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Old 01-09-2018, 16:30   #1
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Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

I have a 1985 Passport 40. When I purchased it it came with 2x120w solar, with a Solarboost 2000. It sport a Charles 40amp battery charger, and a 4xTrojan T105 6v flooded bank (450ah). The bank also gets charge from the 120a Balmar alternator on my Beta 50.

I have a very small 600w (peak) inverter behind the nav station that only drives some outlets. I actually rarely use it. I have adapted myself for long stints to use only DC stuff. I've got 12v DC adapters for most stuff (laptop, camera batteries, etc). But if something does pop that needs 110v, I can always plug it there.

I really like that the boat is setup for sailing. No a/c, no AC generator, no microwave. I don't need that stuff.

My energy requirements I haven't really calculated them, I have to assemble a spreadsheet and actually measure the stuff. I do know whenever my Seafrost DC refrigeration kicks in, it draw around 7 amps. I have to calculate for how much time it runs every hour, because I've never really measured that (times x time it runs). The autopilot is another big ticket item. All my electronics are tied together on the same switch: Autopilot head (but not brain), Radar (in standby), GPS, AIS, multifunction i70 giving me wind/depth/speed. Anyhow apart from really shutting down the radar (vs the standby mode which uses some juice), I don't think I would want to kill anything else independently. I might research putting a separate switch on the radar I guess.

All my lighting is LED (running, anchor, etc), including all the interior lights which I have been changing out the last year. So that doesn't add up to a lot. I do have gadgets, like ipad, kindle, batteries for cameras, the laptop, etc, that sometimes get charged off the 12vdc. Specially the iphones and the ipad get used (pictures and I stream the Raymarine GPS to the iPad a lot).

My battery bank is getting old (5 years now, maybe 6 it all depends on how much I trust the previous owner) and I have ran a low water level a few times (I don't live where my boat is and couldn't get anyone to fill them up with water a few times). It's difficult for me to tell if the bank has decreased substantially it's ability to retain a charge. Ive only owned the sailboat for 2 years and this year has been the first time I have really gone out sailing for a week or more without plugging into a proper charging source, and I am not much of an engine user; I bought a sailboat after all!

The last two months I spent cruising around Florida (moored, anchored, no shore power), and realized I was not being able to get my bank back to 100% ever. At some point my Xanatrex monitor drifted away and now it was very hard to really know what those percentages meant. I did hit 11.6 volts a few times. But everything has been working pretty well in any case. The Xanatrex never went below 50%, but I don't know if I could trust that with the drift it apparently had. But I did realize that I need to up my electrical system nevertheless if Im going to think in cruising for any stretch of time.

This year's end Im moving the boat from where it's currently moored (Fort Lauderdale) down to Mexico first, and Guatemala (Rio) later. I thought with my batteries at the age they show, I might as well change them now, where they are easy and inexpensive to acquire. And do a battery swap and start fresh 2019 and in farther latitudes. I have been reading with a lot of interest the last few weeks all the information (and the recent threads on LiFePO4) on new battery technologies. I am truly not ready for it, I don't feel like I use that much to justify the costs. Besides, I can't really afford changing the batteries to that chemistry, change my solar controller and my shore power battery charger, plus the other considerations I should have (dummy load for the alternator?, I do have a regulator that supports them tho, the 614 Balmar). I do understand the logic of being able to discharge much further, the fast charging all of that.

My main concern is being able to charge them to a 100% even when out at anchor for several days, or on a multi-day passage.

But then I thought about it and realized I could just go out and buy a Honda 2200 gas generator, stick it in my garage, and with proper care (maybe drain gas back to a deck-mounted jerry can), I have the best price-performance solution. I run my generator a couple of hours every two days to get the batteries up (to top off what the solar can't do), maybe even 3-4 hours if needed in cases where there is much more replenishing of the batteries needed. It will run about 5 hours for one tank. If I have two 5gal jerry cans of gas, I could potentially run it for 1 gallon - 1.5 gallons a week for a long time. Im not planning on being completely out of civilization for much longer than that in any case. I know my 40a charger won't fully utilize the power a Honda 2200 could deliver. But, it's going to be pretty enough.

