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Date: 28 October 2021. And in Conclusion (#6 in series)

janice142
 

This became a multi-part series on power for an off-grid life afloat. It details the order in which I added power to Seaweed. In the series I cover both the mistakes made, and the choices that were spot on. Feel free to learn from my mistakes.

For those with  slower connections I am splitting the series into smaller portions. It is far easier to download a smaller webpage especially when the connection is iffy at best. This is Part Six.

For those that prefer everything on one page, this is the link you want:
Power from None to Now (the complete series)
 


As written about in the previous articles of this series, I purchased a beautiful boat which happened to be totally inadequate for life off-grid. Seaweed when in production was marketed as a weekender. See the
Seaweed article for details about her origins. That said, I always knew life at anchor would suit me. Some of my favorite memories when young occurred while anchored off deserted islands.
 

Before I was an adult I had 15,000 miles at
the helm of our 40'er. Life afloat was indeed good.

 

 

 

We were not financially wealthy so in retrospect I suspect some of our choices were made due to a lack of resources. We ate a lot of seafood because it was abundant and free.
 

This early life enabled me to understand that there are a multitude of ways to do many things...

  • The Right way where money is no object and issues can be resolved immediately

  • A temporary fix that will work until a better solution can be found

  • Making adjustments so as to manage until improvements can be made

 

 


In my view folks starting their life afloat should begin boating while docked at a marina, preferably one near a boatyard. Marinas like C-Quarters pictured below with a shaded front porch tend to have boaters sitting around chatting. Those people either have the answer to your questions or know someone who can resolve difficulties. I highly recommend places such as C-Quarters for their down-home friendliness.
 


The blue Hatteras 48 "Lady Pamela" is passing in front of C-Quarters in Carrabelle, FL.

 
But I digress...
Seaweed went through stages of comfort, from minimal to now decadence. There were serious budgetary constraints, thus I did add items gradually. I believe even if I were blessed with Big Bucks that my way has advantages.


The Primary Benefit of being broke is that I did not go all in with any one system. I appreciate that there are redundancies. Seaweed makes power in more than one manner, thus I do not rely on a single means of creating power. Instead I have an integrated system with the ability to capture power from multiple sources. Those include solar, the wind generator, a small alternator on my engine and a portable generator.



On a smaller boat such as mine no one system can consistently provide every bit of power required. I have the ability to make adjustments as needed. For instance, if it is overcast I might forego using the microwave to make popcorn during my afternoon DVD movie time.
 

Instead I can pull out the propane burner and cook popcorn the old-fashioned way.

I do not do without, rather, I opt for a different method to obtain the same end goal of popcorn.
 

The biggest bonus is that if (when!) I make a mistake and take my battery bank down too low, there are multiple means of recharging. I am never stuck. Having options is HUGE!!!
 

One thing I overwhelming advocate for is 12-volt meters, visible from every place one sits and relaxes.

Aboard Seaweed I have six meters displaying the status of my batteries.
 

Like many, I have one battery fully charged that is set aside just in case I need to start the engine while my house bank is depleted. This was a recent addition. The added costs, $100 for the battery, plus cables, terminal ends, and then wiring made this a lower priority than many would consider wise.


For the curious: Yes, I run all seven of my batteries in the bilge together as a single house bank. That is why I have that spare battery on hand. In case I need to start the engine, I have one battery capable of doing so at all times. I have not yet wired it into the system properly. For now the spare batt sits under the port side step into my pilothouse.


S/V Katja has solar panels in addition to her wind generator.

Utilizing multiple charging methods is common among boaters who chose to live off-grid.


I consider solar panels an ideal source of power. There is joy in silently harnessing the power of the sun. As long as the cable (wire) connections remain intact there is nothing to break. Well, actually a solar regulator can fail. That has happened however all those digital meters made me aware that there was a problem before my batteries were depleted.
 

One of my digital voltage meters is aft, starboard side in the corner of my galley.

This picture is from a previous Christmas. I have not yet begun to decorate for that holiday this year.
 

Eventually I ended up with 445 watts of solar, plus seven 100 amp (standard, Group 27) lead acid batts in the bilge. This allows me three days of power with zero input from other sources. Most cruising boats have a two day supply, so I believe I am good in that regard.
 

The main problem with solar panels is having the real estate (flat surfaces) to secure said units. One boat, M/V Freedom solved that by placing his on the fly bridge railing. Other boats such as S/V In Ainneoin mount theirs along the life lines on brackets so they can be raised and lowered.
 

A solar panel mounted to the fly bridge rail in front of black canvas disappears into the background.


Aboard Seaweed my Air-Breeze wind generator does input power provided I am in a windy anchorage. This is generally not the case. I did see two wind generators on a S/V Hodos, a large sailing catamaran many years ago. They were proponents of dual wind gennys having just returned from the Caribbean and those lovely trade winds.

 

I supplement solar with the small alternator on my engine, along with a separate gasoline generator. I told you about some of the issues I had with my alternator "improvements" that basically broke the system in the Upsizing the Alternator - My Mistake article. Definitely learn from my myriad of mistakes during that whole Great Idea fiasco.
 

 

The problem with power is that with each addition to the power available there is that one more item that fits nicely into the "would be great to have" column. From a small cube reefer that could only be used when attached to a power cord, I've upgraded myself into a spectacularly decadent lifestyle aboard Seaweed. It has been a journey, and I'm enjoying it.

 

My original cube refrigerator

The upgraded larger two-door reefer

 


Over the years between the start of my journey and today I have increased not just the ways I can acquire power, but also the number of batteries to store said power. The things to note are:
 

  • #1) Solar panels are by far the most reliable source of off-grid power aboard Seaweed. 445 watts generate on average 150aH (amps) that I utilize daily.

  • #2) Even if there is no sunshine, I do still get in approximately 30 amps per day via my solar panels.

  • #3) Adding batteries enabled me to have increase the amount of power stored. This allows me the freedom to manage what power I have available, using more when plenty of power is on hand.

  • #4) I am always checking my voltage via bunches of digital voltage meters scattered throughout the boat. When the voltage goes down I make adjustments by using less power. This primarily means I switch to propane for cooking.

  • #5) I do have a wind generator. On windy days my batteries are full before noon.

  • #6) Regarding my engine alternator: My 18hp Kubota has a 15amp alternator on her frame. I tried upgrading to a larger alternator, twice, however that did not work out well. See the Upsizing the Alternator - My Mistake article for details on what not to do.

  • #7) A separate gasoline powered generator provides back-up in case I need to charge the batteries when the wind is not blowing nor the sun shining. This necessitates keeping non-ethanol gasoline aboard the boat. I'm fine with that, though some are not.

  • #8) The addition of a spare battery allows me to start the engine when all else fails. This will eventually be wired into my system. Like all things boat, this project has not been tackled.


My favorite thing is that over the years I have with the help of friends created a wonderful home. To you and yours I wish the same...
 

Thank you for reading.
 

Is your boat comfortable off-grid?
What is your primary source of power when away from the dock?
 

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2021

Categories:  Boats, Gear, Locations, Money,

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