A No-Frills Guide to Buying a Portable Boat Air Conditioner

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Buying a boat was definitely one of your smartest decisions. But those hot, summer days spent cruising with the family made you realize that you still need one more thing for your precious investment—air conditioning.

Your boat’s ventilation and air conditioning system keeps you cool during dry, humid weather to extend your cruising season. Having a fully functional air conditioning unit also enhances the value of your boat, making it easy to sell in the future.

You’ll find several air conditioning options for your boat. Self-contained air conditioning units are mostly used by small and medium-sized boats as well as split air conditioning systems. Chilled water air conditioning is also another great option, especially for yachts and larger boats.

But if you’re working on a budget or you’re not using your boat as often and would want to cool only a small part of your cabin, a portable air conditioner is your best option because it is lightweight enough to be placed anywhere on the boat and gets the job done without breaking the bank.

The best portable boat air conditioners

Now that you know exactly what you should be looking for, we rounded up three of the top portable air conditioners that you can invest on for your boat:

Cruisair Carry-On 7000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner

Designed specifically for boats that can’t use seawater-cooled air conditioner, the Cruisair Carry-On portable air conditioner can fit any hatch of boats that measure up to 30’. This AC unit can pump up to 6720 BTUs of air for optimum cooling and has a control panel at the bottom making it easy to control.

Cruisair uses corrosion-free materials for its internal components and durable polymer for the body of the air conditioner, so you can guarantee that it will last for a long time without getting damaged. The unit also comes with air deflectors for equal air distribution throughout the cabin and it is priced reasonably for the quality of the AC you’re getting.

MightyKool MW1 12-Volt Portable Cooling Systems by Swampy

The MightyKool MW1 is one of the most portable boat air conditioners that you’ll find in the market. It is designed using an evaporative cooling system that’s perfect for spaces with only one or two people.

This air conditioner has an internal water container that holds water enough to cool your cabin for up to three hours.

You can also invest in an Automatic Filling System that connects to an external water source, so you don’t have to refill the container and ensure continuous cooling.

The 12-volt portable air conditioner is used mostly in RVs and boats because it provides a refreshing breeze even during those humid days on the water. Its Custom Cooling Pad System helps save energy and keeps the unit small to make it easy to bring around.

Black+Decker BPACT08WT 8,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner

Although not created specifically for use in boats, the Black+Decker portable air conditioner is versatile enough to be installed in your cabin, as it is designed to provide cooling, dehumidification and proper air circulation, especially during the summer months.

This unit is a 3-in-1 air conditioner, dehumidifier and fan with auto water evaporation and easy to use electronic controls for continuous comfort even during the hottest days.

It also features a slide out washable filter and large front-vented airflow outlet, top-mounted control panel with LED display and 24-hour timer and sleep mode.

The Black+Decker portable air conditioner comes with an installation kit that includes an air exhaust hose, window casement, hose inlet/outlet adapters, water drain hose and an owner’s manual. It is easy to install and easy to move around with its rolling castors and side carrying handles.

LG LP1215GXR: 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner

Another great option for your boat is the LG 12,000 BTU portable air conditioner that can cool a room for up to 400 square feet. It uses a 115V electrical outlet and provides up to 1.2 pints per hour of dehumidification that mixes dry with warm air.

The unit features an outdoor vent/exhaust, LCD remote controller, compressor and LED display panel for easy control. Although the LG portable air conditioner is pricier at $459, it is a great investment, especially if your boat is bigger because it offers optimum cooling for bigger spaces.

Switchbox Control IceBox


The Switchbox Control IceBox is a portable air conditioning system making it perfect for your car or boat. By simply switching on the unit for a few minutes before you set off, your vehicle or boat will be nice and cool for when you are ready to go, without switching on the engine.

This means you and your passengers can start the journey in comfort rather than in scorching temperatures. It is powered by the 12V electrical outlet in your car or boat to make it as convenient as possible.

It could not be simpler to use the Switchbox Control IceBox. All you need to do is fill the reservoir with cold water and ice before switching it on with the wireless remote control.

Within a few seconds, you will experience the feeling of chilled air filling the inside of your car or boat, ready for your trip.

SereneLife portable air conditioner

SereneLife portable air conditioners are among the highest-rated units available and are renowned for their quality and performance. This model has four modes, AC, Dry/Dehumidify without cooling, and fan-only mode.

It very convenient, as it is an auto-evaporative unit, meaning it will rarely need to be emptied, as most of the moisture removed from the air is vented out of the attached hose to the atmosphere.

Included with this SereneLife portable air conditioner are a window Mount Kit, quick setup guide, and remote control.

The remote control makes it very easy to use, thanks to its digital touch button control panel. The remote allows you to switch it on and off, choose one of its four modes, and set the timer and temperature. You can also use the remote to adjust the fan speed settings to your preference.

This unit’s construction makes it very portable due to its lightweight, wheels, and sleek design. This means it is equally useful at home or on your boat.

The things to consider before buying a portable air conditioner

Buying a portable air conditioner for your boat is a lot different from doing it for your home. So, make sure that you consider these things before you go shopping:

Think about where you’ll place the air conditioner. Pick a spot on the boat where you spend the most time in and place the air conditioner where the cool air blows directly into that area.

It’s also important to consider the stability of the air conditioner once it’s in that spot so you’re sure it doesn’t tip over when you’re on the water.

Think about where you’ll place the vent hose. Find a vertical window or hatch to run the vent hose outside. Most portable air conditioners come with a 1.5-meter hose, so think about the best spot on your boat where you can fit a hose adaptor to guide the hose outside the boat. Remember that the vent hose will easily get hot, so make sure that you’re not running it on a flammable surface.

The most important design features of a portable air conditioner

When narrowing down your options for a portable air conditioner, try to look for these crucial design features:

Auto shut off. Most portable air conditioners will come with a reservoir or pan where the condensate goes to avoid pooling into the AC itself. To know that the pan is almost full, you will be notified by a light on the AC and the unit automatically shuts off.

Hot air exhaust. Since your AC will be placed inside the boat, which could get really hot when you’re on the water, a hot air exhaust is essential to keeping the unit from overheating.

A vent hose kit. Aside from a 1.5-meter hose, you should also be looking for a hose adaptor, pipe connector and venting kit to be included in your AC unit so you won’t have to buy them yourself.

LCDI. Go with a portable air conditioner that has a Leakage Current Detection and Interrupt feature located after the connection socket to ensure safety.

The takeaway

One last tip before you start shopping for your portable air conditioner is to calculate the number of British Thermal Units (BTU) required to cool your space. Measure the square footage of your cabin by multiplying the length by width to get the area.

If you’re cooling a cabin below deck, you’ll need a load factor of 80, 120 for mid-deck and 150 for above deck. Multiply the area of the cabin by the lead factor to determine the BTU needed to cool your cabin.

Finally, make sure to do your research first before finalizing any purchase.

Ask for recommendations from other boat owners who have their own air conditioning units and always keep the crucial design features in mind when you’re narrowing down your options.

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