Ive analyzed adding solar, a hydro tow, wind. I don't like most of the options:

- more solar I have little space to add it, and it will certainly be expensive, and make the boat fugly. My 2 x 120w panels seem to be pretty good. They get shaded by the radar and backstay a bit, and I guess if anything I should just connect two small solar controllers to avoid both of them taking a hit from the shade (which is usually only on one)

- hydro tow, I love the idea. I am more of a sailor than an anchorer. I could really use it to keep the autopilot going when sailing (and Im far from having a windvane, I would love to, but it's a lot of money right now and a lot of complications like moving my swim ladder, loosing the use of davits which are already there)

- wind I don't like: noisy, cumbersome, that pole sticking out looks bad!

Doesn't a portable Honda make the most sense? I can charge my batteries, my power tool battery chargers are permanently affixed on a space in my galley and if they get power they will charge those. I can also use it to run AC tools on deck (or an AC even if I get to a place where I end up staying for a long time and a small window one could make sense). I do have some space to store it, will kind of kill most of my garage space and will have to find a way to affix it to ****, but it could work.

Anyone thinks differently? Or wants to add their own thoughts?
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Old 01-09-2018, 16:41   #2
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

Portable generators on boats can be lethal!

I have delivered 2 boats with portable generators. One cat and one monohull. Both had the same problem, the exhaust gas (CO) was swirled back into the cockpit. If you doubt this, have someone smoke a cigar on the stern and you will smell it in the cabin.

If you want to use a portable, modify the exhaust with an extension that releases the exhaust below the gunwhale. This will reduce the odds of CO entering the cabin.
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Old 01-09-2018, 17:52   #3
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

The small red Hondas (and blue yamahas) are fine small kits and do the job well. But a lot of solar panels is SILENT.


Think of others. Neighbours hate guys with gensets, especially with gensets running on the deck.


Cheers,
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Old 02-09-2018, 07:55   #4
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

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Originally Posted by Snore View Post
Portable generators on boats can be lethal!

If you want to use a portable, modify the exhaust with an extension that releases the exhaust below the gunwhale. This will reduce the odds of CO entering the cabin.
Yes indeed. Im thinking of doing that mod down the line. I just don't want to do it right away because it requires me to solder an adapter to the exhaust.I just want to make sure the gennie runs well the first few months before making mods that would void the warranty. But it is definetively in my plans to have a 3/4-1" exhaust hose attached so it will pour the fumes closer to the water line.

I also plan to either empty the tank or run it from an external (deck mounted) jerry can whenever I plan on putting it below deck, to avoid having gasoline inside the garage.
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Old 02-09-2018, 08:00   #5
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

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Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
The small red Hondas (and blue yamahas) are fine small kits and do the job well. But a lot of solar panels is SILENT.

Think of others. Neighbours hate guys with gensets, especially with gensets running on the deck.
Yes, but a lot of solar panels do not guarantee in any way a charge to 100%, they add lots of windage to the sailboat, and they complicate in the case of mine having a bit of an open cockpit when I want it. My other option would be on the sides of the cockpit (as wings sort of), but then I will feel terribly entrapped in the cockpit, something that I don't like.

Im not planning on running the portable gennie for long periods, or at night, nor do I expect to run A/C on an anchorage. I just want a way to be able to reach 100% charge 2 or 3 times a week depending on discharge level. I might even do it once a week only. I just want to have the option when it is needed. I don't plan to become less "careful" than I am today with my consumption.

Cheers.
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Old 02-09-2018, 09:18   #6
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

Sell the boat ! Sounds like you don't have enough financial resources to do things correctly let alone moving the boat to Rio .
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Old 02-09-2018, 09:30   #7
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

I think that you overthinking it , get a good mppt controller and connect both your solar in series (double the voltage ) this will decrease the damage you get from shading .

