Amped Up – How We Charge Our Boat Batteries
Living off the grid on a sailboat is all about managing resources. And so many of our resources need electricity (like our watermaker). We’ve talked about the importance of investing in good batteries and our choice of battery. Now, we’re sharing the different ways we charge our lithium batteries.
Our power needs are what plenty of sailors would call extreme. But, hey, to each their own. Living off the grid isn’t a competition of who has the least or the most. We all go about it a little differently. That’s the beauty of the sailing lifestyle, it’s customizable. Our wants and needs are just that, ours. What works best for you might be way less or perhaps even more.
Our first experience with a traveling home was an old VW Vanagon. We loved our dusty, 80’s gold camper (even honeymooned in it) but the engine battery was our only source of power. It couldn’t handle much. Leave a cell phone plugged in overnight and we would need a jump by morning. But, roaming around the southern states in that VW is what sparked the idea of full-time travel.
Fast forward eight years, a few roaming homes and multiple power setups later, man have things changed. Now we have a sailboat that could power a small village. Ok, maybe not, but it is pretty amazing what we can do while floating in the middle of the ocean.
We’ve had a ton of trial and error with our electrical setups. One BIG thing we’ve learned: options are good, especially when it comes to charging batteries.
Batteries are like the fuel tank in a car. We can only cruise around so long before the tank is empty. At some point, we need to fill it back up. Plus, batteries are the heart of our systems. The battery bank pumps life into all the other electrical bits of our sailboat.
We’re not experts by any stretch of the imagination, but we know what works for us. Perhaps seeing our set up, and each of our charging methods will spark some ideas for you.
We could go cross-eyed analyzing different manufacturer specs and guessing how each device would perform in “real-world” use. It still blows me away that our 80a alternators would take so long to charge up our batteries…but that said, a lot of sailors rely solely on their engines for charging. It’s all relative to the battery bank and how much power you need. If you have a small sailboat with a 100ah battery you probably don’t need much. But, if you have a big boat and want to live like you’re on the grid, even when you’re not, you’ll need some beefy upgrades.
Overall, we’re smitten with what our system is capable of and how little we run our generator. It blows me away how long we could stay out to sea before needing to come to land. If we were willing to only eat beans, rice, and fish…we might go a year before coming ashore (but let’s not test that theory). Here’s our off-grid system aboard Curiosity.
Our #1 recommended upgrade on any off-grid home is Lithium Batteries.
Batteries supply our power for everything and are the heart of all of our electrical needs in the kitchen and throughout the vessel. The absolute best battery option available is lithium.
We have four Relion 12V 300AH batteries for a total of 1200AH. They have been going strong now for almost five years.
Discount! Relion is offering 5% off to all GWTW Fans! Just click the link and it will be automatically applied at checkout.
Relion Lithium Batteries: http://bit.ly/RelionLithium
We have 1400 watts of solar.
Solar Arch & Dinghy Davits
We get asked a lot about our solar arch and davit system. We decided on this setup because it solved a host of issues.
- The arch sets our panels up for maximum sun exposure and minimal shading from the lines, rigging and sails. Turns out this is far more important than we expected.
- Series vs Parallel: gonewiththewynns.com/Sailboat-Solar-Series-Parallel-Shading
- The davit system from the factory suspended the dinghy to low and left it susceptible to damage from waves. Our new davit system not only holds our solar panels but it gets our dinghy up 5 feet higher which makes sailing in heavy seas much safer for us and the dinghy.
- By extending the panels out past the hardtop, we have an extra shade that helps extend the life of our dinghy and our skin.
The system was designed and custom-built by Just Catamarans. Its made with heavy-duty stainless steel to survive years of off-shore sailing. It was an expensive upgrade as the custom stainless work alone set us back $12K and a few weeks. It wasn’t an easy one to fork over the money, but it’s one we are happy we bit the bullet on. Plus, it’s an investment that adds to the overall value of the boat…or at least that’s what Kent told us to ease the pain.
We’re using a GoPower! 2000 watt pure sine inverter/charger.
It’s affordable and simple to use. We don’t have all the fancy features, or iPhone apps, that you find with a Victron, but sometimes simple can be best and more affordable. I would have installed the 3000-watt inverter/charger but it wasn’t available yet.
A few specs:
- 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter with built-in 100 amp charger and dual 50 amp transfer switch, plus digital display remote and temperature sensor
- The easiest installation on the market, and our first inverter charger with dual 50 amp pass-through
- Power share to add an extra 2000 watts of power to your generator
- UL458 and UL1741 certified
- 3-year warranty
Battery Monitor Kit
We decided to go with this very affordable Xantrex link pro: https://amzn.to/3rcLOF3
- Link lite Battery monitor
- Displays time remaining
- Communication/expansion port
- Stores a wide range of history events in internal memory
- Advanced programmable alarm Relay
Our catamaran has the factory upgraded Yanmar 39hp engines with the standard 80a alternator. We’d love to upgrade the alternators in the future. We couldn’t spring for it when we were in Florida and it wasn’t a service priority.
Our sailboat came with a Northern Lights 6kw generator in the port lazarette. It’s relatively quiet, works well, and is considered the industry standard for most cruisers. That said, it’s big, heavy and expensive! We’re looking into smaller, lighter and more efficient options for the future.
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