WakeSpeed WS500—Best Alternator Regulator for Lead Acid¹ and Lithium Batteries

Parameter entry and result screen from the new Wakespeed WS500 configuration app.

¹Many people take lead acid to mean liquid filled but, in fact, the term covers AGM, gel, carbon-foam, and liquid filled, which all use fundamentally the same chemistry.

Just over a year ago I wrote a chapter in our Online Book on Electrical Systems For Cruising Boats on the then new Wakespeed WS500 and how excited I was that we cruisers finally had a regulator available that actually knew the state of charge by measuring the actual current (amperage) going into the battery, rather than guessing, like every so-called "smart regulator" has for the last two decades (since the Link 2000R went out of production).

After I wrote that piece the guys at Wakespeed were kind enough to send me a WS500 for evaluation, but since we were selling our McCurdy and Rhodes 56, there was not a lot of point in installing the regulator on her, so it sat in a box in our basement for the last year.

But now I'm in the throes of designing a new DC electrical system, with the WS500 at its core, for our new-to-us J/109, and, as part of that, I wrote to Al, founder and chief designer at Wakespeed, to see what cool things he and Rick, the marketing partner in the operation, have been cooking up over the past year.

Al, who is clearly a guy at the forefront of making this stuff work elegantly, was incredibly generous with his time, answering a bunch of my questions in the form of half-a-dozen emails that, taken together, are a fascinating white paper on the state of battery-charging technology.

Al's Monk Trawler Viking Star at Minstrel Island. Photo kindness of Al.

Plus, Al is a live-aboard cruiser who understands our needs, not some corporate person interested in milking the last drop of profit out of some so-so gear.

So let's dig into what's happening at Wakespeed and the cool stuff I learned from Al, a lot of it about lithium battery systems:

A Regulator For All Of Us

As I discussed in my last article on the WS500, the best thing about Al's design is that it manages to be:

  • Incredibly feature rich in order to support complex lithium-based systems owned by those who want the very latest and coolest.
  • Just the thing for a simple lead-acid based system for those who want the damned DC system to work reliably and get the job done in the most efficient way possible but who don't want to worry about all the techie details.

I Just Want To Go Cruising

So for those of you who are charter members of the second group, all you need to do is:

  1. Read or reread my original chapter on the WS500 to find out why it's by far the best cruiser's alternator controller.
  2. Buy and install a WS500.
  3. Install a decent alternator.
  4. Install good-quality lead acid batteries.
  5. Set the dip switches on the WS500 for the batteries you selected as documented in the quick start guide.
  6. Stop reading right here and go cruising with a smug smile on your face.

Wait!...one more thing: I will be sharing the simple system I designed for our J/109, complete with a costed bill of materials (all done), in future chapters, which will make the above process even easier.

For the rest of us tech-geeks, keep reading:

  1. One Simple Law That Makes Electrical Systems Easy to Understand
  2. How Batteries Charge (Multiple Charging Sources Too)
  3. How Hard Can We Charge Our Lead Acid Batteries?
  4. Cruising Boat Electrical System Design, Part 1—Loads and Conservation
  5. Cruising Boat Electrical System Design, Part 2—Thinking About Systems
  6. Cruising Boat Electrical System Design, Part 3—Specifying Optimal Battery Bank Size
  7. The Danger of Voltage Drops From High Current (Amp) Loads
  8. How Lead Acid Batteries Get Wrecked and What To Do About It
  9. 11 Steps To Better Lead Acid Battery Life
  10. 10 Tips To Install An Alternator
  11. Stupid Alternator Regulators Get Smarter…Finally
  12. WakeSpeed WS500—Best Alternator Regulator for Lead Acid¹ and Lithium Batteries
  13. Smart Chargers Are Not That Smart
  14. Equalizing Batteries, The Reality
  15. Battery Monitors, Part 1—Which Type Is Right For You?
  16. Battery Monitors, Part 2—Recommended Unit
  17. Battery Monitors, Part 3—Calibration and Use
  18. Do You Need A Generator?
  19. Efficient Generator-Based Electrical Systems For Yachts
  20. Battery Bank Size and Generator Run Time, A Case Study
  21. Battery Options, Part 1—Lithium
  22. Battery Options, Part 2—Lead Acid
  23. Why Lithium Battery Load Dumps Matter
  24. 8 Tips To Prevent Lithium Battery Load Dumps
  25. Building a Seamanlike Lithium Battery System
  26. Lithium Ion Batteries Explained
  27. Should Your Boat’s DC Electrical System Be 12 or 24 Volt?—Part 1
  28. Should Your Boat’s DC Electrical System Be 12 or 24 Volt?—Part 2
  29. Q&A—Are Battery Desulphators a Good Idea?
  30. Renewable Power
  31. Wind Generators
  32. Solar Power
  33. Hydro Power
  34. Watt & Sea Hydro Generator Review
  35. A Simple, Efficient and Inexpensive¹ 12 or 24 Volt DC Electrical System
  36. 8 Checks To Stop Our DC Electrical System From Burning Our Boat
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