National Fisherman RSW Article – Chill Seekers

September 26th, 2017

National Fisherman wrote a great article about RSW in it’s North Pacific Focus Summer 2017 edition. We’ve reprinted it here in its entirety.



It seems like a no-brainer: a chilling system that could pay for itself in one year while adding value to the catch in the hold. In Bristol Bay, where the salmon have been running hard, profits from the boats are being invested into raw seawater (commonly called RSW) cooling systems, either as retrofits or in newbuilds.

“Bristol Bay is unique,” explained Kurt Ness, operations director for Integrated Marine Systems in Seattle. “You see a huge run for a short duration of time. So they might use the systems for four or six, maybe eight weeks of the year. They start up, use them, and decommission the units until next summer.”

An IMS electric-powered 5-ton system, developed specifically for salmon runs.

Still, the value added to the dock price for chilled salmon makes a dedicated RSW system worth the price of admission and maintenance. In fact, the demand is so high that IMS has developed units specifically for boats fishing Alaska’s Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound. Designed as an electric model, as opposed to either hydraulic or diesel drive, the 3- and 5-ton models offer versatility because of their tiny footprint and easy installations.

During a retrofit — where space is at a premium — especially on a 32-foot boat, these RSWs are designed to run off small 7- or 9-kW single-phase generators. Great for boats that can’t pull off any more horsepower from a main engine, the self-contained units also have a small footprint of just under 8 cubic feet.

The base of the system is either aluminum or stainless, depending on application, and mounted on top are the powder-coated condenser, the chiller and the compressor. The chiller uses a titanium core, and the refrigerant receiver uses sight glasses to monitor Freon levels. Titanium or copper-nickel plated chillers are essential, regardless of the brand, for the health of the catch.

This IMS 5-ton hydraulic system is nearly identical to the electric model above.

Not all retrofits for Bristol Bay boats are using the electric model, however. Instead, some owners prefer a small hydraulically driven system that fits in roughly the same footprint and has the same tonnage output. Essentially keeping the same components on the plate, it also adds a hydro pump that drives the compressor. A qualified refrigeration tech is still needed in either case to complete the hookup and commission the system.

The deciding factor between drives, however, comes down to whether a boat can spare enough power to run the hydraulics off the main engine.

Pat Pitsch, owner of Strongback Metal Boats in Bellingham, Wash., said it all depends on the motor size and the rigging. For example, a twin-engine boat is easier because you don’t have to add a bow-thruster and that frees up some hydraulics. But adding a second engine is also a trade-off, as that can affect the volume of space below, ultimately affecting the weight ratio and hold volume.

“It would be insane to build a new boat and not put in a raw seawater system,” said Pitsch, STRONGBACK METAL BOATS

“In the old days with prop and shaft setups, the engines were aft, and the fish were forward of them,” said Pitsch, who exclusively builds boats using jet drives. Around 90 percent of the RSWs installed at Strongback are hydraulic, running off the main engine. Although they have also installed a few with a little diesel generator to supply the power.

“Last year was a good year, and we expect this year to be a good year as well.” — Kurt Ness, INTEGRATED MARINE SYSTEMS

That setup worked fine for boats whose crews were used to flake ice, and frankly it still does for existing boats either contemplating or waiting for a retrofit, which Ness says is a fair number. Instead of boats and crew taking time off after the season, they are having RSWs installed. “Last year was a good year, and we expect this year to be a good year as well,” according to Ness.

But it’s a different story for fresh orders around the yards. “It would be insane to build a new boat and not put in a raw seawater system,” said Pitsch. “It’s all new construction for us, and we put them in all of our new boats.”

As boats require weight distribution above the keel for maximum efficiency, adding water into the hold doesn’t change much from the days of shoveling ice while at the same time allowing boats to operate away from the ports a little longer. As fish are dumped into the hold, the circulating seawater pulls heat from the fish and exchanges it through a condenser before being returned into the ocean.

More power but in a small footprint, this model (IMS 10-ton hydraulic) can be driven by hydraulics or with a small dedicated pump engine.