Spent some money and buy a wind vane ( auto pilot issue solved )
Solars should be able to handle your fridge if the box is properly isolated .

Check all your cabling to be the proper size and make sure you are not moving charge because if that .
The radar you don't have to use it every time you sail , most of the time should remain shutdown .
Consider adding one more solar panel if possible to get around 300 amp.

Ps: you can always buy inexpensive Chinese (alliexpress) flexible Solars and use them at anchor for shading and power .
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Old 02-09-2018, 09:53   #8
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

I gave up on wind generators because I try to spend much of my time in the tropics and they are not very effective devices unless you spend a lot of time either going to windward or in the trade wind zone.

Before I manages to get enough battery storage and solar panel charging sources I had a four stroke lawn mower engine with an 85 amp alternator mounted underneath it. I used to run it for about 45 minutes in the morning to bulk charge the batteries when they were low and would accept higher charge rates then let the solar panels do the topping up during the day. The system did work well but did annoy the neighbors occasionally. The device was mounted aft with the exhaust pointing over the stern so CO in the boat was not a problem.
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Old 02-09-2018, 12:07   #9
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

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Sell the boat ! Sounds like you don't have enough financial resources to do things correctly let alone moving the boat to Rio .
Correctly? Financial resources? Whatever ...
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Old 02-09-2018, 13:13   #10
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

Well said gaucho!
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Old 02-09-2018, 15:21   #11
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

As I learned recently in another thread, it depends on how personally opposed your are to various charging methods.

I find most ssailors are opposed to ICE (internal combustion engine) charging when avoidable.

Your real choices are:
ICE alternator
ICE generator
Solar
Wind
Water

Your first step is to conduct an energy usage analysis.

I find most cruising sailboats in your size range with a single BD35 refrigeration compressor running, will consume about 100 A-hrs per day average. At anchor, perhaps a little less, underway with magnetron radar and Autohelm, considerably more.

I have found a well balanced, affordable electrical system per 100 A-hr daily consumption where ICE charging is not preferred to be:
300 A-hrs of FLA battery capacity. At 420 A-hrs your bank sounds about right. But at their age I would do a capacity check, and replace if less than 80% of rated.
80 A alternator. Any more than this and a FLA bank wonít benefit.
400 W solar and/or wind.
The best choice is 200 W of each as when it is sunny there is often less wind, and when it is windy, there is less sun.

In your particular case, I would recommend spending time aboard a vessel with a good wind generator (D400 for example). They make little noise (and power) under 15 knots. Above that they come into their own, they will make a slight whoosh, which is less noise than the wind in the shrouds. You will likely get used to it (like living near train tracks, a factory, or an airport) in short order and will have to check visually if it is turning.

Some geographies are suited to wind as there rarely
Is any to speak of. If you are sailing sand motor upwind a lot, a wind generator will generate a lot of power, and you will rarely hear it over the din of banging to weather. In fact the sound of wind may become comforting knowing you will not have to listen to that ICE generator or alternator.

I donít recommmend water generators. They tend to get damaged by whacking flotsam or sea life.

A small portable generator is a possible solution, but they are not nearly as reliable as a diesel powered stock alternator, and runnig this for an hour or two, 2 days out of 7 will not hurt it at all. Oft times you will find you can simply choose to motor sail on days when ICE charging is required.

A portable can be a difficult thing to stow so it wonít quickly be damaged by salt water environment, and as mentioned by others there is the CO risk.
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Old 03-09-2018, 16:35   #12
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

