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Best electrical setup?


Jay88
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Hi,

We have just bought our first narrowboat and have a few questions IRT the electrical system. We bought the boat with the intention of only using it for about a month per year for the next 5 years until we fully retire and then live aboard permanently as CC. Current setup is as follows (installed new in 2008, so all about 10-12 years old)

 

Isuzu 42 with two alternators (80 AMP)

Sterling Alternator to Battery charger

Sterling Battery charger (plugs into wall socket when on shore power)

Sterling Battery to Battery charger

Sterling 3000W Inverter (seems to use a bit of power from the batteries)

Sterling Battery Management system

Fridge – 12v

Washing machine, dryer (only used on shore power by previous owner) and freezer - AC

6 x domestic battery bank (5 years old)

1 x starter battery

2 x bow thruster batteries

 

On the first day we collected the boat we had the alternator alarm sound after start up and after calling in an electrician, it was discovered the Alternator to Battery charger was faulty and as we had to move the boat that day he ‘bypassed’ the unit meaning that the domestic bank was only being charged by 1 x alternator. On our first night after cruising for about 6 hrs, the battery management system had the batteries in the 13s and as ‘fully charged’, but after about 2 hours use (TV, lights, pumps NO washing machine, dryer- high draw items) the inverter alarm sounded and we noted that the batteries were in the low 11s. We turned the inverter off and after cruising the next day for about 8hrs the same thing happened again that night. After ringing the previous owner and surveyor it appears the domestic batteries are on the way out.

So from here the questions I have are:

 

Given our current situation, what would be the best set up if we wish to use the dryer (about 1.5kw) and freezer whilst CC without regular access to shore power?

 

Obviously, the dryer draws a lot of current, so would we simply use it through the inverter with the engine running? Would the 2 x 80 AMP alternators cope? If we decide to run the dryer in this way, do we make sure the domestic battery bank is fully charged prior? In order to get the domestic battery bank up to charge quickly, do we replace the old model Sterling Alt-Batt charger with an updated model? Is there a better make that people can recommend? The mariner where the boat currently sits recommends Adverc over Sterling, thoughts? Also are we better off replacing the current 6 x domestic batteries with another set of lead acids?

 

Or are we betting getting off getting a small petrol generator to run our high load items whilst we’re off shore power? If so, does the generator plug into the boats shore power connection (so we then turn the electric supply from Inverter to Shore Power) or do we plug in the Sterling Battery Charger to the generator to charge the batteries and use the dryer through the inverter? It would seem that plugging the generator to the shore power connection would make more sense but I’m not sure about any potential sine wave/earthing issues.  Any recommendations? Something above 2kw?

 

Finally, as we have the boat on hardstand for 11 months each year, we are thinking of installing a small solar panel to keep the batteries topped up. However, we thought we may as well get a decent system to help charge the batteries whilst we’re cruising. For aesthetics, we would only be interested in the flexible units and can install a number across the roof. Any recommendations?

At this stage we have not yet conducted a detailed power audit, but (apart from the dryer) normally at night we just watch TV, have a few LED lights on, fridge on DC, freezer on AC and maybe charge the phone or laptop, as well the normal water pumps for showering etc. We understand the previous owner used to turn the freezer off last thing at night and all food products still be fine in the morning.

 

Apologies for the long post but look forward to any advice and recommendations. When we do eventually CC, we would like to relatively self-sufficient power wise and not rely on access to shore power especially in winter to power all our electrical items (not all at the same time...)

 

Many thanks!

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Blimey, in short how much do you want to spend??????? You need new batteries cheapo sealed are my faves. I would deffo bin the Stirling stuff and replace with mastervolt which is way better consumption wise. With that engine fitted I would have a Travel power added, its a straightforward fit and is a fantastic bit of kit at the top of our list when boat buying. We never turn our mains appliances off overnight when out on the cut without shore power and run without problem off 4 leisure batteries.

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Just a couple of quick observations :

 

1) Your dryer will draw about 150 amps so your 2x 80amp alternators would just about cope if they are running all-out. An alternator tends to give it maximum out put at around 6000 rpm. Do you have an DC Clamp meter ? If so you can test what your alternators are actually achieving (I doubt it will be 80 amps).

 

2) With a petrol generator you need to a) Store the generator, b ) store the fuel. You cannot (should not) store it in-board and it should have its own storage locker built to the same specifications as your gas locker. Do not run the generator onboard, lift it off and run it on the bankside (down wind of the boat)

 

3) Solar will do nothing to support you CCing in the Winter.

