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MShea 15-01-2004 15:16

To install a Genset or Upgrade the 12-volt system..?
Forgive me if I'm beating an overused thread subject as I'm new here...but I'm faced with a fork in the road: to install a genset or invest in 12-volt upgrades.

We sail a Morris 40/42 in New England with the usual compliment of electronics and appetite for autopilot, radar, music and DVD's. I hate the sound of running the Yanmar engine simply to charge batteries (presently a separate house bank with 200 amps)and would prefer to keep it off altogether while under sail. When not in motion, we are exclusively on a mooring. Oddly enough, we have no charger/inverter aboard; present charging is through a single alternator for both banks. extend the relative quiet available energy, does it make more sense to 1)
install a small genset and charger/inverter under the cockpit sole...or 2) upgrade the 12-volt system: add 400 amps, dedicated alt, rewire, charger/inverter, monitors, etc.?? We have no intention of ocean crossings so access to diesel isn't an issue. Also, I don't really like the aesthetics of a windvane.

Any ideas? I'm guesstimating a top-quality 12-volt/'self-sufficiency' upgrade could end up costing nearly as much as a genset...the closer the gap, the more the genset intrigues me...

If the genset is the answer, I'm contemplating either a Northern Lights or Fischer Panda.

Thanks in advance for your input!

GordMay 15-01-2004 18:00

If you install a small Genset, without upgrading your Battery Capacity (A/H); you'll have limited ability to use an Inverter.
Install Genset & Smart Charger.
Install Genset & Inverter/Charger & Upgrade Batteries.

Morris yachts have a reputation for excellent build quality & systems, so (unless it's a really older model) you might expect that the existing DC wiring is nearly adequate
[I'm an electrical curmudgeon, so nothing's quite up to my standards IMHO :)]

I prefer Northern Lights over Fisher-Panda - but they're both fine units.

Don't hesitate in further describing your existing installation. Might be able to offer more free advice (worth almost it's cost).


MShea 15-01-2004 21:11

Gord - I've read your other posts and I'm grateful for your reply. The boat is a '99 and identical to their brochure boat ( twin cabins/heads.

If I install an AC genset, I understand the requirement for an inverter/charger (Heart/Xantrex pro-sine or Ample?)and reliable monitor. Reliability and noise quality of the genset is paramount - the FP unit tends to receive polarized feedback and is expensive. The NL seems reputable but maybe noisier. I'm wide open to suggestions here with reliability being #1 and price not a small consideration.

Forgot to mention that I have a Sea Frost, engine driven fridge so it doesn't factor in battery drain. My 'worst case' 24-hour energy audit(including running an Autohelm 7000+ autopilot for 12 hours @6 amps and 18" radar for 10 hours) is 234 amp hours. I know that's nuts.

My problem is that because I sail solo or with non-experienced crew most of the time, I need the autopilot. I also like my loud music during the day while sailing (so don't want engine noise)and DVD's at night while at anchor (so don't want engine noise). Otherwise, I can live with lanterns.

The boat already has a dual DC/AC panel with 30amp AC. House batteries are two gel group 31's, starting battery is a gel 84. Not exactly sure of the alternator amp's but it isn't stock.

The service guys at the yard are pushing me toward AMPLE gear if I increase battery capacity. In which case, they are recommending a dedicated AMPLE alternator (vs. Balmar) for the house (not to exceed 125amps), a separate AMPLE multi-stage regulator and systems monitor, and an AMPLE inverter/charger. I can't argue with the blueprint (I've read Calder's bibles) but I'm clueless on which gear is best. I'd prefer to pay for all of this just ONCE if you know what I mean.

Seems to me, a solid 12-volt system needs some way of non-engine replenishment, be it wind or solar. I'd be open to a solar array on top of my 10x6' bimini but not the wind generator (purely aesthetic concerns).

