Q&A: Glacier Bay Refrigeration System

Question: We’re thinking of installing the Glacier Bay MicroHPS unit on our 45-foot sailboat; air cooled, using a 390Ah AGM battery bank. I noticed you have installed a Glacier Bay system and have had good luck with it. Can you enumerate further? Any complaints or problems? Did you use the Vacuum Insulated Panels (VIPs)? I’ve read a bunch of negative stuff on Glacier Bay being temperamental, but yet they still seem to have a good reputation overall.

Answer: I have no experience with the MicroHPS system. What I can say is that we fitted the Glacier Bay, 12volt DC, water cooled system in 1996 and it has been great. The only problems we have had are:

  1. We had to get a professional refrigeration technician to find a small leak and tune the system up after two years. The problem was caused by a leaking compression fitting. We also had the same type of fitting leak at one of the plates a few years later. We were able to fix that one by tightening a half turn. Since then we have soldered all the connections and removed all the compression fittings.
  2. In 2000 we had a vibration isolator rupture and lost the whole charge. Since we were in a remote place, Glacier Bay walked us through a temporary repair and recharge. They were very responsive.

We did not use the VIPs since we already had a fairly well insulated box. If I were building a box from scratch I would look at using the VIPs, although the substantial cost would make me look at other alternatives too.

So in summary, our Glacier Bay system has run just about daily for ten years (with a few gaps for lay-ups) with relatively few problems. (Note that refrigeration systems are notorious for reliability problems.) Also, when we bought it, it was far and away the most efficient system on the market. Finally, whenever we have had a question or a problem, Glacier Bay have been responsive and helpful.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

6 comments … add one
  • Rob Mar 18, 2017, 10:39 am

    Hi John, I have a eutectic refrigeration system on board. It has an engine driven Sanden compressor (new) with a max rated rpm of 7000. The previous owner recommends that i should run the engine fridge at 1000rpm. At the time when I bought the boat, I did not asked him why. However, after using the boat for some time, i motor or motor sail around 1800rpm (Perkins 4.236) and I have to slow down the boat to 1000rpm for 1 hour to run the fridge, 3 times a day. I was thinking if I could run the fridge whilst motoring (the gear ratio is 1:1) and the rpm would be stil way under that of the compressor. However, I am not sure how the rest of the system works. Sadly, the previous owner had passed away 2 years ago. I know that for a car airconditioning system, it works on a very varied range of rpm. But how does a boat compressor for refrigeration works? Would an increase in rpm increase the “pressure” and damage the eutectic system? Thanks,

    • John Mar 18, 2017, 3:59 pm

      Hi Rob,

      Hum, I’m not sure. My compressor runs off a constant speed electric motor. I think I’m right in saying that a lot will depend on how the superheat is adjusted on the expansion valve. In fact, in thinking about it, it’s hard to see how the superheat could be adjusted to be efficient over a wide range of RPM.

      To really suss this out you would need a set of gauges and an accurate probe to measure exit temp to calculate superheat at various RPMs. Any competent refrigeration tech should be able to do this but don’t get the refer guy from the boat yard, most of them would not know superheat if it bit them on the ass.

      Hum, thinking some more…of course these are car air-conditioning compressors, so should be able to run over a wide RPM range safely…But do cars use expansion valves? Don’t know.

      I guess the more I think about it, the more I think this will be an efficiency issue, rather than a damage issue, but it would be worth getting a tech to check the pressure when running at 1800 before doing it for long.

      By the way, I truly hate engine belted refrigerations systems. If it were me, I would be saving for a new system.

      • Rob Mar 19, 2017, 1:37 am

        Ok John, I will try and find a competent refer guy. Not that many around Singapore. The more I think about it the more I think that it must be possible somehow as it is a very established technology…

      • Robgoh Jun 10, 2017, 9:54 pm

        Hi John, which refrigeration system would u recommend for a boat without a generator? No worries, I know u r on holiday. Let me know when u r back. Cheers.

        • John Jun 11, 2017, 4:32 pm

          Hi Robgoh,

          Wow, that’s a big question and rather more than I can tackle in a comment.

          What I can say is that the key is in matching the refrigeration/freezer capacity to the boat’s ability to produce electricity whether that be from solar, alternator, wind, etc.

          So, for example, there is no point in installing a huge freezer if the boat has no way to produce the > 120 amp hours at 12 volts a day that will require.

          This is why I generally say that a big freezer pretty much requires a generator, unless you are willing to run the main engine for long periods of charging. See this post: https://www.morganscloud.com/2014/04/24/do-you-need-a-generator/

          The other thing I would say is stay away from refrigeration belted directly off the main engine since it’s a hugely bad idea that tends to be both unreliable and clutters up a mission critical system.

          If you are looking for a vendor I would suggest Seafrost. They have been in the business a long time and will be able to advise you on what will really work for you: https://www.seafrost.com

  • robert Jun 14, 2017, 9:30 pm

    Hi John, thank you. Iwill look up Seafrost. Rob

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