Portable Solar Panels For Cruisers

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The good folks over at Ocean Planet Energy are selling these foldable and portable solar panels.

A couple of these will provide a cruising boat with around 100 amp hours at 12 volts over the course of a reasonably sunny day at anchor.

To me this is a way better idea, at least to supplement a reasonable number of fixed panels, a good cruiser’s alternator, and possibly a hydro-generator for offshore use, than festooning a boat with a huge unseamanlike fixed solar array.

Might even get one of these for our J/109, and I also think this, or something like it, could be a great solution for many Adventure 40 owners.

Great Risk Quote

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You should obsess over risks that do permanent damage and care little about risks that do temporary harm, but the opposite is more common.

Morgan Housel

Morgan is one of the best thinkers about financial risk around. Often his thoughts apply to offshore voyaging too.

This one applies best to the majority of cruisers who worry about lithium battery load dumps blowing the diodes in their alternators, a comparatively easy problem to fix, and completely miss the much greater risks from load dumps.

Batteries And Generators Are Different Things

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It drives me crazy when sales people suggest that installing their lithium batteries automatically means we don’t need a generator.

Batteries are a storage device, generators are…wait for it…a generation device. They are different things.

Sure, installing a larger capacity battery bank (of any chemistry) might mean that we can anchor for longer, or sail for longer, without starting a charging source, but eventually, and in some way, those batteries will need charging…duh.

And if we have enough solar to never need a generator, then we might not even need lithium batteries.

Point being that confusing this basic difference between batteries and generators, sets us up to make bad system design decisions…and often spend our money unnecessarily.

Navico should know better.

More on the generator decision here (needs updating).

ABYC Bans Twin Busses For Lithium

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Turns out that the new ABYC E13 standard for lithium battery installations on boats in effect bans separate busses for loads and charging sources. (Thanks to member Rick for pointing this out.)

13.7.2.1A BMS shall respond to any conditions outside the SOE by activating the output disconnect device.

My guess, and hope, is that this is probably the result of poor drafting, rather than intended. The problem, of course, is the word output.

In my view, compelling the BMS to dump the loads just because of an overcharge does not increase safety, it decreases it, since load dumps are dangerous in and of themselves and overcharge is the most likely scenario to cause a disconnect.

Hopefully ABYC will fix what I believe to be a mistake soon. Banning something that most industry experts I have talked to consider much better design (separate charge and load busses) does their credibility no good at all.

Balmar Battery Monitor On-Test

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After two months and four defects:

  1. Bad cable.
  2. Despite paying full price we were shipped a beta test shunt that could not be updated to latest software.
  3. Ditto the display which did not have enough memory for the latest software.
  4. The final problem was a bug in the iPhone up-date software that it seems that Balmar’s support techs don’t know about, since they didn’t tell me when I called, even though it’s on their site. Big shout to member Michael for pointing that out.

I finally got the SG200 we bought for our J/109 working. I will write a review once I have more experience with it.

Most “Drop In” Lithium Batteries Not ABYC Compliant

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The way I read this, batteries with BMSs that do not communicate are now obsolete:

If a shutdown condition is approaching a battery system should notify the operator with a visual and/or audible alarm before disconnecting the battery from the DC system.

ABYC E13-7

I think ABYC should have required all BMS to be able to communicate with charging sources. This could be as simple as a set of contacts, but CANBus is better. More here on why. And here on ways to do that.

Victron Chargers Rock

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I’m loving this little charger I bought. I will write more in an upcoming article, but the ability to check out, on my phone, exactly what happened in the last charge cycle is amazing. Tells me a lot about battery health and how to set up the charger best for our usage.