GET GENNED UP ON POWER
We look at what generators are available and help you decide which to choose for your boat
Economy model or trusted brand name, small and light or big and chunky? Which generator matches your needs and depth of pocket? James Turner takes a look at what’s available and offers some practical advice
INBOARD OR PORTABLE?
To select the best generator for your needs, it’s best to make a number of choices in a certain order. The first decision is whether to have a portable or built-in one. This is quite straightforward. If you want to run an air conditioner when moored on the cut, buy a built-in, water- cooled diesel one. It costs thousands, rather than hundreds, of pounds, but will hum away for weeks on end providing relatively endless power. The smallest one will deliver 3kW continuous power. If you want to cook electric, you’ll need a bigger one. A number of liveaboard folk are installing DC diesel generators.
For those of us who run neither an air conditioner nor an electric cooker – the majority by far, I suspect – you’ll be better off with a portable petrol-powered generator, but which is the one for you?
Some of the portables shown are the new inverter type. This means the revs are variable, according to the load, so they run more quietly and use less fuel on lighter loads. Honda has the edge on low noise, but you need to hear them side-byside to make your own judgement as to how much difference there is.
The next decision is to settle on what power output you need. Bear in mind at this stage that the name might suggest a power output slightly higher than it actually delivers. A Honda 1000 or Clarke IG1000 will deliver 900W, not 1000W as the name suggests.
Most power tools use only a few hundred Watts, but if you want to charge batteries, you may need a bit more grunt. As a rule, portable generators only have a small DC charging capability (or none) so it’s best to run the AC power from the generator through a battery charger for maximum charging. On Poppy we have a Honda EU10i that delivers around 40 Amps DC charging through the Victron charger/inverter. If we wanted to charge at 60Amps we’d need a larger generator – and charger.
The washing machine is the most power-hungry device likely to be found on most canal boats. While many boats are fitted with 3kW inverters for running the washing machine, it’s not always the best choice, as you are saddled with a much larger inverter than you need for all other applications, which is
consequently less efficient on lower day-to-day loads like a TV. It’s worth looking at a generator that will work in tandem with a combi inverter-charger, where the output of the inverter is added to the output of the generator. This enables you to use a small generator and small inverter to reach a larger combined output. On Poppy we combine the small Honda with a Victron combi invertercharger rated at 1200W, giving a combined output of 2100W. This runs the washing machine on cold wash – which has been fine for the last three years – but if we wanted to do a hot wash, we’d need either a bigger generator or bigger inverter.
If you intend to run a washing machine from a generator alone, you’re more than likely going to need a 3kW generator, though you might get by with 2.5kW.
HANDLING AND STORAGE
If, like us, you are of a certain vintage, it’s unwise to saddle yourself with a heavy portable generator. If you have to lift a generator ashore (it’s more peaceful aboard if the generator is run slightly away from the boat, providing it doesn’t
At £275 this Clarke is not expensive
Honda is small and quiet