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Running Vivarium power as a continuous cruiser


Andrew C

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Just put a deposit down on our ex fleet boat and intend to take our tortoise in her vivarium onboard, but need about 200 Watts of heating/lighting power for around 10 hours a day. Would 4 leisure batteries with a 2000w inverter be able to cope. We plan to cruise or at lease run the engine for 3 hours a day to recharge. Am I being naive?Pleade help someone.

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Welcome to the forum.

I also really like tortoises and did investigate what it would take to keep one on board. I decided it wasn't practical. 200W for 10 hours is about 200Ahrs each and every day (assuming `12V electrics) that will need to be replaced. It isn't a matter of how many batteries you have, or how big the inverter is. These 200Ahrs need to be replaced on average each and every day, plus what you are using for everything else electrical, or the batteries will discharge over days and weeks and be wrecked. A typical power consumption for a lived on boat is between 100Ahr and 200Ahr per day, so a vivarium will at least double and possibly triple what you use. By comparison, the heaviest power consumer on many boats is a fridge. This will typically take 50 to 60Ahrs per day, so 200Ahrs is a huge amount.

In summer you could load your boat roof up with solar panels, but in winter the power from them will drop by a factor of ten.

It isn't going to be what you want to hear, but I don't think your tortoise is going to be able to come with you.

Jen

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200w for 10 hours is 2kwh. 2kwh at 12v is around 180 to 200Ah which is the entire usable capacity of 4 leisure batteries in good condition. Making it unfeasible. And you would need to run the engine daily for much more than 3 hours, even if you have a large modern alternator.

 

Are you sure the 200w will be on continuously for 10 hours, or is it on a thermostat? It seems like a lot of heat!

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3 minutes ago, nicknorman said:

Are you sure the 200w will be on continuously for 10 hours, or is it on a thermostat? It seems like a lot of heat!

Good point. If it is thermostatically controlled, then energy each day will go down.

If the OP begs, borrows, or buys an energy monitor, this can be used to find the real kWhrs used per day. Multiply kWhrs by 100 to get an idea of the number of Amp hours each day taken from the batteries.

7 minutes ago, nicknorman said:

200Ah which is the entire usable capacity of 4 leisure batteries in good condition

I missed that. Yes, four of 100Ahr batteries in good nick can only be taken down to around 50% without too much damage, which is around 200Ahrs. This is still a heavy caning of the batteries, but at least won't wreck them in a short time.

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Could you get a custom vivarium made with double glazing panels? Could you insulate the back, sides and top of the vivarium? Either (or both, or a combination) of these would/could cut the power requirement down a lot. A bit vague I know, but I can fully understand the desire to take a much loved pet with you.

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Why does it need to be heated for a tortoise, Mine lived outside all summer and in a hay box in the garage to hibernate in the winter. I have met boaters with tortoises onboard and then put runs out on the towpath for them when they moor up.

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Couldn't you use some kind of hot stone system?  Warm up ceramic bricks (like from an electric storage heater) on your stove and then put them under the vivarium?  Swap over twice a day.  You would want a way of controlling the heat, perhaps with an adjustable venting system which would let more or less heat through from the bricks.

9 minutes ago, ditchcrawler said:

Why does it need to be heated for a tortoise, Mine lived outside all summer and in a hay box in the garage to hibernate in the winter. I have met boaters with tortoises onboard and then put runs out on the towpath for them when they moor up.

Ideal tortoise temperature is 30C.

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2 hours ago, Jen-in-Wellies said:

Are you sure the 200w will be on continuously for 10 hours, or is it on a thermostat? It seems like a lot of heat!

You can't cook those crusty meat pies on too low a heat.

My sister has 'care' of two tortoises which ' belong' to my nephews (they both deny it). The larger one once belonged to my cousin and is well over 70, maybe nearly 100 (a guess). They both hibernate every winter and wander around the garden eating the flowers and vegetables in warmer months. No power generation involved thus far more eco friendly.  

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2 minutes ago, Slim said:

You can't cook those crusty meat pies on too low a heat.

My sister has 'care' of two tortoises which ' belong' to my nephews (they both deny it). The larger one once belonged to my cousin and is well over 70, maybe nearly 100 (a guess). They both hibernate every winter and wander around the garden eating the flowers and vegetables in warmer months. No power generation involved thus far more eco friendly.  