 

4) There is a hierarchy of 'quality' for electrical equipment. At the bottom of the list is "Cheap Chinese off Ebay", then Sterling, then Victron with Mastervolt at the top of the list.

 

The best (but expensive) way is to have a Diesel cacooned silent generator fitted, this will meet all your mains needs. Cost about £7,000-£10,000 (installed)

Edited by Alan de Enfield
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Thanks for the answers so far.

 

If we did buy a Travel Power pack, how would it be installed? Do we need another alt-batt charger? Will it provide AC power to the entire boat so it would then power the battery charger to charge the batteries? If so, what are the 2 x 80AMP alternators charging?

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12 minutes ago, Jay88 said:

Thanks for the answers so far.

 

If we did buy a Travel Power pack, how would it be installed? Do we need another alt-batt charger? Will it provide AC power to the entire boat so it would then power the battery charger to charge the batteries? If so, what are the 2 x 80AMP alternators charging?

I would guess that the alternaters are one charging the domestic bank and one charging starter, unless they have been combined. Travel power are awesome they run off your isuzu. There is a large alternater looking thingie that runs through a magic box and gives you pure sine throughout the boat whilst engine is running, there is a kit for the isuzu so no problem. Not only can you do washing machine etc whilst cruising or running engine the other major benefit is that all the charging from your 12 volt altenaters/s is used to fill batteries rather than run electrical appliances. Best bit of kit we have ever had on two of our boats. I know a chap who can supply and fit the whole thing for you if you wanted.

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22 minutes ago, Jay88 said:

Do we need another alt-batt charger?

 

The travel power is basically anther alternator but it outputs 230v instead of 12v. A 'magic black box' sorts it all out and it ends up just like a normal; 'ring main' at home.

The only downside is that it only works when the engine is running.

 

s-l1600.jpg

 

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Letrika-230v-Ac-Alternator-Dometic-Travel-Power-/323815853146?_trksid=p2385738.m4383.l4275.c10

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If you want to have a summer holiday, and have eleven months on the hard, forget purchasing until you retire, savings are tremendous. When you retire , the novelty might have worn off.

 

Too late, seems you have bought one ...........

Just potter about with DIY, and see how things  develop in next five years. The waterways may be a very different beast.

Where I am  the marina charges the same on the hard as in the marina.

Don't spend money until you need to ......... 

I use the marina laundrette, £5.00 per week.

My new [essential upgrade], electrics/electronic kit cost about £600, batteries £600, labour ........... maybe £500. Very low electrical usage.

Essential decorations inside £500, [two months part time].

Essential decorations outside £500, [two months part time].

I expect to spend £2k on changing sfstove.

I would like to spend £2k -£5k on internal decor. Essential spend £1k

If you want all the convenience of land living, why not buy a widebeam and base yourself in a marina? 

Edited by LadyG
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4 hours ago, Alan de Enfield said:

 

 

4) There is a hierarchy of 'quality' for electrical equipment. At the bottom of the list is "Cheap Chinese off Ebay", then Sterling, then Victron with Mastervolt at the top of the list.

 

 

when I was equipping my canal boat Sterling was cheap chinese off ebay but with badges.  Seemed to work just as well for half the price.  I don't know what benefit the badges provided 'cos Mr Sterling didn't really do customer service.

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5 hours ago, Jay88 said:

Hi,

We have just bought our first narrowboat and have a few questions IRT the electrical system. We bought the boat with the intention of only using it for about a month per year for the next 5 years until we fully retire and then live aboard permanently as CC. Current setup is as follows (installed new in 2008, so all about 10-12 years old)

 

Isuzu 42 with two alternators (80 AMP)

Sterling Alternator to Battery charger

Sterling Battery charger (plugs into wall socket when on shore power)

Sterling Battery to Battery charger

Sterling 3000W Inverter (seems to use a bit of power from the batteries)

Sterling Battery Management system

Fridge – 12v

Washing machine, dryer (only used on shore power by previous owner) and freezer - AC

6 x domestic battery bank (5 years old)

1 x starter battery

2 x bow thruster batteries

 

On the first day we collected the boat we had the alternator alarm sound after start up and after calling in an electrician, it was discovered the Alternator to Battery charger was faulty and as we had to move the boat that day he ‘bypassed’ the unit meaning that the domestic bank was only being charged by 1 x alternator. On our first night after cruising for about 6 hrs, the battery management system had the batteries in the 13s and as ‘fully charged’, but after about 2 hours use (TV, lights, pumps NO washing machine, dryer- high draw items) the inverter alarm sounded and we noted that the batteries were in the low 11s. We turned the inverter off and after cruising the next day for about 8hrs the same thing happened again that night. After ringing the previous owner and surveyor it appears the domestic batteries are on the way out.

