Fridge Not Chilling?

Oh crap!   We just spent  lots of money provisioning the boat and I’ve loaded the fridge for the first time this season.  Somehow it seems it’s not cooling correctly … and keep in mind, we just spend big boat bucks replacing the compressor earlier this year.  Hmmmm….

Remember, anytime you fully load room temperature provisions into a recently started up fridge, it takes awhile to chill all the stuff down to where it starts to actually feel cool inside.  There have been a few times when we thought it wasn’t working only to find out the next day that it was getting chillier and after about 24 hours, the ice cubes were frozen and all was fine.  Obviously it’s easy to forget because we seem to have the same learning curve each year aboard.  We’re so tuned into what ISN’T working that we freak when it takes the fridge a bit to cool off all the new provisions!

9 Things to Check Before Panicking!

Thermostat - Easy to Bump Getting Stuff In & Out of the Fridge

Thermostat - Easy to Bump Getting Stuff In & Out of the Fridge

1.  Check the settings.  Often in our refrigerator, the thermostat button gets bumped while I’m putting stuff in or taking stuff out.  If we’re not careful it’s set way too low or way too high.  Most refrigerators should be set mid-range.   If you try to set them too cold, they may “freeze” up and then need defrosted before they’ll chill anything.  Not good since it can take 18-24 hours to sort back out and by then lots of stuff could thaw!   Our Adler Barber is actually happiest set on lower numbers, sometimes as low as “1” – otherwise it freezes everything in both the freezer and the refrigerator sides!

2.  Check the electrical breakers – sometimes they get switched off accidentally — or turned off on purpose, like when I’m using the single sideband to get e-mail in the mornings or enjoying a morning net (the refrigerator is one of the biggest sources of interference for the SSB).  Hours later I happen to glance at the electrical panel and realize I’ve forgotten to turn the fridge back on …. OOPS!

3.  Check to make sure it’s getting power, boats are moving objects and moving objects and electrical wires sometimes get jostled loose.  Check also for corrosion on the connections – if there’s too much corrosion, it may not be getting electricity.

4.  Is there a frost buildup?  Our Adler Barber super cold machine cold plate frosts up regularly.  Build-ups of frost will cause the refrigerator not to cool properly.  Defrost regularly.  A tip to make it go quicker if you’re worried about frozen stuff unthawing … use a hairdryer to heat up the frost and it’ll come off in chunks – be careful not to damage any wires or coils in the process.

5.  Is it possible there’s a major seal leaking?  We had to replace all the gaskets on our refrigerator doors a few years ago because they’d gotten so hard and inflexible, there was more air leaking out than staying in to chill stuff.  Just because it worked last winter, doesn’t mean it will work this winter!

Blue Home Depot Insulation on Top Helps Keep Cold Air In

Blue Home Depot Insulation on Top Helps Keep Cold Air In

6.  Do you need extra insulation in your refrigerator box?  Life on a boat is so tough for refrigeration.  Ours is insulated nicely, but we added extra blue insulation from Home Depot to separate the freezer section from the refrigerator section and also keep a “lid” on to contain the air in the other side when we open the top.  No use losing freezer cold air just because I need to get out stuff for dinner.

7.  Don’t get in & out of it all the time.  If the fridge is constantly being opened, it has a hard time keeping up.  If we have guests aboard, we often fill a cooler with iced drinks just to give the refrigerator a break.

8.  Make sure the condenser is in a well ventilated area and kept clean and free of dirt.  Ours is located in the back corner of our diesel engine room – just about the worst place you could possibly install a condenser.   But it was the only location the prior owner could figure out and it’s worked relatively well, so when we replaced the condenser, we couldn’t find a better location.  So we just need to watch and make sure it stays clean.

9.  If none of the self help tips seem to work, you may need to have a pro look at it — hopefully you’ll be lucky and it’ll just need freon or whatever the stuff is these days.  The repairman that diagnosed ours last spring was hopeful that replacing the thermostat would eliminate the problem with relatively little cost.  But a day after the new thermostat was installed, it went on vacation again and we decided we couldn’t live with the here today, gone tomorrow attitude it had and had the condenser replaced.  Ug!

Do you have any other tips to check if your fridge doesn’t seem to be functioning correctly?  Please post a comment and share!  THX!  Jan



  1. When we’d been off the boat long enough that we turned the refrig off, we always just bought a few things the first day, turned the refrig on and let it get cold before doing a major stock up. That way, we knew it was working and it had a bit of a head start.

    Also, another source of the refrigerator not working can be dying batteries. If they don’t have enough voltage, the compressor won’t run right . . . and so it will try to run more, putting a bigger load on the batteries, causing the voltage to drop further . . . and so on. We once spent $$$ on a refrigerator repairman to recharge the system only to discover what we really needed was new batteries. Many 12-volt systems have a “low voltage” light somewhere on them, but it can be hidden.

    Good luck getting it all to chill! Hopefully it’s just taking a while!


  2. Great tips! One more: Look at your cabin thermometer. When it’s over 100 degrees out our fridge doesn’t work very well 😉

  3. 🙂 Yep, and high water temperatures can have the same effect! 🙂

  4. Could you update where to get the insulation for #5. Hopedepot does not seem to be a good a source anymore.

  5. Along with starting the cold plate up the day before shopping, I also scrape the cold plate daily with a firm spatula to keep the ice from building up. To assist with freezing, I leave channels of space between the stacks of food that I place in the freezer so that there is some air flow. Finally, I put “like” items like bagged veggies, chicken, fish, etc in colored (I dyed them) mesh. zippered laundry bags so that I can quickly grab a bag and shut the door, rather than search for an item, letting the cold air out. I do the same in the fridge for meats, cheese, and other small, “like” items.

  6. Peter M. Nangeroni says:

    you can find insulation in camping supply stores, it’s used as such to keep you warmer off of the ground and if you have a vertical “door” opening frig try those clear plastic hanging strips just like those found in the freezers of your local supermarket food store.

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