Keeping Old Fashioned Cool

By Tom Neale

A big problem with boating is that we get too hot. Really? Well, yes, or so say many of us. Because much of boating is in the heat of the summer. As I sit here on the Chesapeake Bay the temperatures are in the upper 90s, the humidity is like breathing under water and the winds are zero. We come out on the water from air conditioned offices, stores and houses. We ride to the marina in air conditioned cars ... to get out into all that oozing heat.

Some boats have air conditioning, but only while plugged into a marina. Some have air conditioning run by generators ... which in turn make a huge amount of heat in the boat.

Chez Nous Swimming PoolChez Nous Swimming Pool

So we've developed all these artificial coolers. These are great but the question is how great ... and that's for you to decide. Air conditioners have gotten so efficient and compact that some even advertise them for blowing cool air in your face at the helm. And air conditioners like these can even be run from battery power (usually with inverters) if you have the battery power and the means to recharge. For example, Coastal Climate Control offers a 4200 BTU at this writing. They also offer equipment that that can reduce the compressor starting load to less than half of the locked rotor rating. These allow much lower amperage in starting the compressor, a feature that makes an inverter more effective. In theory you could run an air condoo at anchor at night if you had the battery power.

But then there is a more old fashioned method of keeping cool. Fast boats make a lot of wind and fast boats that are open, such as center cockpit boats, don't put enclosed spaces between you and that breeze. And here's the answer. Breeze. Of course, if you'e in a sailboat you usually don't get it, either from speed or naturally. It's axiomatic that when you want to go sailing you don't get any breeze.

But there are breeze collectors. Wind scoops affixed to hatches do a great job of bringing in a little cooling air when you’re at anchor. Other cooling techniques include anchoring with your stern to the wind. The typical power boat has that broad stern and broad "back door" with a pointy bow that will funnel air to your body whether sitting out in the stern enjoying an evening or sleeping below. But there can be negatives to this. You're presenting your vulnerable side if there's a storm. Anchors are more likely to drag. Waves are more likely to affect the stern surfaces that are flatter than your bow. And anchor lines leading from the stern are more likely to get ensnarled in the prop or rudder if something happens like a sudden wind shift. But for a calm night when all is well, anchoring astern may help. And of course there are fans. We have a Caraframo fan blowing on us at night which draws such a small amount of power that we hardly notice the difference. You can have these positioned around the boat even if you're anchored, with little draw on battery power.

In our constant quest for comfort, we've come up with all sorts of other cool aids for boats. For example, there are misters which literally sprinkle you (mist is the more apt description) with water, even while you're at the helm if you set it up that way (and don't mind a little mist on your crop of electronics). The water evaporates from your skin and the effect is cooling.See, for example, Actually, you don't even need a fancy mister. You can "rough it" and pour the water from a garden sprinkler. On Chez Nous we even had our own swimming pool when our daughters were young. (See photo.) Or without the sprinkler or a pool, and if it's safe, you can jump over for a swim ... as long as there are no stinging nettles or things that bite. We've come a long ways in keeping cool on boats. Or have we?

Splashing down with buckets of water, or going swimming isn't exactly a new idea. They both involve getting wet. We get wet and the water evaporates from the skin and we get cooler. No brainer.

So why do we have to spend so much money and effort to get cool? There's a great product that isn't exactly new to the market and is free. It's called ... not wet ... but "sweat." It comes naturally. We all do it. Some more than others (I'm one of those) but it's a part of nature's plan for when we get hot. No running generators. No depletion of batteries. No weird anchoring tactics or rattling wind scoops. You just sweat. Back when I started boating it was what you did.

But we don't like to sweat do we? Why not? It's free, it's easy and it works. You may smell a little bit here and there (or, if you're like me you may smell a lot). But that can keep boats from anchoring too close. You may develop some body grease. But there's all sorts of good things about body grease. If you rub you finger in the crease beside your nose, you can get some great lubrication for fishing gear. If you get a little of it you may attract more mosquitoes, but if you get a lot you may send that swarm to the next boat. They can't smell the fresh meat through the stale grease. (Or so the theory goes.)

So while I'm all for modern techniques and developments to keep us cool on the water, I'm also for good old fashioned sweat. You might need to re-acclimate yourself to the concept. You might need to practice a bit. You might need to ride to the boat with your windows down. But it's tried and true and the price is right. 

Tom Neale, a technical and lifestyle writer and liveaboard cruiser. Read more of Tom Neale's articles here.

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— Published: July 2016

Tom's Tips About Sweating

  • Be careful to not get dehydrated. Drink plenty of water.
  • Dehydration can slip up on you unsuspected and be very serious.
  • Also be careful about loss of bodily substances such as salt.
  • There are some good sport drinks (not the kinds that hype you up) that help to replenish what you lose by sweating.
  • I’m not recommending any product because I’m not a doctor, but good old fashioned Gatorade is one such that many use. Check with your doctor.



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