IF I did have a genset, I suppose I could eventually add a 16k BTU A/C unit to dry the boat out on humid days and provide minimal comfort at night...or (3) units to chill out Manhatten. Maybe even a watermaker for those long gunkholing expeditions.

As a sailor, I feel an obligation toward renewable energy so the 12-volt upgrade seems morally correct. But I'm also a creature of comfort so wouldn't mind virtually unlimited energy in both DC and AC (I enjoy working from the boat too meaning long PC hours). Plus, I have an infant son that I both need to make happy aboard (DVD's, etc.) and teach proper sailing zen.

Sooo, Master?

GordMay 16-01-2004 02:57


If you install an AC Genset, you do not necessarily need an inverter. The AC Generator can directly serve your 120VAC demand. The Inverter is only utilized to convert 12VDC Battery power to 120VAC Domestic power. If you select a DC Genset, then an Inverter is advised.

I prefer Northern Light Generators for the reasons you stated, and more such as:
parts & service in North America, my familiarity /w them (subjective), etc.

Generators are noisy. The various manufacturers should offer specifications, for each model, such as:
‘xx’ dB @ ‘zz’ meters (away). N'L #M673D (5kW) c/w Sound Shieldmeasures @ 67.7 dB @ 1 meter (w/o shield 81.6 dB).
Decibels (dB) are a logarithmic unit of sound, meaning a doubling of dB is a quadrupling of noise.
70 - 80dB is considered "loud" (normal street noise) while 45 - 60 dB is considered "moderate" (normall close conversation)

Your “Sea-Frost” engine-driven refrigeration might be an important factor in this decision (Gen’ vs Batteries etc). Unless this unit can be (practically) converted to electrical operation, you have to run your prime mover (engine) to operate the fridge.
This would argue in favour of upgrading your Alternator, Batteries, and adding an Inverter/Charger. Your custom of using the Autopilot (and perhaps the Radar) a lot, also supports a bigger Battery Bank & recharge capability. (Ie: You don’t really want to run a Generator while underway)

You’re right, it’s nice to have an independent means of re-charging your batteries - such as Solar Panels. You might be able to cram as much as 400 Watts of Solar (PV) Cells onto your 10' x 6' Bimini. They could be expected to provide (perhaps) 50 to 60 A/H of usable power per day, under typical real-life conditions.

Your (2) Group 31 house Batteries might provide as much 100 Amp/Hours of useful power (depleted over 24 hours), but most of your usage will occur over 12 hours - so you’ll get less (say 70 A/H).

Your yard service guys may be on the right track, in advising a DC System upgrade.

Ample Power make high-end equipment; and though “self-interested”, they are very helpful. I’m more familiar with Balmar (which is why I prefer their stuff), also make excellent gear. I really like the “Pro-Sine” inverter/chargers (& charger only) from Xantrex.

I understand, tho’ don’t necessarily agree with, the yard’s reluctance to exceed 125A Alternator output . It’s not an arbitrary maximum, and there are good reasons for the limitation, but they don’t always apply.

May I suppose that, the (more) ideal system, of both a Generator & a Battery System upgrade, would be a prohibitive expense?

Lots of good info' & opinion on the web. Check out Ample Power, Balmar, and "Google" for many others.
Check out the links that Chuck provided under the "Aux charger" thread.


MShea 16-01-2004 09:58

Gord - I'll get two quotes and go from there. The delta between them will likely dictate the direction. But thanks for the endorsements on the NL and AMPLE gear.

Yes, having both would be nirvana. Perhaps doing the 12-volt 'right', combined with the engine time needed anyway to keep the fridge cold and get me into clean air will keep a sufficient supply of juice with just a dose of discipline. Adding some engine/exhaust insulation won't hurt either. On that note, at least the genset would be under the cockpit and not in the main salon.

Is there a particular model NL that stands out?

Pblais 16-01-2004 13:50

One thing I'm in the process of adding is a Xantrex Battery monitor. It's nice to know accurately how much power is left in the bank. It's the best way to also dertermine if your bank is big enough. Knowing how low you go and how fast lets you budget the power you have and you'll soon know if it's even possible to do what you want. I added a one bank version for very cheap. The two and three nbank versions get a bit more expensive, but still it's the real way to manage power.