I have been around Tortoises all my early life, say 25 maybe 30 years and this is exactly what my mother did with her three.   All lived and moved to new owners when she had to come to live with us.

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3 hours ago, Jen-in-Wellies said:

Welcome to the forum.

I also really like tortoises and did investigate what it would take to keep one on board. I decided it wasn't practical. 200W for 10 hours is about 200Ahrs each and every day (assuming `12V electrics) that will need to be replaced. It isn't a matter of how many batteries you have, or how big the inverter is. These 200Ahrs need to be replaced on average each and every day, plus what you are using for everything else electrical, or the batteries will discharge over days and weeks and be wrecked. A typical power consumption for a lived on boat is between 100Ahr and 200Ahr per day, so a vivarium will at least double and possibly triple what you use. By comparison, the heaviest power consumer on many boats is a fridge. This will typically take 50 to 60Ahrs per day, so 200Ahrs is a huge amount.

In summer you could load your boat roof up with solar panels, but in winter the power from them will drop by a factor of ten.

It isn't going to be what you want to hear, but I don't think your tortoise is going to be able to come with you.

Jen

O oh. No not what we wanted to hear, but thanks for your shared expertise and honesty. This is a serious problem for us. Yikes. 

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As a relatively new boater myself, I came across the issue of alternator charging power, and it seems like it'll be a key factor in your decision. 

 

I would check the engine documentation and also have a look at the alternator(s), and see if the power stated on it is what it should be (my engine starter alternator was supposed to be 70 amp model, but it was in fact a 50 amp unit when I looked at it). 

In this way you can find out what the maximum charging current is, and unless you have a Bosch (or similar good quality alternator), you can probably count on getting about 60% of the rated current (on a continuous basis). 

 

It looks as if you might need around 180-200 amp hours per day for the tortoise, plus at least 100Ah for the normal liveaboard requirements- so at least 300Ah in total. 

 

If you have an alternator that can safely put out 100 amps (and those are not too common), you could in theory generate your required 300Ah of charge in 3 hours - but what I found with my lead acid batteries was that the charge current dropped over time, and after a couple of hours it might only be half what it was at the start- so the theoretical 3 hours could easily be 5 or 6 hours.   

If you tried that, it would mean a lot more engine running hours and fuel used, and of course more frequent servicing etc. 

If you spent your time in a marina on hookup power it would be much cheaper, but as soon as you got out cruising the challenge would arise again.

 

There will be people who understand these things properly and can explain more clearly what the issues are, but I can say that generating 300Ah each day is a significant task. 

If you invested a couple of thousand quid into an upgrade to a battery and charging system like that of Nick Norman above (with lithium batteries), it would be feasible but would still take up time and fuel. 

 

Also, as Nick said above, that means you need at least 600Ah of battery capacity, because on a day to day basis you dont want to let your lead acid batteries go below 50% state of charge.

 

The day to day hassle could be significant as well. What if you got back late to the boat for some reason, and you felt that you had to run your engine at 8pm or later to keep the tortoise safe? 

I think in Winter you'll have your coal stove going most of the time, so that during the day the saloon will be very warm anyway and the vivarium wont draw much power, so that factor could reduce the real-life needs by maybe 50%- so maybe you would be needing only 200Ah each day, not 300. 

The problem is its very hard to say with any real confidence.  

 

Hopefully the experts here will give you enough information to make an informed decision, but initially it does seem a tall order.

 

 

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Which species of tortoise is it Andrew? Most indoor enclosures I've seen have been massive (8ft x 4ft and above) - they do need a bit of room. I'm not an expert on torts but did keep a variety of other reptiles.

 

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Just now, Andrew C said:

O oh. No not what we wanted to hear, but thanks for your shared expertise and honesty. This is a serious problem for us. Yikes. 

 

It does seem unlikely to me that you'd need 200W on for the whole of ten hours a day. The question that leaps out at me, not yet covered is if they need a 30c environment for ten hours a day, why don't they need it for the remaining 14 hours? Is there scope for negotiation with said tortoise? 

 

A vivarium well insulated on four or five of its faces with a double glazed front seems a good idea, but I guess it still needs the air changes or poor tortoise might suffocate, and the air changes lose heat. 