"I have a 1985 Passport 40. When I purchased it it came with 2x120w solar, with a Solarboost 2000. It sport a Charles 40amp battery charger, and a 4xTrojan T105 6v flooded bank (450ah). The bank also gets charge from the 120a Balmar alternator on my Beta 50. "
IMHO, you have 225AH of battery (Trojans are 6V, you need to convert to 12V DC) and it sounds like your solar MIGHT give you 160-190W if you're lucky and it's managed properly, which you don't know right now. You need to get a BMS (battery management system) installed so you can at least know where you stand. There are some cheap, but efficient, ones out there but you need a base starting point to realize where the heck you are . . . The Balmar should be able to help you get those batteries up to (or at least closer to) the magic 100% but you don't like running it. Hmmm, well, you need to make some decisions because I don't see you "getting there" without making SOME concessions to your way of thinking . . . . unless you put more money into it (and you said you can't do that either!). A small generator is ok and can work for you (with adaptations) but additional solar seems smarter and more viable considering your future plans. Also sounds like you need to buy new AGMs or maybe even carbon foam (since you don't add water often enough and have probably ruined what little life is left in your batts) before you leave your current populous area. Are you aware of the "single point of failure" approach to your life on the water? Basically, backups to your backups are what is planned or at least considered. Doesn't sound like your ready to do any of that. Get all that you can (windvane, towed generator, portable generator, wind generator, more solar, larger battery bank of good batts, etc.) so that you HAVE A CHANCE of making it there. Any AIS, EPIRB, satellite communications equipment? Flares are worthless if there's no one to see them. Really think you need to sit down with an expert and reconsider your options.
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Old 03-09-2018, 18:11   #13
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

Quote:
Originally Posted by ramblinrod View Post
As I learned recently in another thread, it depends on how personally opposed your are to various charging methods.

Your real choices are:
ICE alternator
ICE generator
Solar
Wind
Water

Your first step is to conduct an energy usage analysis.
I agree. Your's is one of the good answers with lots of info. I didn't know that about tow gens, and it's a good thing you mention it because I was thinking it was an interesting addition. But for the low amps it will provide, and only on passage, basically it works for leveling a bit of the autopilot drain, not much more.

And my thing is I believe wind to be expensive (when it's good) and cumbersome. But, still, it is one of the big three (alternator, solar, wind). I still think I will avoid it. Might change my mind in the future. But I agree all the windgens I have been around are noisy and have quite a bit of problems (blades, rectifiers, etc).

I can make it a month without grave problems the way I am, don't get me wrong. Im just trying to see what my options are to grow it. Particularily since I will be reaching the EOL of my current bank and I need to change it, I want to have a strategy to make the new bank maybe reach 7-8 years if properly taken care of. In that scenario, gas gen seems like a way to keep a system that is working and just needs another option to top off the bank.

Im trying to share my thinking since it might help someone else, but unlike your useful post ramblinrod, I can see some other forum users do too many judgmental suppositions. Oh well ... the internet.
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Old 03-09-2018, 18:33   #14
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

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IMHO, you have 225AH of battery (Trojans are 6V, you need to convert to 12V DC) and it sounds like your solar MIGHT give you 160-190W if you're lucky and it's managed properly, which you don't know right now.
No, I have 450 ah of battery bank (6v T105s are 225ah and you wire them serial and then parallel, effectively making the bank 450ah). If you wanna keep the SOC over 50%, you can think you have 225AH of usable energy. But it's a different

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dadrock33 View Post
You need to get a BMS (battery management system) installed so you can at least know where you stand. There are some cheap, but efficient, ones out there but you need a base starting point to realize where the heck you are . . .
A BMS on a flooded bank? Never heard of such a thing on small battery installs (only BMSs I have seen on boats are for Lifepo batts). Maybe you mean a battery monitor? I already have one, a Xanatrex with shunt. I actually have a Victron 702 I haven't installed yet. Part of the reason for upgrading to the Victron is having longer term data to analyze usage (it keeps several days of usage information and can sync to the phone thru BT).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dadrock33 View Post
The Balmar should be able to help you get those batteries up to (or at least closer to) the magic 100% but you don't like running it. Hmmm, well, you need to make some decisions because I don't see you "getting there" without making SOME concessions to your way of thinking . . . .
Well, I have a sailboat. I enjoy sailing and not listening to an engine. Or a generator. Or a windmill on my head. Yeah, sorry, that's kind of what I bought a sailboat for. I prefer to make concessions on:

