Windy Ways: Practical Sailor Whips Up 12-Volt Cabin Fan Test
Caframo Kona and Hella Turbo breeze past competition in a test of 12-volt fans in the $20 to $100 price range.
Wherever you are on a hot, humid summer eveningóanchored in a cove on a Missouri lake, tied to a dock near Chesapeake Bay, motoring the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida, or stuck anywhere without a whisper of windógetting air movement inside the cabin can be critical to everyoneís comfort. A mechanical device for internal air circulation promotes crew harmony and improves dispositions. Whether you are on an overnighter with a cuddy cabin or a 60-foot yacht, one or two electric fans can make a big difference. A well-placed fan can even make air-conditioning and heating more efficient in V-berths and quarter-berths.
For this article, we concentrated on 12-volt fans that can be bulkhead- or console-mounted. Ventilation, the intake of fresh air and exhaust of internal air, either passively through vents, cowlings, and Dorades, or actively through battery- or solar-powered hatch and deck fans, will be covered in a later article.
There are a lot of variables to consider when evaluating or purchasing boat fans. How and when will they be used? Only occasionally, a few hours on weekends, or all-night, every night cruising the tropics? Are you concerned about pets or childrenís fingers? Do you need wall mount, oscillating, or portable?
The main questions become: Does it move sufficient air? Is it quiet enough? Is the quality and reliability commensurate with the price? How will regular usage affect my power supply?
What We Tested
Practical Sailor selected 11 fans from seven manufacturers for this test. From Caframo, we tested the Bora, Camano, Kona, Sirocco, and Ultimate. The lineup also included the Fan-Tastic Ventís Endless Breeze, Hellaís Turbo Fan, the Port Fan from HotWire, MarineProís Tornado Fan, and oscillating fans from SeaBowld and West Marine.
All are specifically marketed to recreational boaters for use with a boatís 12-volt DC electric power and range in price from $27 to $100.
Our last performance test of cabin fans was published in September 1999. An endurance test of four popular models followed in the Nov. 1, 2000 issue. This latter review, "Cabin Fan Destruction Test," involved mounting the fans and leaving them to operate continuously until failure. Top finishers in both tests were the Hella Turbo and Caframo Ultimate. The Hella went the distance in the endurance test, clocking 9,134 hours (more than a year) before kicking the bucket, while the Caframo lasted more than three months. Both tests found that oscillating fans, in general, failed to have the durability of other style fans. We will conduct a similar endurance test on the fans reviewed here.
Caframo, a Canadian maker of fans, heaters, and other 12-volt products, makes numerous fans for marine applications. One of the five Caframos we tested was the Bora (No. 748).
Caframo plans to release a new version of the Bora later this month, and their in-house testing indicates a 25 percent increase in air flow.
The model we tested was very quiet and ate up very little power. The three-speed fan has a 5.5-inch diameter, and its blades are fully protected front and back.
The nicely finished Bora shows promise, and Practical Sailor looks forward to evaluating the new version.
The least expensive in the companyís line, the Camano (No. 743) has a lightweight plastic cage, a screw-mount base, and a ball-joint and thumb-lock for adjusting flow direction. The four-blade fan is 5ľ inches in diameter, and a center button allows switching between on/off only. The fan runs at a single high rpm. While itís not really loud, the fan does have a high-pitched whine and moves only a minimal amount of air.
The Camano is held back by its single speed, and its output was slightly lower than some of the least expensive fans.
The Caframo Kona (No. 817) is a rugged fan with a weather-resistant, all-metal cage, external motor housing, and swivel stand. Locking cams allow multi-directional adjustment of the fanís three blades, which extend to a 6.4-inch diameter. A rotating knob controls continuous, variable speeds and the on/off function. It comes with a cigarette-lighter plug that has a built-in fuse and an LED power-on indicator. An optional suction cup allows temporary counter or console mounting.
Similar to the oscillating fans in our test, the Konaís motor housing gives it a stout profile, making it 4 inches deeper than its sister fan, the Bora. This could limit mounting options aboard.
A well-built fan with many adjustment options, minimal power draw, and moderate air output, the Kona is Recommended.
The Caframo Sirocco (No. 807) has some interesting features. The fan has two blades and a diameter of 7 inches. Its cage can be tilted vertically and horizontally, and the base has a cam-locking device for easy adjustment.
A switch in the base controls its three speeds and power. Another switch controls a timer adjustment for two, four, six, or eight hours of run time, a nice feature for those who just need the breeze to doze off. It also automatically shuts off when battery power drops below 10.5 volts.
Smooth operating and relatively quiet, this fan put out a fairly good breeze. It was one of the most interesting fans aesthetically, but mounting was more difficult than the others.
Testers wondered how the fancy features would hold up over the long term, but style and performance bumped the Sirocco into the Recommended column.
The Caframo Ultimate (No. 747), a top choice in our past tests, is a small, cage-less fan. It has two soft plastic blades that give the fan a 7-inch diameter. A switch on the back of the motor controls on/off and two speeds. The fan comes with an optional suction-cup mount and a simple screw mount, which allows only vertical adjustment after screwing it down. It can plug into a cigarette lighter.
Despite its small size, this fan has the ability to move lots of air. The unprotected blades make for easy cleaning, but they also are vulnerable to being knocked, possibly damaging the fan.
