This is a
three-part series about decadence, focusing on using refrigeration
off-the-grid. It encompasses what you need to know to have it all
even while anchored in remote coves. This page contains the complete
that prefer their information in smaller bites:
I am not an electrical guru by any
means. The boys that know get technical real quickly. They know
their stuff. I'm more of the practical "what works for me" sort... Powering
a refrigerator off the grid involves three things. Here's how I do
#1) How much power
is required in
24 hours to run the refrigerator?
To find out that you're going to have to spend some money. Experts
will suggest you need a fancy meter that will tell you everything
except the manufacturer of your refrigerator. I don't recommend that
level of detail. For me aboard Seaweed I bought a Kill-a-Watt meter.
This is the one I purchased:
You should plan on ordering this item online. When I went to
the box stores meters were available. They were much more
costly than the one I chose. The meters I saw locally were too
complicated for me.
Frankly I don't need all
the bells and whistles an expensive unit offers. I want
simple and easy to understand.
meets my needs.
P.S. - I really appreciate it when you use my
link found at the top left corner of every page. It costs
you nothing and does help keep Skipper in puppy treats.
First you plug the
Kill-a-Watt meter into your wall socket. Next plug the
refrigerator into the meter. The Kill-a-Watt gizmo will give you an
elapsed time and power consumed. I would suggest you let it run for
at least 24 hours.
Simply push the buttons under the screen of the
Kill-a-Watt meter. From left to right they display Volts,
Amps, Watts, Hertz and KWH plus the timer/hour meter.
button shows Amps.
The purple button to the far right displays
Kill-a-Watt meter is showing one
hour and four minutes elapsed time.
Now that you have
your total, round up to the nearest 10. The reason you will do that
is because your reefer is most likely running in an air-conditioned
home. When the power goes out your ambient temperature will
increase. That will cause the refrigerator to run longer.
Information on the 3.2 cubic foot Haier Refrigerator:
When I started my life
aboard Seaweed I used a small cube reefer. It worked okay
at anchor as long as the wind blew. Then I came to this
coast where the ocean breezes are not reliable.
problem with a cube refrigerator is that the darn thing won't
fit a head of lettuce or a cantaloupe. Now I could put a head
of lettuce under the freezer compartment where it would
promptly ice up. Inside the freezer area ice cream would not
stay frozen. Argh!
The cube was not a
favorite. Finally I was fortunate enough to find someone who
Aboard a boat it is easy to acquire too much Stuff. I tend
to pass along items I no longer need or use. That helps keep the
clutter down and the chaos at bay. It also pleases me to share what
I no longer need with others
This is my
Haier 3.1 cubic foot
refrigerator. It is just inside the door to the cockpit.
Haier uses 60Ah (amp hours) per day when it is 80 degrees
outside. When it is hotter the refrigerator requires more power in
order for the contents to stay cool. I suspect I'm using closer to
75 amps a day now because of the heat. I am also in and out of the
refrigerator more now that temperatures have increased.
To monitor the the temperatures inside my
refrigerator and freezer, I use an Ambient brand weather
station. Pick Ambient because the cheap ones they sell at
Walmart are only visible from dead-on. At any angle whatsoever
you lose the numbers.
I have the unit on the
left, the Refrigerator/Freezer monitor. Three years on, the
display is starting to fail. I only see only the bottom set of
numbers. Eventually I would like to upgrade to the four
channel display. That version is shown on the right side.
I would place three remote monitors thus:
bottom number displayed is the room temperature. I like
these models because they have alarms. I use the alarms to
alert me should my reefer or freezer get too warm.
like best about these two models is the alarm feature. I
consider that my Early-Warning should the power be
interrupted. Once I did not properly close the refrigerator.
The buzzer let me know there was a problem. Fortunately
it was easily resolved by shutting the door!
amps you will not regret rounding up!
Precision works well for
Electrical Engineers. For me, it seems I always can find a new way
to use power. A netbook gifted to me by a subscriber (how cool is
that?!?) running Win7 allows me to write. A tablet
provides entertainment and a wifi hotspot. The radio plays Frank
Sinatra and Dino, Bing Crosby and Petula Clark among others. All
these things take power.