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3 hours ago, nicknorman said:

200w for 10 hours is 2kwh. 2kwh at 12v is around 180 to 200Ah which is the entire usable capacity of 4 leisure batteries in good condition. Making it unfeasible. And you would need to run the engine daily for much more than 3 hours, even if you have a large modern alternator.

 

Are you sure the 200w will be on continuously for 10 hours, or is it on a thermostat? It seems like a lot of heat!

I hadn't considered the thermostat, and the stove would be kept on during the day, with solar kicking in over the summer. The uv light is a problem as we currently run 100w heater and 100w uv. Might be able to reduce uv but still seems totally impractical. Feeling a bit deflated. Supposed to be paying our deposit today for our boat and dream to retire early. Thanks for your input. 

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6 minutes ago, Andrew C said:

Feeling a bit deflated. Supposed to be paying our deposit today for our boat and dream to retire early. Thanks for your input. 

 

Better to have done some last minute research and fond out now, than find out after you've paid the deposit. Or worse, completed on the whole purchase. 

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5 minutes ago, PCSB said:

Which species of tortoise is it Andrew? Most indoor enclosures I've seen have been massive (8ft x 4ft and above) - they do need a bit of room. I'm not an expert on torts but did keep a variety of other reptiles.

 

It's a Herman. Yes, giving her a decent space is a challenge. We are planning on taking out the second bathroom to extend the saloon to put in a large run and give her the run of the boat for parts of the day and in summer put a run on the roof for sunny days when stationary. She's only a year old and very small at the moment, but that will change. 

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32 minutes ago, Slim said:

You can't cook those crusty meat pies on too low a heat.

My sister has 'care' of two tortoises which ' belong' to my nephews (they both deny it). The larger one once belonged to my cousin and is well over 70, maybe nearly 100 (a guess). They both hibernate every winter and wander around the garden eating the flowers and vegetables in warmer months. No power generation involved thus far more eco friendly.  

About the same age as ours, Dad brought it home when they were clearing bomb damage to rebuild and it was big then, we had it for about 65 years and when mum died it went to a cousin who now has it

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1 hour ago, Ex Brummie said:

What temperature does the vivarium need to maintain? You may find that if you heat the boat with a stove, then the ambient may be sufficient to limit heat input especially if the vivarium is near the stove.

Yes. That might be the way to go. Good advice. Thanks. 

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6 minutes ago, Andrew C said:

It's a Herman. Yes, giving her a decent space is a challenge. We are planning on taking out the second bathroom to extend the saloon to put in a large run and give her the run of the boat for parts of the day and in summer put a run on the roof for sunny days when stationary. She's only a year old and very small at the moment, but that will change. 

I would install some kind of high level run.  Don't underestimate the temperature gradient inside a boat in cooler months.  It's typically a lot colder at floor level.

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16 minutes ago, Andrew C said:

I hadn't considered the thermostat, and the stove would be kept on during the day, with solar kicking in over the summer. The uv light is a problem as we currently run 100w heater and 100w uv. Might be able to reduce uv but still seems totally impractical. Feeling a bit deflated. Supposed to be paying our deposit today for our boat and dream to retire early. Thanks for your input. 

If I was choosing between a tortoise and a boat I know which would win. Find a good home for the tortoise and get a dog

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6 minutes ago, MtB said:

 

Better to have done some last minute research and fond out now, than find out after you've paid the deposit. Or worse, completed on the whole purchase. 

Yes true. Been planning this for 6 months but didn't really consider that continous cruising was that power fragile. A bit silly of me really. My future adventures hang by the fate of a small shelled creature the size of a very small bowl, that we love dearly. 

4 minutes ago, doratheexplorer said:

I would install some kind of high level run.  Don't underestimate the temperature gradient inside a boat in cooler months.  It's typically a lot colder at floor level.

Yes, thanks. We planned on it being raised on storage units. 

4 minutes ago, ditchcrawler said:

If I was choosing between a tortoise and a boat I know which would win. Find a good home for the tortoise and get a dog

Sage words my friend, though I'm allergic to dogs 😊

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Hermann's are a Mediterranean species iirc so need daytime temps of around 30c and nightime between 16 and 18c. They will hibernate (I think, again from memory) but need temps below 10c and this needs to be maintained so possibly not achievable on a boat. Most folk I knew who kept them indoors kept them active all year round. 100w of uvb seems a lot, certainly whilst its smaller a 55w tube and reflector will provide an awful lot of UV (Arcadia do a 12% D3+ tube which is likely the one to go for). Like a lot of reps they use white light to find basking spots so a light would need to be on constant 10hrs so 100w is probably about right. 

