If you’re in a hot climate, drinks can take up half your refrigerator or more. And chilling them down puts a big load on your power supply. Where we cruised, it was 90+ degrees for 8 months of the year, and we learned 4 important things to keep us in cold drinks without totally draining the batteries.
Have a Plan
How long the refrigerator is open to get drinks out and put drinks in will have a definite effect on the power used. If you know right where the drink you want is located, you’ll save a lot of “open door” time — and yes, it’s important even with a top-loading refrigerator.
Designate specific places for each type of drink and stick to it. For us, we had one bin with Cokes and one with beer and didn’t mix them. We used small square wastebaskets and cut air holes in the sides with a Dremel (a word of advice if you’re thinking of buying a Dremel — get a corded one if you have a suitable inverter, the rechargeable ones don’t have enough power for most boat jobs).
We also went through a lot of cold water, iced tea and Gatorade. That’s three water-based drinks: I made Gatorade from powder and iced tea from concentrate that I brewed. I found three half-gallon juice bottles that perfectly fit along the edge of the refrigerator right below the lid opening, and kept the “in use” bottles there, always in the same order from left to right and marked on the screw top in case someone forget the order. (On our current boat — which has a smaller refrigerator — we use mostly quart bottles.)
I also usually had a bottle of juice for breakfast (or a couple of cans of V-8) and a bottle of milk and they also had their own “homes” so that we didn’t pick them up by mistake.
Have Some Drinks Ready for Use and Some In Waiting
In addition to the “ready for use” drinks, I kept two other half gallon bottles of water in the back corner of the refrigerator, chilling down. When I needed to refill the “in use” bottles, these were what I used. I didn’t have to get to them so often, so it didn’t matter that they were less accessible — and this way, I always had cold water to mix up whatever we needed, so a new supply was ready to drink immediately.
If you don’t have space for that many bottles, I still recommend having a rotational system with whatever size and how many bottles you do have room for.
If you haven’t yet been in a tropical summer without air conditioning, you’re probably wondering at the amount of drinks I’m talking about. When temperatures were over 100, we would each drink over 1-1/2 gallons of cold drinks a day; occasionally over 2 gallons apiece if we took particularly long hikes. Other boats in the same locales reported drinking about the same amount.
Re-Stock Before Going to Bed
Re-filling the refrigerator before going to bed does two things:
- It gives your warm drinks all night to chill down, so you’re got an adequate supply for the next day; and
- It allows the refrigerator to do the most work during the coolest time of day, as described more fully in How to Improve Refrigerator Efficiency.
Store the Drinks Low in the Refrigerator
If possible, store the drinks low in the refrigerator for three reasons:
- The lower sections are the coldest outside of the freezer;
- It’s best to have the weight lower, and your drinks probably are the heaviest things you have in the refrigerator; and
- If the drinks are on the bottom, they can’t fall onto “fragile” foods like lettuce (barring extremely rough conditions).
It may take a few tries to get your drink system perfect, but these tips will hopefully help you. I know for us that having plenty of cold drinks made the summers in the Sea of Cortez enjoyable instead of “something to get through” — and we did not have unlimited power. Solar panels provided 95% of our power aboard Que Tal (the other 5% came from the alternator when motoring).
Want more help with your small refrigerator? Take a look at my online course, Eating Well With A Tiny Fridge.
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