Manufacturers offer bigger units than the ones headed up to Bristol Bay, although the 3- and 5-ton models from IMS (which start around $12,000) can be upgraded to a 7.5- or 10-ton model in the future because they use common mechanicals. As RSWs increase in size, the terminology ratings change from tons to horsepower, which simplifies things somewhat, as a 25-hp model outputs 28.5 tons. It also makes comparisons between brands easier.

One other RSW option is a diesel drive split system, but it’s not common for gillnetters, as they are much larger and would take up too much space and underutilize the tonnage output. Technically you have the option for a hydraulic split (instead of diesel), but “you don’t see it too often because the hydro units are so much smaller to begin with,” said Ness.

This 8-ton split unit has a titanium core chiller and diesel-driven compressor.

And don’t think the manufacturers have forgotten about the skiff market in Bristol Bay. Although these boats don’t pack the tonnage of the 32s, there is a clever way they can stay competitive in the chilled salmon market.

Something for skiffs, this chiller attaches to totes and cools quickly.

Pacific West Refrigeration, based in Sechelt, British Columbia, has developed 1- and 3-ton systems that hang off of poly fish totes, only requiring a small, portable generator and an overboard seawater supply pump.

“The units work well for the skiff boats, so that’s a viable option,” said Shelly Boutilier of Pacific West Refrigeration. “You could chill two totes with one chiller and an equalizer valve. The 3-ton can run off a little Honda engine pack.”

Two or even three totes plumbed together creates either a high-capacity system taking up much of the skiff or the ability to spread the load by packing less fish than capacity in each tote.

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association says chilling salmon has a big payoff in the region. Their research finds that 50 percent of processors will require chilled fish by 2018, and RSW systems offer the positive economic benefit of a 15-cent-per-pound bonus for chilled fish.

“Fifty percent of processors will require chilled fish by 2018.” — BRISTOL BAY REGIONAL SEAFOOD DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION

With a 200 percent increase in deliveries since 2008, and 71 percent of the Bristol Bay catch chilled in 2016, RSW is moving from a trend to a requirement. In the 2016 season, only 27 percent of the total product was canned, a record low.

Although the association’s payoff research shows a longer payoff period than IMS estimates (two to three years versus one), their calculations assume a larger system with a higher cost of entry, and they factor non-owner installations.

The association also has an interesting suggestion for an upgrade path, and that is to split the cost over several years, by piecemealing the system and prepping the hold and plumbing before installing the compressors. They also keep a listing of financing options available on their website.

Jean Paul Vellotti is the Boats & Gear editor for North Pacific Focus.


From Happy Customers

The 15-ton diesel-drive RSW that I bought from IMS paid for itself in the first year. The unit chills down fast. I have a 30,000 lbs. fish hold and the system brought it down 6 degrees an hour. I'm really satisfied with the both the unit and the service from IMS. But I've never had much of a problem - the unit pretty much runs itself!”

"Eddie" Pestrikoff, Owner, F/V Melina

After looking at the albacore in the hold, I was amazed at how good the color was - bright blue. The IMS Hatch Mount Blast Freezer is a slick piece of equipment. It works great. The buyer's inspector stated that the blast frozen fish in my hold were the finest fish he had seen all year.”

Tony Jones, F/V Dreamboat Annie

The 18-ton electric RSW from IMS has performed flawlessly for the past three years. There's been no maintenance; I've just changed out the zincs and it has a good screening system. The unit brings temperatures down fast, with more than enough refrigeration for the 55,000 lb. hold. I am very pleased!”

Mark Edens, Owner, F/V Lady Kay

IMS's chiller is such a quality system. I congratulate myself every summer for making the investment. You should be justifiably proud of the system you have designed and the company you have built. It is a pleasure doing business with you!”

Ross Kendall, Set Net Site

When we ordered the IMS 50-ton deck mount unit, we were under the gun ... It was amazing ... we had plenty of time to learn it, run it and test it. Without IMS, we would not have made our charter.”

Cathy Hansen, manager, F/V McKinley

With a premium paid for refrigerated fish, I recouped my investment within the first year. Ever since then, it's just been money in my pocket.”

