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Old 29-12-2011, 14:49   #1
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Need help upgrading DC system

Sorry for the long post, but I have several issues with my existing DC system. I've been reading a ton on this and other forums, and Calder's Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual, and am a bit overwhelmed with (often conflicting) information. I'm hoping I can get some help on one or more of the issues below.

This is on an '03 Beneteau 361 that we've owned less than a year. Until we get this system upgraded, we are spending 90% of the time on shore power in a slip and are only day sailing on weekends. There are only two charging sources, AC charger and alternator. I'm not concerned with accommodating solar or wind generation into the system at this time.

I have a Sentry 20A battery charger connected to 2 aging 4D AGM house batteries (1 bank). There used to be 3 4D AGMs, one designated as the start battery. That battery was completely dead (wouldn't hold a charge, even after several days at an marine/auto electric shop where they tried to revive it).

I have replaced the dead 4D with a smaller, dedicated starter AGM (Optima red top) that is completely isolated from the house bank. A Echo Charge is charging the start battery from the house bank when on shore power. (It's starting a Yanmar 3gm30f and has CCA to spare, according to what the Yanmar manual says it needs).

On a side note, since the house 4Ds are aging, I left the alternator hooked to the starter battery (on the starter solenoid post), since I want to guarantee a starter charge while underway (at least while motoring in and out), and was worried that the alternator (Hitachi 55A) might not be able to provide enough energy to the house to have any left over to go through the Echo to the starter. I'm not planning on being on the hook or spending more than a day sailing before getting a new charging system and replacing the 4Ds, so I'm not worried about the house bank not being charged while underway (we're talking a few weeks before this is remedied, not months). My question here is, is leaving the alternator on the starter battery a good idea, bad idea, a potential problem (charging source on the wrong side of the Echo), or what? Also, how important is it that the alternator regulator be adjusted for the AGMs? I was told the Hitachi is regulated for wet-cell, and that is pretty close to what an AGM wants, but not perfect. Is that a concern?

After replacing the starter battery and putting in the Echo, I had an electrician look the system over. He said I should upgrade the charger to 40A; that 20A wasn't going to cut it for the charging load I have. I want to upgrade the charger before replacing the batteries, so that's the primary concern, what charger to get. I already have a separate inverter that came with the boat, so I don't need a combo unit. I also want a battery monitoring system, and would like to have a charger that can include battery temperature sensors.

Another complication is location. The Sentry is currently located under the settee and is mounted sideways. The chargers I've seen appear much larger, and some don't lend themselves to sideways mounting. The only other locations that would work are one of the two lazarettes.

Mounting in the Lazarette would be preferred, but I'm a little worried about protection and heat. One of the lazarettes is on the starboard side between the engine controls and the walkthrough transom, and doesn't really provide a lot of protection from drip. The other is along the port size and is wide, with a large area forward, under the seat and away from the opening. But, that would mean mounting it on a bulkhead between the lazarette and the quarter berth, and I have a concern about whether it will heat up enough to ruin the wood finish on the interior. The forward bulkhead may provide enough room, but adjoins the galley. There's no wood there, but I won't want the fiberglass to become discolored by heat either.

I've read up on Charles, Newmar, Mastervolt, Dolphin, and Blue Seas. I've also read some discussion on IOTA chargers, but I'm not sure they are rated for marine use, and also require an option (IQ4) to provide 3 stage charging. Finally, they don't appear to switch between 120VAC to 220VAC, so that would be a problem in some areas.

Some chargers (e.g. Newmar PT-40) appear to be very bulky with large drip shield, and may be a problem to locate, and might not like a sometimes damp lazarette. Also, all are about twice as expensive as the Xantrex TRUECharge2. I've heard people rave about Xantrex, and people say they would never purchase anything from them (with the exception of the Echo Charger). Is the TRUECharge2 a reliable unit, or should I steer clear of Xantrex?

Given all that (phew, sorry!), what charging systems should I focus on? Should I get a separate monitoring system, or rely on one integrated with the charger, perhaps with a remote panel? Do these things get hot enough to potentially damage or discolor the surface they are mounted on, or is that a non-issue? Finally, is an occasionally damp lazarette an acceptable location?

Thanks to one and all who persevere through this post to this point I really appreciate any and all information, pointers, etc.

Thanks!
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Old 29-12-2011, 15:56   #2
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

Whew! :-)

First of all, congratulations on your reading; you've got a pretty good grasp of the main parameters.