So from here the questions I have are:

 

Given our current situation, what would be the best set up if we wish to use the dryer (about 1.5kw) and freezer whilst CC without regular access to shore power?

 

Obviously, the dryer draws a lot of current, so would we simply use it through the inverter with the engine running? Would the 2 x 80 AMP alternators cope? If we decide to run the dryer in this way, do we make sure the domestic battery bank is fully charged prior? In order to get the domestic battery bank up to charge quickly, do we replace the old model Sterling Alt-Batt charger with an updated model? Is there a better make that people can recommend? The mariner where the boat currently sits recommends Adverc over Sterling, thoughts? Also are we better off replacing the current 6 x domestic batteries with another set of lead acids?

 

Or are we betting getting off getting a small petrol generator to run our high load items whilst we’re off shore power? If so, does the generator plug into the boats shore power connection (so we then turn the electric supply from Inverter to Shore Power) or do we plug in the Sterling Battery Charger to the generator to charge the batteries and use the dryer through the inverter? It would seem that plugging the generator to the shore power connection would make more sense but I’m not sure about any potential sine wave/earthing issues.  Any recommendations? Something above 2kw?

 

Finally, as we have the boat on hardstand for 11 months each year, we are thinking of installing a small solar panel to keep the batteries topped up. However, we thought we may as well get a decent system to help charge the batteries whilst we’re cruising. For aesthetics, we would only be interested in the flexible units and can install a number across the roof. Any recommendations?

At this stage we have not yet conducted a detailed power audit, but (apart from the dryer) normally at night we just watch TV, have a few LED lights on, fridge on DC, freezer on AC and maybe charge the phone or laptop, as well the normal water pumps for showering etc. We understand the previous owner used to turn the freezer off last thing at night and all food products still be fine in the morning.

 

Apologies for the long post but look forward to any advice and recommendations. When we do eventually CC, we would like to relatively self-sufficient power wise and not rely on access to shore power especially in winter to power all our electrical items (not all at the same time...)

 

Many thanks!

Sterling inverters are renowned for using a lot of power just idling, compared to Mastervolt (the best) or Victron ( second best). If you have stuff that has to be on 24/7 I would recommend splashing out on a Mastervolt inverter.

 

Obviously you want to get both alternators working. These sorts of alternators are generally vehicle types and as such not designed to run at high power for long periods - they overheat. If you only have one working, obviously it will be working a lot harder than if you had that work shared between 2. Only saving grace is that the A2B or Adverc things seem to have an temperature sensor to go on the alternator so they can reduce the alternator load if it gets too hot.

 

Yes it sounds like your domestic batteries have had it, but also be advised that an electric fridge uses perhaps 30AH between  stopping the engine in the afternoon and starting the next morning, and if you have a freezer too, that is doubled. So the combination of these two probably accounts for most of your power drain, along with the rather inefficient Sterling inverter. Perhaps in the short term you should consider switching off the freezer? Do you really need it at this time of year? Depending on how the freezer is installed it may be rather inefficient - some freezers get installed with inadequate ventilation so they are trying to pump heat into already rather warm surroundings. Improving ventilation may (if it is inadequate) make the freezer use less power.

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5 hours ago, Jay88 said:

Thanks for the answers so far.

 

If we did buy a Travel Power pack, how would it be installed? Do we need another alt-batt charger? Will it provide AC power to the entire boat so it would then power the battery charger to charge the batteries? If so, what are the 2 x 80AMP alternators charging?

I think it is a fairly big job to install a Travelpower. Normally they are installed before the engine is delivered - you need the right brackets and pulleys. Probably not impossible, but difficult. Which is a shame because they are great for running the washing machine / tumble drier.

 

Yes it would normally be installed to power the whole boat - there would be a changeover switch to select between inverter or travelpower or shore power (we have an automatic changeover between shore and travelpower, but it can be done manually too.

 

Your battery charger may currently be wired only to the shore power inlet - obviously you don’t want the inverter supplying the battery charger! But you would just install the travelpower so that it effectively feeds via the shore supply (with an appropriate changeover switch). It would then run the charger, if it was switched on.

