ELECTRICAL TIPS & TRICKS FOR CRUISING
Courtesy Pacific Yacht Systems
Most boaters have experienced the disappointment of planning a trip only to have it cut short by a system failure. It can be especially frustrating if it is something that could have been prevented with a little maintenance. Over the years, our techs have put together a check list of the most common problems they see when trouble-shooting.
Before you get ready to head out, there are a number of things to look at. Inspect the shorepower cord, are there signs of wear? Next, take a look at the batteries, are the lugs on the battery post tight, make sure the battery cable cannot wiggle. Is there corrosion on the battery posts? Is there liquid on the top of the batteries? Many times this is assumed to be water but it is actually electrolyte seeping from the top of the battery and it is highly corrosive and an indicator that the batteries are over-heating because of over-charging. Another good thing to do before you leave the dock
is to start the generator and/or the inverter and test a few appliances and outlets.
We highly recommend that you put together a complete fuse kit including both glass and blade fuses. Spend the time to go over your boat and make a list of the fuses you are using. Quite often we zap strap or tape an extra fuse in the location of the actual fuse so you don’t have to go hunting for them. It’s much easier to pick up fuses at your favourite marine store than anchored in a desolate bay.
Invest in a good tool kit that includes a quality crimper such as the FTZ Controlled Cycle crimp tool. Many electrical problems start with the connectors, the wires are in a damp environment and are subject to on-going vibration. The secret to a good crimp tool is that it does not pierce the insulation on the wire.
If you don’t have a battery monitor, get one. They are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. Some boaters use an amp meter but they are very different from a battery monitor. Amps are a value like speed (i.e. km/h) but don’t provide you with the distance travelled. As with a car, your speed varies as you drive through a city. Amps only tell you the speed you are going at that moment. The battery monitor tells you the amount of battery capacity you have left.
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR A BATTERY MONITOR, HERE ARE A FEW TIPS:
Watch the percentage discharge indicator.
For lead-acid batteries, charge the batteries when they are half empty (50 percent) to add years to the battery life. Watch the current (amps) indicator for how quickly the batteries are draining. Turn off some equipment if you will run out of power before you want to recharge the batteries. You can also use the current indicator to learn which appliances use the most power as you turn them on.
Check the energy (Amp-hour) meter at least daily, or more often if possible.
Over time you will learn how much energy you use in a day and can give yourself a daily energy budget. This will allow you to plan trips based on equipment you want to use and how often you are running a battery charger or your engine.
It is important that you synchronize the batteries with the battery monitor. This will keep the monitor accurate. Some monitors will do this automatically, but definitely check your manual for how to do this.
Ensure your monitor is properly set up. The battery bank size in amp-hours will need to be programmed, and on some monitors, so will the low battery level alarm. The manual will outline how to program these settings.
When you are using your boat more often, and especially when you are cycling the batteries, you should check the water level in your flooded deep-cycle batteries more frequently than in the off season. You should not need to add distilled water more than once a month and you should never allow the water level to go at or below the plates.
To make the most of the energy going into your batteries, we recommend a 3-phase smart charger. Lead acid batteries (including Gels and AGMS) follow the bulk, absorption and float charge curve. In order to maximize the efficiency of your charging while off the dock, it is advisable to stay within the bulk charge. Which means, you don’t need to charge past 80 to 85 percent unless you have AC shorepower or are underway. These chargers are safe, easy to use and will not overcharge your batteries.
One of the most common service calls we receive during the cruising season is from boaters who are motoring from one destination to another but the batteries are not being charged. How do you know if the alternator is charging the house and starter batteries? The first thing is to look at is voltage on the engine gauge, which should show an increase of volts after the engine is started. Assuming the batteries are not too discharged and you have a good size alternator for your battery bank, you should see a voltage of 13.5 or higher. As with sizing the charger for your batteries, it is also important to match the alternator
to your battery bank size. We see many boaters whose alternators barely keep up with the loads while onboard. In some cases the loads on the batteries exceed the charging capacity of the alternators. Over time the batteries will drain even if the motors are running.
Stephen King has a saying that “There is no harm in hoping for the best as long as you are prepared for the worst”. There is no substitute for regular maintenance to ensure that your cruising season is worry-free.