Online Book: Electrical Systems For Cruising Boats

How to get the very best from a cruising boat electrical system—real information that works based on 25 years of live-aboard experience. John is also an electronics technician by trade, so doubly qualified to provide practical and reliable information.

Two core decisions we must make when designing a cruising boat electrical system for living aboard full time and making offshore voyages, are the size of the battery bank and which charging sources we will need: generator, solar, main engine, wind, etc.

But the first thing we need to do, before getting into all that fun stuff, is think about electrical consumption and how to keep it reasonable.

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In the last two chapters we took a deep and considered dive into analyzing the electrical loads on our boats and thinking about ways to reduce said loads through smart systems thinking. Now we get to the payoff: How to calculate optimal battery bank size or, alternatively, how to live with the battery bank size we already have. I have built a spreadsheet to make the whole process easier. And I have updated my thinking on lithium batteries too.

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On a cruising sailboat the batteries will likely be charged most often by an alternator on the main engine, particularly if the boat does not have a generator. And if you live aboard, the alternator that came with the engine is simply not going to cut it. In this chapter we share how to buy and install a real cruiser’s alternator.

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One of the biggest snow jobs in boat gear sales is the myth of the smart three-stage alternator regulator. In fact, the alternator regulators that have been available to us cruisers for about the last 15 years are not that bright…OK, they’re downright stupid. But, finally, we now have a truly smart regulator. John takes a look and comes away impressed.

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Equalizing Batteries, The Reality

Fully charging your batteries after each discharge on a live-aboard cruising sailboat is simply not practical. Instead, most of us will cycle our batteries between 50 and 80% of their capacity. The bad news is that this will ruin your lead-acid batteries (regardless of type) in a distressingly short time due to sulphation. However, there is a solution: equalization. In this chapter we cover what it is and how to do it.

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