 

If the boat will be heated using a stove that could help with daytime temps, you could use a blacklight heat source or a reptile radiator on a thermastat sited next to the white light (which could be LED btw) to maintain a basking temp. Temp gradient in the viv needs tobe there too, so it will need a cool end (low 20s iirc). I used reptile rads to maintain nightime ambients ona stat set just above the minimum required, but I'd expect the latent heat fromthe stove will suffice.

 

Insulation could help, but its important that there is a good airflow otherwise the tort may well get a respiratory problem.

 

Anyway you could add additional batteries and maybe get a small genny - another can of worms but ...

 

Difficult choices Andrew. 

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1 minute ago, Andrew C said:

Yes true. Been planning this for 6 months but didn't really consider that continous cruising was that power fragile. A bit silly of me really. My future adventures hang by the fate of a small shelled creature the size of a very small bowl, that we love dearly. 

Your problem isn't impossible to solve but it won't be cheap, you need an "electric-heavy" boat, almost certainly with a lot of lithium batteries, and the means to provide a *lot* of power to recharge them -- either really big alternators on the engine or a separate generator, and probably as much solar as you can fit, though this is no good in the depths of winter.

 

Getting this fitted to a new boat is expensive to say the least (£10k absolute minimum). Cheaper if you DIY but this needs significant time/effort/expertise, there are people on the forum who have done this and can advise you.

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29 minutes ago, Tony1 said:

 

As a relatively new boater myself, I came across the issue of alternator charging power, and it seems like it'll be a key factor in your decision. 

 

I would check the engine documentation and also have a look at the alternator(s), and see if the power stated on it is what it should be (my engine starter alternator was supposed to be 70 amp model, but it was in fact a 50 amp unit when I looked at it). 

In this way you can find out what the maximum charging current is, and unless you have a Bosch (or similar good quality alternator), you can probably count on getting about 60% of the rated current (on a continuous basis). 

 

It looks as if you might need around 180-200 amp hours per day for the tortoise, plus at least 100Ah for the normal liveaboard requirements- so at least 300Ah in total. 

 

If you have an alternator that can safely put out 100 amps (and those are not too common), you could in theory generate your required 300Ah of charge in 3 hours - but what I found with my lead acid batteries was that the charge current dropped over time, and after a couple of hours it might only be half what it was at the start- so the theoretical 3 hours could easily be 5 or 6 hours.   

If you tried that, it would mean a lot more engine running hours and fuel used, and of course more frequent servicing etc. 

If you spent your time in a marina on hookup power it would be much cheaper, but as soon as you got out cruising the challenge would arise again.

 

There will be people who understand these things properly and can explain more clearly what the issues are, but I can say that generating 300Ah each day is a significant task. 

If you invested a couple of thousand quid into an upgrade to a battery and charging system like that of Nick Norman above (with lithium batteries), it would be feasible but would still take up time and fuel. 

 

Also, as Nick said above, that means you need at least 600Ah of battery capacity, because on a day to day basis you dont want to let your lead acid batteries go below 50% state of charge.

 

The day to day hassle could be significant as well. What if you got back late to the boat for some reason, and you felt that you had to run your engine at 8pm or later to keep the tortoise safe? 

I think in Winter you'll have your coal stove going most of the time, so that during the day the saloon will be very warm anyway and the vivarium wont draw much power, so that factor could reduce the real-life needs by maybe 50%- so maybe you would be needing only 200Ah each day, not 300. 

The problem is its very hard to say with any real confidence.  

 

Hopefully the experts here will give you enough information to make an informed decision, but initially it does seem a tall order.

 

 

Thanks friend. It's beginning to dawn on me that it's just too impractical to even try to take our tortoise on board. Looks like there's going to be upset whatever we choose to do now. Life hey, just when I was trying to escape the rat race and stress of this mad world we live in today, I'm plunged deeper into the mire. Drat and double drat. 

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