 

With the charger powered by the travelpower (or the shore power of course) when you start the engine it the charger and alternators are in parallel each capable of charging the batteries. It will come down to the regulated voltage of the charger vs the alternators as to which provides the most current. As the batteries become well charged probably one of those will deliver all the current whilst the other idles. It doesn’t really matter, they will look after themselves.

 

But unfortunately I think you are going to find it difficult to retrofit a travelpower to the engine.

 

Once you are live aboard, I would strongly recommend getting a decent solar system. Solar is capable of meeting all your routine needs for most of the summer - saves endless engine running when you are tied up for a few days.

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You say your voltage went from fully charged to 11v ish in 2hrs? First of replace your batteries. 

The AtoB will do all sorts of stuff like sound alarms on the ignition panel ( I have one) if the voltages are low, which they would have been on start up. How good was your engineer - did he know about these AtoBs? I've had an engineer say mine was bad  when investigating an alternator problem last year when it clearly was fine. Get new batteries first and then you can see if the are problems with the rest of the Sterling kit. 

You start by saying the alternator alarm went off and that was the reason for calling out the engineer. What alarm was it?

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Thanks again for all the responses.

 

From here I think the best way to go will be:

- Get 6 x new domestic batteries (std wet lead acid)

- Once installed double check the A-B charger is working or not

- Do a detailed power audit

- Look at getting a TP which will power our high load electrical items whilst off shore power with the engine running

- As the current sterling battery charger is 30A, instead of charging the batteries when the TP is operating through the Battery charger, use the 2 x 80A alternators due to higher rating which raises the following:

- Question: if the a-B is broken, is it still a good option to install a new A-B charger to help charge the batteries quicker? I checked out the Mastervolt (Alpha Pro III) but it appears it only connects to 1 x alt not 2 like the current sterling A-B charger and doesn't do multiple battery banks?? The Adverc version is adaptable for 2 x alt but I'm unsure if it can do multiple battery banks...

- Will investigate solar options further.

-

Mr Smelly - would appreciate any info on your chap who can supply and fit the TP.

 

Thanks again for all the info, slowly getting my head around it all.....

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5 minutes ago, Jay88 said:

Thanks again for all the responses.

 

From here I think the best way to go will be:

- Get 6 x new domestic batteries (std wet lead acid)

- Once installed double check the A-B charger is working or not

- Do a detailed power audit

- Look at getting a TP which will power our high load electrical items whilst off shore power with the engine running

- As the current sterling battery charger is 30A, instead of charging the batteries when the TP is operating through the Battery charger, use the 2 x 80A alternators due to higher rating which raises the following:

- Question: if the a-B is broken, is it still a good option to install a new A-B charger to help charge the batteries quicker? I checked out the Mastervolt (Alpha Pro III) but it appears it only connects to 1 x alt not 2 like the current sterling A-B charger and doesn't do multiple battery banks?? The Adverc version is adaptable for 2 x alt but I'm unsure if it can do multiple battery banks...

- Will investigate solar options further.

-

Mr Smelly - would appreciate any info on your chap who can supply and fit the TP.

 

Thanks again for all the info, slowly getting my head around it all.....

I will PM you.

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30 minutes ago, Jay88 said:

Thanks again for all the responses.

 

From here I think the best way to go will be:

- Get 6 x new domestic batteries (std wet lead acid)

- Once installed double check the A-B charger is working or not

- Do a detailed power audit

- Look at getting a TP which will power our high load electrical items whilst off shore power with the engine running

- As the current sterling battery charger is 30A, instead of charging the batteries when the TP is operating through the Battery charger, use the 2 x 80A alternators due to higher rating which raises the following:

- Question: if the a-B is broken, is it still a good option to install a new A-B charger to help charge the batteries quicker? I checked out the Mastervolt (Alpha Pro III) but it appears it only connects to 1 x alt not 2 like the current sterling A-B charger and doesn't do multiple battery banks?? The Adverc version is adaptable for 2 x alt but I'm unsure if it can do multiple battery banks...

- Will investigate solar options further.

-

Mr Smelly - would appreciate any info on your chap who can supply and fit the TP.

 

Thanks again for all the info, slowly getting my head around it all.....

Before getting new batteries, ensure you have means to charge them properly! Otherwise you can kill them quick!