Joe Hinton, F/V Menusa

'Never bought fish this cold,' stated the Japanese broker when purchasing -40 degree F blast frozen albacore from the F/V Evolution. John equipped his tanked vessel with an IMS Hatch Mount Blast Freezer for easy seasonal conversion to the albacore fishery. When buying John's albacore, the Japanese broker said he was not used to buying fish that cold from this coast. He ordered a special trailer to hold them since they were so cold. Referring to his new blast freezer, John said, 'IMS is great. When you get good equipment, then you have what it takes to meet market demand.'"

Jon McMillan, Owner & Skipper, F/V Evolution

I like the IMS unit because it's so compact and I installed it myself. I do not believe anybody chills water down as fast as I can...”

Jerry Hatton, F/V Primo Lai

I've only got good things to say about the IMS RSW system I use for brine-freezing albacore. It's compact enough to fit on my boat and I remove it at the end of the season. I turn it on and turn it off ... that's all I do. It's easy to operate, does all that IMS said it would and more! There's enough to worry about with catching fish... don't need to worry about freezin' 'em!”

Kris Samuelson, F/V Dos Ninas

Switching to all-RSW allowed us to produce higher quality fish and access new markets not available to fish that haven't been chilled at point of harvest. The single-most important thing the fisherman can do to maintain quality of the fish is to chill at the point of harvest.”

John Lowrance, Owner, Leader Creek Fisheries

IMS equipment has allowed me to deliver top product at a premium price. I have a re-newed outlook on the Louisiana Gulf fishing industry.”

Lance Nacio, Owner, F/V Anna Marie

Joe Wabey chose a 60-ton IMS RSW system. "The system worked like a dream, it's been flawless. Made our summer great. High praise for IMS and their equipment.”

Joe Wabey, Owner, F/V Arctic Eagle

I am lovin' my IMS unit. It's going on eight years now and there's been nothing to do but change belts and impellers. I fish when and where I want and am not tied to a tender. My friends have bought IMS units and they're happy too. It has only taken a few fishing season's to pay for itself and now I'm enjoying the extra money it generates for me.”

Mark Hofstad, F/V Norsemen

The core temperatures on the filets were consistent. From a production standpoint, the FastFreeze did everything I needed. Met our freezing needs and produced a high-quality product.”

Mike Briski, Production Manager, Peter Pan Seafoods Port Moller Plant

IMS refer systems have a proven history. I've used them before - they're 'Plug and Play'. They've all worked good. Nothing I've had to worry about.”

Ray Wadsworth, F/V Liahona

My titanium chiller system from IMS works great! We are able to fish offshore, stay on the grounds longer and deliver outstanding quality lobster. Our self-contained refrigeration system was easy to install - and is a breeze to operate - saving us time and money. I originally bought from another vendor in New England, thinking it might be better to buy local for better service. But I was wrong. When I later bought a system from IMS, the customer service was much better: heads above the service you generally find today anywhere. The product was also better: built as a compact and easy-to-use unit. My first product had not been well-integrated into the boat.”

Robert Colbert, F/V Miss Julie

IMS is local and well-known. Their systems are reliable and maintenance-free - which is a big issue for me. I know that if I do need parts, I'll get fast delivery. Other vendors have problems with that!”

Ron Harper, F/V Pacific Gem

It's easy to install. The system can be retrofitted in an existing boat in about four days. It's really compact and it makes refrigeration simple.”

Paolo Jurkovich, F/V Branko J

The 7.5-ton RSW system has allowed us to maximize value of our fish since 2004 when it was installed. The IMS refrigeration system allows us to earn more and be proud to deliver a high quality product.”

Ray Honea, Crewman, F/V Balrog

After looking at the albacore in the hold, I was amazed at how good the color was - bright blue. The IMS Hatch Mount Blast Freezer is a slick piece of equipment. It works great. The buyer's inspector stated that the blast frozen fish in my hold were the finest fish he had seen all year.”

Dave Fee, F/V Star Polaris