As a gal, I can
multitask. Right now I've got the VHF radio on, the depth sounder is
Verizon tablet is providing wifi, I'm writing so the netbook is on,
Paperwhite is keeping me occupied while pages load, the
cell phone is charging, and the refrigerator/freezer is making ice.
I have a switch so I can shut off
the power to my refrigerator at night when presumably it will not be
opened. There are two schools of thought on switching off the reefer
at night versus not doing so. Gurus will say it makes no difference
in the quantitative amount of power required.
Still, I cannot help but feel it
is a good idea to shut down the refrigerator when the batteries are
below 12.4. Because I have a large battery bank now, plus lots of
solar panels, and a wind genny... well, my batts stay pretty well
charged. More on all that in the next article.
Relaxing at anchor is one of the best parts about
life aboard Seaweed.
Photo ↑ taken by Island Time's Cheryl off Key West.
Refrigerators that are self-defrosting
currently do use more power than models
such as my own Haier. It is totally worth it in
my view as you are living life not camping. If I had a larger
refrigerator I would opt for a model that did not require me to
I would not be quick to run out
and spend the kind of money required to get an efficient 12-volt
reefer. Unless you have the resources that is! If so, the
Engel surely does look mighty spiffy. A
would be nice
We had one of those aboard our
boat. Our Dometic refrigerator/freezer used either 12-volts, propane
or AC power, depending upon the power input we selected. It was
truly wonderful to have that upgrade. I loved ice.
I remember when I was a kidlet a writer came by our boat one
day. She'd written about us before in *Motor Boating & Sailing magazine
and was preparing another article for the publication.
We served her a cold beer. Mother was so proud because we finally
had a working refrigerator. When the article
came out it said my mother had fished a beer out of the water and
served it British-style. Mother was NOT HAPPY!
*Back then there were not very
many children living aboard. That is why were were in a couple of
Having a refrigerator was a Big
Event in our lives.
I appreciated it more than most can understand.
There is a level of decadence found while sipping a beverage glass
filled with ice with new friends.
Ted, Sarah and Patches ↑ aboard
Manatee, their 36' KadeyKrogen.
A nice toddy sure makes an evening on Manatee delightful.
You met Ted, Sarah and Patches in the
I have been around for a while. I remember when "everybody"
who could switched
over to the 12-volt reefers. Prior to that cruisers either did
without or utilized ice boxes. The 12-volt refrigerators were New
and a better choice than drippy ice boxes. That said, 12-volt units
were expensive. They used quite a bit of power too.
evolved the inverter opened a whole new world for cruisers. Suddenly we could
have "real" house-style refrigerators aboard our boats. Of course
the inverters were terribly expensive. As with most things, as
popularity increased, competition occurred and prices declined.
Save your pennies and get a Pure Sine Wave inverter
if you can.
Inverters allowed boaters to switch
again. The cheap, essentially disposable AC reefers became another
option to consider.
With the new technology of Pure Sine Wave Inverters, standard
house-type refrigerators last a long time nowadays. When a $400 fridge dies you
are not having a horrible day.
Like most folks I would love to
have the newest and greatest. For now though I am perfectly
satisfied with my nice little
Haier. The refrigerator compartment is
well designed. The produce compartment fits a smaller cantaloupe
with ease. The freezer has plenty of room. One day I might buy a
pint of chocolate ice-cream.
Continuing... in Part II scheduled to be posted on
Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading.
This is Part Two of a multi-part series on decadence. Okay, really
it's about how to have a refrigerator off-grid. Today's piece is
Generating Power (#2 in reefer
series) It focuses
on powering the reefer. Here's how I do it.
#2) To run my life
of decadence I need
to generate power. Here's how I do it:
Aboard Seaweed I have two ways of creating power. Having more
than one method means that I have contingencies in place. If the
wind blows my batteries are charged. When the sun shines, I get
still more power.
on my Wind Generator and Solar Panels:
A wind generator was my
first purchase for life at anchor. It powered my off-grid power
needs. On the east coast that was an
okay decision. Here the morning sea breezes simply don't happen.