 

Not sure an AtoB is really necessary. It adds complexity (hence affects reliability) and despite what the sales blurb says, doesn’t speed charging much if you have modern alternators. You will need a split charge relay or VSR to connect engine and domestic batteries together when charging with the engine, and disconnect when stopped.

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Not sure if out current 12 year old 80AMP alternators are 'modern'? Does the sterling AtoB charger act as a split charge relay or VSR? Maybe easiest/simplest solution is to have sterling look at the old unit to see what's wrong and if completely u/s, may replace with another unit. As the boat is already kitted out with sterling this may be a viable option as mixing other brands may cause incompatibility issues?

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54 minutes ago, Jay88 said:

Not sure if out current 12 year old 80AMP alternators are 'modern'? Does the sterling AtoB charger act as a split charge relay or VSR? Maybe easiest/simplest solution is to have sterling look at the old unit to see what's wrong and if completely u/s, may replace with another unit. As the boat is already kitted out with sterling this may be a viable option as mixing other brands may cause incompatibility issues?

Sterling's A to B was designed for folks wh just didn't want to fiddle around with taking an internal tap from the alternator - the web site says as much.

IME having two alternators won't achieve much unless the gearing is identical and that's difficult to achieve with some aluminium pulley rigs.

Similarly having three alternators can be difficult to acommodate on any modern  engine.

Been there and done it at some cost...

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59 minutes ago, Jay88 said:

Not sure if out current 12 year old 80AMP alternators are 'modern'? Does the sterling AtoB charger act as a split charge relay or VSR? Maybe easiest/simplest solution is to have sterling look at the old unit to see what's wrong and if completely u/s, may replace with another unit. As the boat is already kitted out with sterling this may be a viable option as mixing other brands may cause incompatibility issues?

“Modern” or not is to do with the regulated voltage. Older (very old) alternators regulated below 14v and this meant a very long time to reach fully charged. Modern alternators, ie those designed and built within the last 30 years or so, tend to have a regulated voltage of 14.4v or a bit more. For these, the Sterling won’t give much charge time advantage.

 

Im not that familiar with the A2B but presumably it copes with 2 sets of batteries ie engine and domestic? In which case yes it will have the effective functionality of a spilt charge relay/VSR.

 

There should not be any compatibility issues unless you have a very clever system where the different units talk to each other over CANBUS or equivalent. As far as I’m aware, no Sterling devices do this, only Mastervolt and Victron, and in any case few people make use of it.

2 minutes ago, OldGoat said:

Sterling's A to B was designed for folks wh just didn't want to fiddle around with taking an internal tap from the alternator - the web site says as much.

IME having two alternators won't achieve much unless the gearing is identical and that's difficult to achieve with some aluminium pulley rigs.

Similarly having three alternators can be difficult to acommodate on any modern  engine.

Been there and done it at some cost...

The gearing for 2 alternators doesn’t have to be identical, although obviously it’s helpful if they are similar. The OP’s engine comes with this as standard so IMO not helpful to cast doubt on this well proven system.
 

Our Beta 43 has 3 alternators, as do any others with a Travelpower fitted. But I agree that accommodating as a retrofit might be a bit difficult - the 2 existing alternators might need to be repositioned.

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3 hours ago, Jay88 said:

- Question: if the a-B is broken, is it still a good option to install a new A-B charger to help charge the batteries quicker?

I have the AtoB. They are not much use for charging speed if your domestic alternator is good. Yes, it puts the two alternators together but once you are over 80% full, your batteries will dictate the amount of current going in so likely two alternators will be no faster than one. Also if one alternator is giving a higher voltage than the other, the higher voltage one will provide all the current to the AtoB and the other will do nothing. In my system I have a 50A engine battery alternator that puts out 14.3V and the domestic 90A putting out 13.9V. When both are connected the 50A will be running full blast with the 90A giving nothing. I rang Sterling and they told me it would only work with 2 alternators the same!!! DUH!!! They dont say that in the advertising bulls**t.

The main use for an AtoB is if your alternator doesnt put out over 14.0 volts as with some automotive type alternators . This is the second boat I have had with 13.9V max. The AtoB takes the voltage up to 14.4V so charges the batteries well. In that respect it works very very well.

If you still have contact with the original owner, ask why the AtoB was fitted. If you get 14.4V without it then I wouldnt bother using it.

HOWEVER, dont throw it away as it may be very useful if you get LiFePO4s in the future! I'll buy it for a tenner if you dont want it!

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