For what you describe, i.e., mostly on shore power and just occasional weekend trips, I wouldn't worry about the 20A charger. It's more than enough to maintain the two 4-D AGMs and the new AGM start battery via the EchoCharge. It really doesn't matter if it takes overnite or more, since presumably you're on dock power anyway.

If you were only planning to overnite at dockside during longer trips then, yes, a larger charger would be in order so that the batteries could receive a full charge in a shorter time.

Re: the alternator, I'd check the voltage output AT THE POSITIVE TERMINAL OF THE ALTERNATOR while the engine is running at above idle. If you're seeing 14.4VDC or above, you're golden. If it's much below that, then you'd want to think about upgrading or resetting the regulator to a higher voltage level if that's possible. And, a larger alternator is a good idea anyway when you stick in the new 4D AGMs, since they can take a LOT of charging amperage.

For a battery monitor, you'll want something like the Victron...great little device. But, it only makes sense to use on the house batteries once you've upgraded the charging system (presumably, routing all charging sources to the house battery bank).

No, you won't hurt the EchoCharge by applying the charging voltage (via alternator) to the "wrong" side, there just won't be any benefit for the house batteries.

If you haven't already done so, it would be good to equip the boat with a good multimeter and a good AC/DC clamp ammeter. Yes, I know that the latter can also be used as a multimeter, but I find it's much more convenient to have a separate multimeter, and occasionally it's good to have at least two ways to compare readings.

Bill
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Old 29-12-2011, 16:26   #3
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

The limitation to day and weekend trips is hopefully short term, and primarily limited by the current state of our batteries and charger. So, yes, I definitely want to get a larger charger so I can charge more quickly. I hear what you're saying, however. I can go ahead and replace the 4Ds w/o waiting to upgrade the charger, and live with the longer recharge times for now. That's good news. Once I replace the 4Ds, I should be able to switch the alternator to the house bank w/o fear of failing to charge the starter battery, correct? So that would allow me to invest in a monitor while still postponing the charger purchase. By Victron, I assume you mean the BMV-602S, so I can monitor the house and the starter battery, right?

I realize that to spend any significant time off shore power we'll need a larger alternator, but that's a whole new area that I have yet to educate myself on (e.g., how large can I go on my existing pulleys before unbalancing the engine, etc.).

I have an old analog multimeter, and a very nice Fluke clamp ammeter/multimeter (awesome anniversary gift this year), so I'm all set there

Thanks!
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Old 29-12-2011, 16:47   #4
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

No, not the 602S, but the 600S. There's really no sense in monitoring the start battery (since it's always kept charged by the EchoCharge and you don't take power from it generally except for engine starting). By the way, it typically takes less than 0.5 amp hours to start a small diesel! Yes, that's right...less than 1/2AH. This is very quickly replaced.

With the new AGMs, I'd at least think about the Iota line of chargers. They're a lot of charger for the money, and come in sizes up to 90A. For a house bank consisting of two 4D AGMs, a DLS-75/IQ4 might be most appropriate (since it's the largest which can be powered from, e.g., a Honda EU2000i or from a 15A 120VAC circuit).

Iotas are fine with AGMs and a lot less expensive than other "marine" chargers of similar output. They've been around a long time, and have been installed on hundreds of cruising yachts (I have two...a 55A and a 75A....and have installed many of them on customer's boats).

Re: 220VAC operation, you're not likely to encounter that in the US or anywhere closeby. Everything is 120VAC. If you go to Europe, though, it could be a problem.

Re: an alternator upgrade, with a single 1/2" belt about the largest you can manage is a 100A size. That plus a good external regulator (like the Balmar MC-612 or MC-614) would help complete your DC system upgrade.

Re: your meters... an analog multimeter is a good thing to have, since it's very easy to check presence or absence of voltage at a glance. However, it's not accurate enough for battery voltage measurement, where the difference of 0.4 volts can be the difference between a battery that's fully charged and one which is 50% depleted. The Fluke clamp-on ammeter/multimeter might be OK, but in my testing of meters my high-end Fluke 337 clamp-on ammeter is the least accurate on voltage measurements of all my multimeters. I don't use it for that purpose. It's great on amp measurements though.

Bill
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Old 30-12-2011, 09:16   #5
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

I agree with Bill except his endorsement of the Iota chargers. These are great value for the money...but...they do not have temperature compensation capability and I am a firm believer in temperature compensation for all charging sources especially when used to charge AGM batteries.

With that minor exception, Bill's advice is spot on!