Now don't let yourself think I would not buy one again. I would
because at night or during thunderstorms (cloudy weather) the
retrospect, I should have started with solar panels.
Renogy is my choice for
solar panels. Aboard Seaweed I have one 75 watt panel ($150 in
2010), two Renogy 100 watt panels from Amazon ($330 in 2013) and
two 85 watt panels gifted to me by Larry and Eva. That totals
445 watts of solar. Unless there is a long stretch of overcast
days, I should be okay.
Two Renogy 100 watt panels on pilothouse, two 85 watt panels over galley and
one 75 watt panel above cockpit.
An Air-Breeze wind generator is mounted on strong
thick-walled stainless pipe over the cockpit.
When underway every engine I know has an alternator. Seaweed is no
exception. Except mine does not do anything. The alternator is not
wired up (at all) thus I get no benefit from the power made by said
At the St. Pete Boat Show I spoke
with Rick ↓ of Beta Marine.
Beta is the marinized version of my Kubota.
One of the best parts about
attending a boat show is meeting the vendors. Rick was in the booth
representing Beta Marine engines. Because Betas are built on a
Kubota base I was hoping I could utilize his expertise.
To his credit Rick of Beta Marine did attempt to help me understand
how those wires attach. It all seemed so simple at the time. Then I
got home my mind drew a complete blank. What is particularly
frustrating is that I know that at one time I would have
comprehended it all with ease.
Such is life. Getting old is not for sissies!
I have a great engine. She starts
every time. That makes me happy. It is such a blessing to be able to
start the engine and know all will be well. I can be underway in
just a few minutes. I am very fortunate.
Gulfport at dusk... the anchorage is just off the pier.
Unfortunately the alternator
currently on my Kubota does not charge the batteries. I do not know
how to set that up. Yes it has been explained to me. More than
twice. And no, I still fail to havee a clear understanding. Thus, when
I am underway I am not charging my batteries.
The 15 amp
alternator was originally mounted to the engine
with a single bolt. Then I improved things until I broke the system.
Because I do not know how or where the wires from the original alternator
attach, they aren't hooked up to anything. Instead the alternator is
mounted so the fan belt will drive the raw water cooling
pump. This is of course not ideal. But it works.
no object I would opt for a serpentine belt too...
Yes, life is truly wonderful aboard Seaweed.
I went over to the Madeira Beach American Legion to enjoy the
wish the alternator was wired, I do have both wind and solar power
charging my batteries. Life aboard Seaweed truly is wonderful.
reading. The final part will be posted on the 18th.
This is the
final installment in the three-part series about off-the-grid
decadence. It covers what you need to know to have it all, including
refrigeration, while anchored in remote coves. Today's article is
Part Three in the series. It focuses on batteries and is entitled
Storing the Power (battery charts).
#3) The power
provided by wind, solar
and your alternator is stored in batteries.
please note that I am specifically speaking about the lower cost
lead acid batteries sold at places such as Walmart. That is what I
have aboard Seaweed. Decades ago we had Lead Acid on our 40'er too.
Details on her can be found in
The Fishing Boat
my dreams I have those spiffy new Lithium batteries, that will not
happen for many years. For those with the funds and knowledge to
install lithium batts, gosh, you are fortunate. I will be following in
your wake eventually. My research (see
Calder's Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual 4the
says the charging system is quite finicky. You have got to get it
Life is wonderful just as as it is though...
Photo of a rainbow off Manjack Cay ↑
in the Bahamas taken by my friend Irene.
would say you need four times the charging capacity as a minimum for
batteries. Because I have 445 watts of solar, the panels generate
approximately 150 Amp hours per day. Therefore, at a bare minimum, I
should have 600 Amps of battery storage available.
SWITCH, ELECTRONIC FUEL PUMP,
At the top of the picture and bottom, you can see batteries tucked
outbound of the engine along the stringers.
power I have stored in batteries, the better. The goal is to have
power to spare in case of overcast skies. Having
lots of batteries gives me wiggle room (aka time). That means I can
wait a few days for the sun to reappear and recharge my batts.
There is a
level of confidence in knowing that even if I the batteries do get
low, eventually they will recharge without any intervention from me.
