Refrigerated sea water (RSW) systems chill fish through a mechanical process that pulls heat from the catch within the fish holds into an evaporator, then discharges that heat overboard through a condenser. Most RSW units require between 5hp and 15hp, and this energy is supplied to the unit either hydraulically, electrically or through an auxiliary diesel engine.

 

RSW systems are regarded by most fishermen as the ultimate fish quality upgrade because they provide consistent results, create independence from an ice supply and require little additional effort to operate. RSW system maintenance costs are also generally low if cared for properly, with the largest annual expense generally the pre-season “startup,” should you decide to pay a technician to perform this service for you.

The benefits of installing an RSW system are obvious, but there is one barrier that prevents many fishermen from going this route. It’s expensive. A 7.5 ton hydraulically driven unit from IMS or Pacific West Refrigeration will run $20,000 or more, and that doesn’t include installation costs. Add a new 4-cube hydraulic pump, related plumbing plus insulation, and the total could fall in the $40,000 to $70,000 range, depending on your boat. These numbers can be daunting, but for most fishermen an investment in RSW will provide a solid return over the long run.

 

RSW systems are regarded by most fishermen as the ultimate fish quality upgrade because they provide consistent results, create independence from an ice supply and require little additional effort to operate.

 

One approach to installing RSW that is more manageable is investing in the necessary upgrades over a period of a few years. First insulating and plumbing your holds (say $14,000); the next year upgrading your hydraulics (about $12,000); and the following year going for the unit itself (say $25,000). Taking smaller bites out of the project helps maintain your fishing income, and reduce the potential of losing early-season fishing time by over-committing to a large project.

 

Another option for budget-conscious fishermen is the self-installed, belt driven RSW unit offered by Sea Cool Refrigeration. These units draw around 5 hp, do not require any hydraulic system upgrades and cost less than $6,000. They might not have the chilling performance of other RSW systems, but their low cost and compact size make them a good choice for fishermen with smaller boats who are willing to supplement the system with ice on heavier fishing days. When considering any RSW investment it is a good idea to talk to fellow fishermen who have had firsthand experience with the unit to obtain a better understanding of its installation costs and performance.


Pros

  • Good return on investment—For most fishing operations, RSW will provide a good return on the initial investment long term.
  • Consistent chilling results—If operated properly, an RSW system will generally have no problem getting your fish down to temp, opening after opening.
  • Independence—RSW allows you the freedom of not having to worry about getting ice before each opening, granting your operation more flexibility.
  • Little effort required—RSW systems are easy to operate and require very little effort to operate on behalf of the captain or crew.
  • No ice purchases—Not only does an RSW system save you the hassle of having to track down ice, it also eliminates that pesky ice bill.

Cons 

  • Expensive—The primary drawback to an RSW system is the cost of the unit and related systems. Working up to RSW by investing in smaller upgrades over the course of a few years can make this more manageable.
  • Increases fuel bill—RSW units require between 8 hp and 20 hp to operate and this extra work burns up to a gallon an hour more fuel, depending on the drive configuration. With high fuel prices this adds up fast.

To learn more about this chilling investment option or for other boat related needs, check out our list of Vendors & Professional Services.