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Old 30-12-2011, 14:30   #6
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

Thanks Bill, Charlie,

Charlie, if not Iota, what brand would you recommend? I'm all for temp. compensation, especially if it adds life to the AGMs.

Bill, why a 75A charger? The recommendation was to go from a 20A to a 40A, so I would probably get the 55A. I'm definitely on a budget, and don't want to spend money where it doesn't add significant value.

The alternator upgrade will have to be down the road, but I'll keep that information in mind. By the time I'm done with the new 4Ds and a charger, my boat fund will be well overdrawn :P

I have a Fluke 374, which has a pretty good reputation, but I don't know the specifics on how accurate the multi-meter functions are.

Thanks!
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Old 30-12-2011, 16:27   #7
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

Quote:
Originally Posted by batkins61 View Post
Thanks Bill, Charlie,....

...Bill, why a 75A charger? The recommendation was to go from a 20A to a 40A, so I would probably get the 55A. I'm definitely on a budget, and don't want to spend money where it doesn't add significant value......
Two 4D AGMs will easily take 300 amps charging. If your goal is to minimize charging time, then 75A is about the largest practical charger for you, because of the two reasons I mentioned. It's not much more cost than the 55A. And, because of their circuit design Iota chargers put out a lot more amperage for a longer time than do many other chargers.

I hear what Charlie J says re: temp sensing & AGMs -- and I have a lot of respect for his expertise -- but I don't share his trepidation insofar as Iota chargers are concerned. Lots of experience on lots of boats and shore applications over many years leads me to believe they're likely to be just fine. Several discussions with Iota engineers bolster my opinion but, hey, that's just me.

Anybody out there have first hand knowledge of an overheating situation with AGMs -- or any other battery for that matter -- while being charged with Iotas with the DLS smart-charge option?

Bill
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Old 30-12-2011, 16:31   #8
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

I am generally not a fan of Xantrex, primarily because of a lack of after sale technical and warranty support. That being said, I have installed several TrueCharge 2 units and they have performed well. A quick look on Amazon shows that a 40 A TC2 is $350; Remote is $83 and Temp Sensor is $35 for a total of $468.

I have started using Sterling Power products after being introduced to them at IBEX (annual trade show). Their 40 A unit lists for $436; Remote is approx. $80 and the Temp Sensor is included for a total of $516. IMO, the Sterling is a better piece of equipment and technical and after sale support is outstanding. Here is the Sterling link: Marine Battery Charger - Power Factor Controled (PFC) ProCharge Ultra- PCU

Hope this helps.
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Old 30-12-2011, 16:58   #9
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

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Originally Posted by CharlieJ View Post

I have started using Sterling Power products after being introduced to them at IBEX (annual trade show). Their 40 A unit lists for $436; Remote is approx. $80 and the Temp Sensor is included for a total of $516. IMO, the Sterling is a better piece of equipment and technical and after sale support is outstanding. Here is the Sterling link: Marine Battery Charger - Power Factor Controled (PFC) ProCharge Ultra- PCU

Hope this helps.

Ditto! I have moved over to the Sterling's for much of my charger installs. Very sweet piece of gear. Doesn't hurt that Sterling is located in my back yard either and Marks support is top notch..

I do like the Iota's, they are a tremendous value and pretty bullet proof but I too really like temp compensation... I just feel the Sterling Pro Charge Ultra give a lot for the money including a user programmable charge or equalization profile..

Installing A Sterling Pro Charge Ultra
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Old 30-12-2011, 17:31   #10
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

Excellent post, Maine, as usual.

It does appear that the Sterling ProCharge Ultra chargers are top notch. Loaded with features and a good warranty. Pricey, though. Guess you get what you pay for.

Too bad they don't make one larger than 60A. Like 100, 150, or even larger. We run across customers who want/need the extra power output, and there's almost nothing out there. Sometimes it's necessary to string several Iota 90s together (like one install here with three of them for 270A output).

For the small and medium size yacht, though, the Sterlings really look good.

Bill
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Old 30-12-2011, 18:17   #11
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In my experience with brands, it's safest to stay well clear of Xantrex, while my preference is still Victron units. But I have never had a Sterling unit in my hands... I also like Outback.

cheers,
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Old 30-12-2011, 18:30   #12
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Just a dumb clarifying question here. If I read correctly OP is interested in upgrading to get away from the dock more. The only charging source on the boat is an alternator. This means he should want to minimize engine running time.

Aren't the chargers being talked about a/c units? The time at dock is relatively long overenights I presume so a smaller capacity charger (current charger) would work, wouldn't it?