The wind will blow. The sun will shine. With either or both of those
things I will soon enough have plenty of power.
My batteries are fully charged
↓ in absorption mode at 14.2
12-volt Battery Chart
Length x Width x Height
10.25" x 6.75" x 9"
12" x 7" x 8.75"
13" x 6.75" x 9.5"
13" x 6.75" x 9.5"
20.75" x 8.75" x 10"
20.75" x 11" x 10.25"
In the United States most boats have 12-volt
systems. European boats often use 24-volts as their standard.
Some boats have a mixture. It gets real "interesting" when it
is that complicated. I am grateful my Seaweed runs on 12-volts
Many chose golf cart aka 6-volt batts. With 6-volt
batteries you must wire them in series.
When batteries are wired in series the
amperage stays the same and the voltage increases. (connect + to -)
Details can be found in the
Diagnosing a Bad Battery
6-volt Battery Chart
10.5" x 7" x 11"
11.75" x 7" x 16.75"
I have Group 27 batteries aboard Seaweed. Each weighs 65 pounds.
Although I have ten, only nine are in my House Banks. The Start
Battery is sitting under the step in my pilothouse, starboard side.
Having such a sizable house bank allows me the freedom others might
Aboard Seaweed I do not much worry about having
sufficient power. That is because I have a lot of batteries.
Living on my Seaweed is wonderful. I am truly
The views change however the sunsets remain wondrous.
Because Seaweed is relatively
light weight, the 650 pounds of batteries in bottom center of my boat
have helped with her *pitching. She rides better now with the
additional weight. The downside is I've lost about 1 mph of speed.
That's a lot to lose in a small boat.
*Pitching is when
your boat rocks fore and aft. Imagine a porpoise leaping through the
waves. Another way to think about pitching is to picture yourself on a
teeter-totter. That is pitching. Rolling is when you rock side
to side. The side to side motion is likely to
There is a porpoise just forward of the out-rigger pole. Photo taken
when I was on DoodleBug, a 40' Viking.
Life aboard Seaweed is lots more relaxed now than it
was in the past. Years ago I could only dream about having the setup I
now have. The 445 watts of solar translates to 150 Amps of power on a
sunny day. By noontime my batts are full.
Life off the grid is so tough. Somehow I manage... (wink)
(wink) Popcorn anyone?
Side Note: Though I have a lot of
batteries I did not buy them all at one time. They were accumulated
over time. The Experts will say buy all at the same time, with
identical dates on the batteries. That is the Ideal. I do not live in an ideal world.
Because my batteries were purchased over time, I split them into two
banks. Bank One has the batteries that are between 5-8 years old. The
second bank has batteries that are all two or three years old. This is
not perfect. It is Good Enough.
One thing I am meticulous about is
checking my batteries on the first of each month. Because my batts are
easy to get to, this is not a problem. When you shop for your Last
Boat, having easy access to the mechanical bits will make a world of
This is Paul ↑ from
Sunrize Marine. He finished the work of getting the Kubota up and
running. Thank you Paul!
You met Paul in the
Getting Betsy Ready-to-Go
article. Every time I start the engine I'm grateful.
But I digress... Seaweed runs and that's because of
friends met out here.
As for this life of decadence,
it is because of three things.
Patience: No boat
has it all right from the get-go. Every vessel requires additional
tweaks, improvements and upgrades. The home I have now is far superior
to the one I bought over ten years ago. She is my comfortable oasis.
Each year I save for another improvement.
Ability to make power without fuel:
The wind generator provides some power, especially at night. Primarily
however it is the solar panels that keep Seaweed in juice aka power.
When I had 275 watts, that was not enough. At 445 watts, I never run
out of power.
Storage is Critical:
Having plenty of batteries means that when the sun does not shine for a
few days it is okay. I can still keep my life running smoothly. After I
install that last battery I will have over 1kw of battery power. How
cool is that?!?
Having "regular" storage for life's fun
things is important too. It's not just mechanics that makes a boat a
great choice. Contentment includes having the things that please you
aboard too. I have both and know I am very VERY fortunate.
Decadence works for me. I enjoy a
comfortable life aboard Seaweed.