Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS BY JAMES TURNER

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


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.


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

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