the ‘fun' world of marine HVAC systems, and a ton of reading across The Hull Truth forumsClub Sea Ray,  and many manufacturer and other sites, I formalized ‘the plan.’

I was looking for a ~10-12K BTU unit, 115vAC, 60Hz, that would hopefully last more than a couple of years, provide reasonable cooling, must physically fit in the space available (the idea of cutting into a boat’s structure or hull or giving up a seat - wasn’t seeming like a good idea to me..), etc.

The Contenders

  • OEM (for reference only)

    • Cruise Air 7K BTU 120V/60Hz, model SXR7-M127 reverse cycle

    • Dimensions: 21” L x 13” H x 11” D

  • Dometic

    • Possibly the biggest Marine HVAC manufacturer

    • ConsiderationsECD10K or Dometic Turbo 10K (or possibly the 12K BTU equivalent)

    • Notes

      • Almost drop-in replacement for the OEM unit - I believe it can re-use the same head/display unit from the original CruiseAir

      • Rotate-able blower position

      • Seemingly questionable longevity for ~$1600

      • The Turbo unit costs more and doesn’t have a display with it, plus added cost for the shroud. Has won various awards but could not determine if longevity is improved over the ECD10K.

      • Dimensions for ECD10K: 20” L x 13.5” H x 11.25” D

  • MarineAire

    • Good marketing and info on site

    • Complete with wiring and thermostat

    • Rotating blower

    • Standard refrigerant charging port

    • Only one I’ve seen having a separate humidity control in this range/size of units (besides OEM)

    • Price competitive

    • Can do bluetooth phone app and be controlled by other or upgraded thermostats

    • ConsiderationsMBSA9 (9K BTU) and MBSA11 (11K BTU)

    • Dimensions

      • MBSA9: 22.6” L x 13.7” H x 14.7” D

      • MBSA12: 22” L x 14.4” H x 16” D

  • Mabru Power Systems

    • FL based company

    • Sells a range of systems with compressor lifetime guarantee, as well as DC only HVAC systems

    • Complete with wiring and display

    • Rotate-able blower discharge

    • Offers some discounted units for older models or remanufactured, has periodic sales of 10-20% off on new and refurbished 

    • Higher end price-wise but lower than Dometic turbo units, ~$2K+ retail on SC10/12

    • Lifetime compressor warrantee

    • Considerations: Mutiple variations of their SC10 and SC12 115vAC models

    • Dimensions

      • SC10 10K BTU: 18.9” L x 12” H x 18.9” D

      • SC12 12K BTU: 18.9” L x 12.25” H x 18.9” W

  • Webasto

    • China made, unclear on owner company but has a number of reasonably priced and featured units

    • FCF Platinum series meant to be replacement for OE Cruise Air and others 

    • Price competitive, e.g. $~$1450 street price for Platinum FCF 9K BTU unit

    • Complete with wiring and thermostat

    • Baked Enamel finish

    • Various models to fit price ranges

    • Seems to have reasonable reviews online, both positives and negatives - like most of the manufacturers do

    • ConsiderationsFCF Platinum 10K

    • Dimensions

      • FCFP 10K: 15” L x 12/2” H x 16” W

  • Flagship Marine

    • FL based company

    • Includes wiring and thermostat in price

    • Claim to fame is installation on some US Coast Guard Vessels

    • Seem to have no reverse-cycle options; only electric heat strips 

    • Top or side discharge

    • Somewhat higher price range - ~$2100 for 9K BTU with electric only heat

    • Reviews - some seem to love, some hate and complain of being loud among others

    • Considerations9K BTU with electric heat

    • Dimensions

      • 9K BTU 115v with heat strips: 19.6” L x 13.2” H x 13.2” D

That’s a lot - which one to choose?

This waffled all over the place for a bit while researching. While I’m sure I could get one installed, the goal at least for the first seasons was maximum enjoyment and R&R, and considering the humidity of SE USA summers - this was a must fix, even if paying someone to do it.

