90 Degrees and the A/C Quits

That’s what happened to me a few weekends ago. I’d arrived at the boat to do some work, and after turning the air conditioner on, I started messing with the stuff that needed messing with.

At first, it was hot inside, but once the A/C caught up, it was OK. Then, about an hour later, the realization slowly came over me that it wasn’t OK anymore…it was HOT again. I looked at the thermostat and sure enough, it was eighty-some degrees inside and the thermostat’s LCD panel showed an error code. I shut everything down and worked the rest of the afternoon in near-sauna conditions. On the drive home, it occurred to me that the error code I saw was indicating a problem with the power supply, not with the A/C unit itself. That’s a good thing.

I called the marina and arranged to meet the dockmaster the next weekend, so he could check power at the dock pedestal while I turned the A/C on in the boat. Just as I suspected, the power at the pedestal wasn’t a full 240 volts…more like 210. That’s not a good thing. That’s why the A/C was turning itself off.

The dockmaster brought me a transformer to boost the voltage, and we plugged it into the pedestal and then plugged my shore power cord into the transformer. We turned all the breakers back on and checked voltage…Eureka!! 240 volts!! Now the A/C will work just great, right?

Well, not exactly.

See, there are three separate A/C units on the boat, and that means that there are three separate air handlers, which then translates to three separate condensate drains. During normal operation, water condenses on the outside of the air handler coils, and drips into a pan below each unit. These condensate pans each have a tube attached (the aforementioned condensate drain) and the tube is routed to a main drain in the engine room, from where it drains overboard. At least that’s where it’s supposed to go, and in theory, that works great. But in theory, the tube doesn’t get plugged.

In reality, where my boat lives, the drain tube does in fact get plugged. And when that happens, the water that is collected in the drain pan can’t get overboard. When the pan fills up, the collected water does what water does best. It runs to a low point, and then drips to a still lower point.

Take for instance, the mid-cabin drain pan…when it got backed up due to a plugged drain, it ran through a locker (cabinet to you land-lubbers) and dripped down through the overhead (ceiling) to the deck (floor) below. This did three things, none of them good. It got the contents of the locker wet, it got the ceiling covering wet, and it got the carpet on the floor wet. The wet stuff is supposed to be OUTSIDE the boat.

So what’s the big deal, right? Just unplug the drain and quit whining!

OK…except that to get to this air handler, I needed to remove the contents of the locker and find a place to store it temporarily. Then I had to literally dismantle the inside of the locker – the shelves had to be removed, the the center divider had to be unscrewed and removed, and the panels which make up the ceiling and back of the locker had to be unscrewed and removed.

This is the air handler, looking in from the front of the locker.

Now I had access to the air handler which is about four feet above the floor and four feet back into the boat’s guts. By standing on a step-stool and leaning in up to my waist, I could just reach the parts I needed to get to. Of course the A/C is off, so it’s about a hundred and many degrees, and I’m all twisted up trying to reach hose clamps, and fiberglass insulation from the ductwork is getting all over my bare arms, but hey, that’s what boating is all about, right?…having fun.

Oh, did I mention that the step-stool had to be balanced with two legs on a stairway landing and the other legs on a box sitting on the stairs going down to the lower stateroom? So when I’m on my tippytoes on the step-stool, waist-deep into the locker, I’m also doing my best balance-beam act.

A couple times, it didn’t work so well and the stool, me, and an arm load of heavy and/or sharp tools did the butt-bump down to the lower level.

It’s amazing how so many of the swear words that you just don’t use in everyday conversation will flow so trippingly from the tongue in a situation like that.

I finally got the drain line off, found the plug and cleared it, and then got everything reattached. Pouring some bleach into the drain helped clear it, and I installed a tee in the line and a small tube so that I can get more bleach in there periodically to try to keep it from plugging again.

The drain for the master cabin was also plugged (remember, this is a 20 year old boat) so after similar contortions deep inside a locker in the master cabin, I was able to get that one draining again also.

Everything is all put together again, and when we were there last weekend, I had all three A/C units running. The power stayed good, so the transformer is working, and nothing seemed to get wet, so I think the drains are all functioning as intended.

We’re in good shape.

Until something else breaks.

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About TwoCaptains

The TwoCaptains are Jim and Janet, both US Coast Guard licensed boat captains home-ported in Daytona Beach. We recently sold our 1990 Ocean Yachts 56' CPMY "Magic Carpet", and now we're in the hunt for a replacement.
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