Shouldn't the focus be more on alternator output or a genset?
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Old 30-12-2011, 18:44   #13
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

We have an Iota 90A/IQ4 as a secondary charger and like it a lot - we specifically chose it knowing all about it. With that said, I would not want it as a primary charger for several reasons.

First, it has no power factor compensation. This isn't a problem on shore power, but it is something one needs to understand when matching it with a generator. The 90A Iota draws as much AC current as our 120A Outback (which is power factor compensated).

Second, the charger voltages and absorption times are preset and not adjustable. The preset bulk voltage is 14.8V, which is perfect for our flooded batteries, but probably a bit much for AGM's. The absorption time is preset for 8hrs, which I find excessive. If there is a momentary blip in shore power input, you are in for another 8hrs of higher voltage absorption.

Third, you cannot control equalization with this charger. It automatically goes into an equalization charge after 7 days of float voltage whether you want it to or not, and you cannot put it in equalization mode at will (unless your will coincides with 7 days at float).

It also has a high frequency whine to it - I can barely hear it, but Michele hears it like a dog.

And as noted, it does not have temperature compensation or a remote battery voltage sensor (that may not have been previously noted).

All of this is perfect for our choice to use it as a secondary charging source to our (now) Victron. We use it primarily as backup and for bulk charging and have flooded batteries that match its charging regime. Also, the whine is a minor thing, particularly since it is buried in a cabinet (and it doesn't bother me, and I'm writing this and not Michele).

Mark
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Old 30-12-2011, 18:56   #14
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

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...and Marks support is top notch..
We just got two Sterling alternator regulators and a new Electromaax alternator. The Sterling I installed on our old alternator is working perfectly, but we are having some trouble getting the new Electromaax/Sterling combo working up to snuff.

First thing I did was email Sterling support and Charles Sterling immediately answered it. It was around 7pm in England. Over the course of several emails he gave some trouble shooting instructions, which I performed and emailed back the results. He was still helping me in almost real time at 11pm in England, when I wished him good night.

It was the next day that I realized Sterling had a US branch, so I emailed them and immediately got an answer from Mark. This was late in the afternoon on Xmas eve and he gave me his cell # so I could troubleshoot with him while he was out at the store buying a ham. We are still working on the problem, but I got two emails of suggestions on Xmas day, and have been communicating with him everyday this week even though he is off until Monday. And all of this is of his own volition - I actually told him to have a nice holiday and we could pick it up again next week.

Yes, I think Sterling's support is WAY at the top of the list. I used to own Xantrex and tried several times to get anyone - anyone at all, even a janitor - to answer a call or email with no avail. I will never own a piece of Xantrex junk again. And it is all junk - you will need support with it and you will never get it.

Mark
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Old 30-12-2011, 19:47   #15
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Re: Need help upgrading DC system

Mark,

You're right about the Iota's lack of power factor correction. And, as you say, this isn't a problem on shorepower or a sizeable generator. Overall, it's a minor problem.

The Iota's voltage pattern CAN be adjusted. There's a little hole at one end, covered with tape usually, and a small pot behind the hole. You can pull the voltage up or down as desired. It changes both the bulk/absorption and the float voltages.

I've never known or experienced the "preset" 8-hour absorption time. Mine (and I have had two for over five years in 24/7 service and have installed many others) don't do that. I assume you're talking about the IQ4 models, which are the only ones which should be used for battery charging on a boat.

Also, momentary power interruption does NOT result in reversion to absorption-level voltages for another 8-hour period. I've tried cutting the AC power on mine when in float mode (which I've set to 13.8VDC) and they revert right back to float mode...13.8VDC.

The Iotas do not have temp compensation...correct.

The Iota's "equalization" isn't really true equalization. It's just reversion to the absorption voltage and is wholly inadequate for the purpose of equalization. I actually wish it were more frequent than once a week because it might help a bit with stratification prevention. Last year I set my Victron up for what they call "repeat absorption" every other day for 30 minutes, and it's made a remarkable and measurable difference.

They are very RFI quiet (no or only very minor interference with HF radios). I've never heard the whine you mention, but I suppose it's possible. My dog doesn't complain, though :-)

I, too, think they're perfect for a 2nd or special purpose charger, since for very little $$$ you get a lot of charging capability.

I like the Victron's too and have a MultiPlus inverter/charger on my boat which is on 24/7 at dockside. Has been great for the past five or six years. However, I know of a number of Victron chargers (charger-only...not the inverter/chargers) which have experienced failure in the past year.

Bill
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