This is a compact fan that can move a lot of air. If you donít need a full range of adjustment and can live with exposed fan blades, it is an affordable option.
Fan-Tastic Vent Endless Breeze
The Fan-Tastic Ventís Endless Breeze was unique in our test group. Resembling a box fan typically used in a home, it measured a comparably beefy 13.5 square inches. It was the largest and only portable unit tested.
Lightweight yet heavy-duty plastic houses 10 12-inch blades with three speeds. The fan comes with a 6-foot cord and an 8-foot extension cord with cigarette lighter plugs. Its portability maximizes its versatility as an exhaust or a ventilation fan.
The drawback is that moving all that air causes a good deal of noise and eats up power as it requires more than 2 amps on high power. Fan-Tastic Vent President Penny Milks explained that most users find the medium setting to be optimum. She said that set on medium, the fan draws 1.62 amps.
An effective, versatile fan, the Endless Breeze is useful if you need to move a lot of air and have the space and battery power to accommodate it.
The Hella Turbo, the top performer in our past tests, is a simple, lightweight, and well-built fan that comes with a small screw mount, round thumb knobs for bidirectional adjustment, and a 10-foot power cord for screw-down connections. The three-bladed, 5.5-inch fan has a center thumb knob to control on/off and two speeds. The cage housing is open in the back, which allows for easy cleaning but can be a hazard to roaming fingers. Construction is high quality, and the Hella produces substantial breeze with no vibration.
The Hella was a tester favorite. It put out considerable air at a moderate power expense. It gets a Practical Sailor Recommendation.
Hotwire Port Fan
HotWire Enterprises distributes alternative energy and energy-saving products. The Port Fan the company offers is basically a rugged, computer-type box fan that has been modified for marine use. The 5-inch-square fan has a small metal cage with a plastic housing and a mounting bracket that allows both swivel and tilt adjustments. It actually has three mounting options: permanent, using the screw base; removable with Velcro (remove the bracket and attach the included Velcro); and window mount (a small shock cord is included for mounting it in an opening port. The fan has seven 4.5-inch-diameter blades controlled by a small, three-position toggle switch (fast, off, and slow). Wiring is to a cigarette-lighter plug.
Clocked at 45-55 decibels, the Port Fan was the quietist fan tested. On low, it was barely perceptible and drew only about one-third of an amp. Even on high, it offered up low output numbers: 185 feet per minute.
The Port Fan did not blow much air, but for those looking for a small, quiet, and efficient fan, we recommend this one. Itíll likely last for years and years.
MarinePro Tornado Fan
MarinePro Tornado Fan is a very economical fan that blows a lot of air, but draws a whopping 4.3 amps on high. It comes with a screw mount base for permanent installation and a substantial mounting clip to allow it to moved around.
The five-blade, 3.5-inch fan is housed in a 5-inch plastic tube, and three adjustable pivot points control air flow. One of the metal wing nuts on our test fan disintegrated into pieces when we adjusted the tilt.
It comes with a 15-foot power cord with a cigarette-lighter plug into which is built the on/off switch and variable speed control. The plug is fairly large, and we found that it occasionally disconnected from the socket. Having the controls at the socket, instead of on the fan, can be inconvenient, particularly when itís mounted at the foot of a V-berth.
The Tornado pushes a lot of air but it looks, sounds, and smells like a hair dryer, and its mechanical difficulties during testing left us doubting its durability.
Sea Bowld 12
The Sea Bowld 12-volt oscillating fan comes with a screw-on base that allows vertical adjustment with a nut and bolt, and contains a simple on/off toggle switch. The oscillating on/off switch is on the side of the motor housing, and the oscillation has about an 80-degree arc.
The three-bladed fan has a diameter of 6 inches and is housed in a traditional metal cage. It was fairly quiet for a high-speed-oscillating fan, but it has the ability to blow quite a bit of air around.
The SeaBowld draws nearly an amp, and past tests have left us leery of oscillating fans. But being the only fan in our test that delvers a good breeze for less than $30, it is our Budget Buy.
The West Marine oscillating fan presented several obstacles during testing: faulty mounting hardware, poor construction quality, and poor performance. Testers reported an undulating whirring and rumble from the oscillating mechanism and overall vibration.
Just before publishing this article, West Marine informed us that the company has discontinued the $20 oscillating fan and is pulling all stock from the shelves.
A rock-bottom price isnít always a bargain. Weíre glad to see that when West Marine recognizes a product is a lemon, the company does something about it.
Your choice of a fan will be determined by your intended use, space available, and budget. If youíre just looking for something to blow a little air in a V-berth while you sleep, then a small, slow quiet fan is all you need. If you want to move air around a large saloon during cocktails, then a larger, higher speed fan may be desirable.
Although itís pricey, the feature-packed Caframo Kona is Recommended, as are the Hella Turbo, a repeat top performer; the Port Fan, the favored mid-price fan thatís compact and efficient; and the energy-vampire Fan-Tastic Ventís Endless Breeze, a powerful, quality-built fan usable on large boats and dockside. The Sea Bowld is the Budget Buy. For the price, it stirs a considerable amount of air and will appeal to those preferring oscillating fans.