The Dometics likely had the simplest (thus cheapest) install including re-using the existing wiring and display if desired. Dometic also took over Cruise Air, so I’d expect their ‘drop-in’ to truly be drop-in. Due to this, I came very close several times to going this route, but just couldn’t get over the quality/longevity comments that kept popping up in my research. I considered the Turbo model as more $, but couldn’t come to a definitive answer on if that higher price also increased reliability/longevity - including asking a Dometic dealer and installer.

Webasto seems to be made up of a few other marine AC guys with a large outsourcing (like many companies) - so thought perhaps they might in effect be ‘a better Dometic’ and really couldn’t find enough in the way of either positive (some) or negative (also some) credible reviews/info online to sway me either way.

Initially I went to dig deep for info on Flagship, as the claim of installations on US Coast Guard vessels was impressive, and they had some good marketing on how their units were built to last. However, I did find some info online claiming to be from a former or current USCG member, along with some others less than pleased. Adding to this electric heat only and the relative pricing and I decided to keep looking, although Flagship did respond to my initial query quickly.

MarinAire seemed to have it together. Bluetooth mobile app, compared to what looks to be 1980s thermostats in some other cases, and was the only one who has a specific humidity setting - which of course, just uses the cooling/heating to keep within a range, but considering our location - this was a positive. I found a few reviews, most of which were positive, along with an ‘insider’ who also worked at a competitor doing some bashing on longevity and marketing over quality, but I simply wasn’t able to find a bunch of unhappy customers. It could be there are relatively few units out there, or could be promising. What I could NOT seem to find out is with the dimensions of either their 9K or 12K, both of which were larger than the OEM - if it would fit on my boat without major modifications happening. Unfortunately, with the boat not accessible by me readily yet - I also couldn’t get full measurements hands-on to confirm either way.

I had pretty much decided that I’d rather spend more now than replace a unit in a few years, and if need be, that would include the lack of drop-in/re-usable wiring, but did not want to be replacing an HVAC system every couple of years, and certainly not at these prices. Some of the various units didn’t even have recharge or manifold fittings, which makes me think they truly are ‘disposable’ but not priced as such in some cases. Warrantees on units seemed to be all over the place, but were not making be comfortable on the longevity side with 90 day, 1year or 2 year limited warrantees in general.

I was ready to pull the trigger on a MarinAire and hope for the best RE: fitment when I came across one more brand to add to the mix - Mabru Power Systems. Looking at the physical sizes, it would fit, had a rotate-able blower. It has a lifetime compressor warrantee, and it seems like the company is actually trying to move the industry forward a bit. MarinAire and some of the others have good marketing as well, but I like the compressor warrantee, and the 20 year-rated consdensing coil (CuNi 70/30) vs typical (claimed but seems likely) 90/10 10-year rated coils. I liked what seems to be their general theory of continuous improvements, which show up as you can still buy some of the older non-copper-fin units at fairly significant discounts.

I called Mabru and got a friendly sales/receptionist who I promptly unloaded a ton of technical questions on, and she did admirably well, and grabbed a tech for those she didn’t know. I could have picked up a refurbished SC10K for ~$1200 or even a used Dometic Turbo unit at a fair discount. They happened to be running a 20% off sale at the time, so decided to go for it with the latest model, at which point it came down to the SC10K or SC12K. The SC10K retailed for $2450 and the SC12K for $2610, while they are in process of discontinuing the SC10K, mainly down to so many choosing the SC12K as replacement units, which makes sense, as the original Dometic ECD unit I’d looked at to replace my OEM 7K CruiseAir was itself a 12K BTU unit. I could have likely gone with either, but I still have it in my head to install multiple battery banks and an inverter in the future to see if I can run it up part-time on anchor with a cold start box, and the power requirement differences were fairly large, although the unit physical dimensions were nearly the same…so I went with the SC10K copper fin, and had it shipped the next day to my mechanic's shop.

Out the door cost shipped totalled $1989. Let’s see what the HVAC guy charges me for the install, knowing it won’t use the CruiseAir control lines or display.

A final note - shop around

In particular, boat HVAC units is somewhere it’s really worth shopping around a bit, at least if buying from a bigger manufacter - prices on the Dometic and Webasto units were all over the place online, while Mabru and MarineAir seemed to be primarily direct sales.