- consumption, consumption, consumption
- maybe battery bank size / chemistry (again, Lifepo too expensive still)

Reached my own concusion that with my current setup, I can just invest 1000 usd and have a good solution just to top off what is working right now (my setup) whenever I really need to (getting lower than 60% SOC, or having spent too many days without it being fully charged)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dadrock33 View Post
unless you put more money into it (and you said you can't do that either!). A small generator is ok and can work for you (with adaptations) but additional solar seems smarter and more viable considering your future plans. Also sounds like you need to buy new AGMs or maybe even carbon foam (since you don't add water often enough and have probably ruined what little life is left in your batts) before you leave your current populous area.
I will put more money into it. Im always putting money into it. There's other stuff that needs attention, and at this point, more attention than being able to use a bit more energy ... like a new dodger because my fabric is already rot. I have a PRETTY complete system mind you. Many people would kill to have the stuff I do (decent solar, good engine with high power alternator (and a backup), DC refrigeration, and a well sized battery bank with inmho the best chemistry price/performance which is flooded)

AGMs are in my opinion a bad choice. More expensive, less durable, little improvement over a good ole bank of T105s which actually work very well. The water thing ... well, it's a learning process. I have learned that if you keep them in low voltage float, that water should last quite a few months. And in that case, that's how often I go back to my beautiful sailboat.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dadrock33 View Post
Are you aware of the "single point of failure" approach to your life on the water? Basically, backups to your backups are what is planned or at least considered. Doesn't sound like your ready to do any of that. Get all that you can (windvane, towed generator, portable generator, wind generator, more solar, larger battery bank of good batts, etc.) so that you HAVE A CHANCE of making it there.
Single point of failure is a powerboat. My sailboat has enough backups. I really don't need a lot. I even consider my sailboat loaded with gadgets! If I do run out of energy and loose all my power on a multiple day passage ... well, I can always navigate by using charts. I actually know how to do that. My celestial is crap. But then again, I can deadreckon my way out of a mess, and eventually I will get to land where I can use my coastal "old school" skills. Worst comes to worst, in an ocean, if you head west or east (unless very low latitudes), eventually you'll hit land!

Have a chance to make it? Ive already made it for several thousand nautical miles. Im just trying to evaluate what further improvements I can do to my system. It's a very functional system mind you. Installing a windvane is not in my plans, I explained why. There's a lot of side-effects to the install, plus an insurmountable upfront cost. You would also be amazed at how straight a good sailboat sails if well balanced (which also helps power consumption and longeivity on the autopilot linear drive). Eventually when I am making ocean crossings, I might consider a windvane. Or if a good offer presents itself. Right now, it's far from a priority for max 5 day passages if anything. From a purist perspective tho ... I WOULD LOVE ONE.

If I follow your rule to get MORE OF EVERYTHING before going anywhere, I'll probably never get anywhere

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dadrock33 View Post
Any AIS, EPIRB, satellite communications equipment? Flares are worthless if there's no one to see them. Really think you need to sit down with an expert and reconsider your options.
Why are you assuming I have nothing of that? I not only have send/receive AIS (which I do mention), EPIRB, SSB with a pactor modem, plus I carry a Garmin InReach. So trust me when I say, I sometimes feel Im over-equipped!

I think my sailboat hits a very good balance. I just need something to make sure my batteries are better kept when away from power. A portable gen seems to me to be the most cost/space/usability effective solution for my particular situation. I was sharing my rationale, which you can agree or not.

Cheers
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Old 03-09-2018, 18:38   #15
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Re: Thoughts about my electrical system (LifePO, Solar, Generator, etc)

It is obvious you have never been around a Superwind 350 wind gen or a D400.

You describe a battery bank and energy sources that will require a serious amount of diesel running to keep in good health. I understand you feel that solar is ugly but are you cruising or in a fashion show? You decide. If you decide fashion show then buy lots of diesel.
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