I would stretch the batteries as far as they seem to want to go before adding a genset. If in the end you need it you'll know.

AnchorageGuy 16-01-2004 14:40

MShea, Noticed you mentioned Fischer Panda. If you do some serious research you might find lots of negatives here. I know of four previous owners that finally scrapped their units and will never go back. Many other boards are also full of FP problems. Good luck. I am currently revamping my system. Have decided on a combo of solar panels, wind generator, DC genset and inverter to run the AC units. All my numbers work. Have run with just solar and wind in the past but the boat is getting too many toys.

GordMay 17-01-2004 01:34

A few things I neglected to mention before:

- PTO’s: Many Generators have a Power Take-Off option, which might be used to drive your SeaFrost fridge.

- RPM: Northern Lights standard units run @ 1800 RPM, whereas Fischer-Panda run @ 3600. Lower speed is better.

- As Chuck noted, F-P has been “trashed” on a lot of recent forums (I haven’t followed the storey, so can’t offer details) - see below

- Chuck aslso mentioned DC Gensets. They are less expensive than AC units, so might be worth looking at, in combination with the total DC Battery (etc) upgrade (a 3rd Delta).

Fischer Panda Sucks:
" I am happy to announce that I have reached a mutually agreeable settlement with Fischer Panda regarding issues that I have had with my 4.2 kW generator. Per the terms of the agreement I am required to shut down the Fischer Panda Owner's Forum located at . I will do this on December 28, 2003.

I would like to thank all of the participants of the group. There have been about 2000 visitors to the site and 86 posts in 29 topics. Quite a bit of good information was posted, and I would like to suggest to Fischer Panda that they consider creating their own forum.

I'm about to head off to the South Pacific to begin a circumnavigation, but I can still be reached by e-mail.

Here's wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season and a Great New Year!

-- Geoff Schultz "


MShea 17-01-2004 20:28

All very good suggestions.

I have read with objectivity the F-P slams elsewhere. Given apples-apples in dimension and noise, I'd probably lean toward a Northern Light AC unit (Westerbeke?) for the greater reliability, lower RPM's and aparently, MUCH lower cost. If it could drive my Sea Frost, all the better.

However, after reading the 'AUX' post below mine, I too am now curious about the merit of a lower-cost DC genset. After all, unless I need climate control (A/C), my AC loads are minimal to virtually non-existant and could be serviced adaquately by an inverter. But is that a 'penny wise and dollar foolish' (resale) route if the cost of an AC unit isn't much more expensive?

In either case, it sounds like an increase in battery capacity is wise. The genset may need to run longer to recharge but wouldn't cycle on/off so frequently.

FYI - I've sent a request to AMPLE to help me design the optimum solution from their perspective. I'll post their response.

BC Mike 17-01-2004 21:30

" Living on 12 volts " by David Smead is well worth the $$. He talks about inverters and everything else we need to know.
BC Mike C

MShea 18-01-2004 06:37

As promised - here is AMPLE's response to my inquiry for their recommendation:


We'd agree that with an engine drive refrigeration system, 234 Ah per
day of consumption is not reasonable. More than likely your consumption
is under 100 Ah per day. Which leads to the answer to your next
question, which component to start with. You first want to install the
Energy Monitor/Controller and determine exactly what your consumption
is. With that hard data we can determine what should be done next.

The yard is correct to recommend a high output alternator, and one will
be needed eventually, along with a Smart Alternator Regulator. But with
data from the Energy Monitor/Controller we can decide how big the house
bank should be, and that in turn will give us the information to choose
a matching alternator.

Hope this helps.


Ample Power Support

MS editorial: Logical and pragmatic response....I hear there are important nuances between the AMPLE and Xantrex gear...anyone have hard examples?

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