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Choosing, designing and installing a new battery system

I must admit my attention starts to wane when I read marine electronics books or even long articles on battery systems – and yet short articles and instant advice on bulletin boards and forums leaves you suspicious that some vital piece of info has been left out…

But getting the charging system, and choice of battery and alternator is vital for a modern cruising yacht with so much reliance being placed on sophisticated electronics.

Apart from the numerous postings here on this blog I think you would find the following site at Smart Gauge very informative and well worth clicking on their reference section.

There are very handy FAQ length explanations of such things as…

…and many other very practical hints and explanations

To download my free Excel spreadsheet showing how to assess your power usage while at marina, anchor, or sailing please click here


Combined VHF/GMRS + automatic “Rewind” of last transmission

This new handheld MR HH425LI VHF from Cobra looks very interesting especially if you live in North America or Canada and need to use GMRS as well as a marine VHF. GMRS and FRS are for personal and family use in the USA and Canada. FRS is normally a 0.5W transmission by the way, and requires no FCC license – but this unit will require a license because it is capable of transmitting up to 5W.

Cobra rew1But for all of us poor saps that live in the UK, I like the “”Rewind” feature which I haven’t seen on any other handheld. This means that the last 20 secs of any inbound transmission is automatically recorded – what a great idea for all those times when the CD/MP3 player is wacking our those golden rock oldies from the 70’s, or when the engine noise is drowning out the fixed VHF down below and you forgot where you left the handheld anyway…

The unit can also record your own transmission out if you want it to and this appears to be held in a separate memory to the inbound recording – well done Cobra for a simple and effective enhancement.

pdfYou can download the manual for the handheld MR HH425LI unit here if you want to read up on the Rewind feature or for European sailors to look up the GMRS features – why don’t we have this over here ! To see a short video of the Rewind feature in use have a look at the Marathon Leisure Site

The only problem is that it does not do DSC – this is an oversight for the European market.

If you are in Europe and you want the Rewind feature and you want DSC then Cobra only offer the fixed mounted radios such as the MR F80B.

Ok, who will produce the first handheld with VHF/GMRS/DSC and Rewind ?


The “Impossible” Battery

I don’t know if you have come across this battery or the claims being made by Lifeline, the manufacturers.

  • Thick plates for deep cycle use
  • No maintenance required ever
  • Double the cycles than a standard Gel battery
  • Can be mounted in any orientation
  • No venting
  • Recharges 30% faster
  • No upper charging level limit
  • 5 year warranty

What caught my attention apart from the price (less than GEL) and the charging claims – which by the way makes them Lifeline batterymore suited to solar panel charging systems…was the safety aspect – “No Venting”. When batteries are mounted for bow thrusters or an anchor windlass they are often sited under the bed or at least somewhere within the fore cabin. So any improvement in safety here would be of interest.

A conventional electrical system would consist of two battery banks (one for engine starting, the other for house loads), a blocking diode split charger and alternator controller. The diode would split charge between the two battery banks while the alternator controller would develop high charging voltage to ensure rapid battery charging.

With this Lifeline system you could have the two battery banks and then a VSR (Voltage Sensitive Relay) that’s all. The system would work in exactly the same way and would also charge as quickly. While the initial battery cost is higher than conventional batteries, the expensive split charger and alternator controller isn’t needed. What’s more, the system would be easier, and less expensive overall, to install.

Due to Lifeline’s low internal resistance, response to high power surge demands on

inverters is better matched. Conventional thick plate lead/acid batteries or gel cells

take time to respond to, and deliver high currents; Lifeline provides high current

instantly preventing the surge from motors, power tools etc tripping out the

inverter’s low battery cut-out (this often happens even if the conventional battery

bank isn’t flat). Leading inverter manufacturers recommend Lifeline for professional

installations of their products.

Bow thrusters
Bow thrusters require high surge power to start (in the same way as inverters,

above) making Lifeline entirely appropriate for this application. However, how long

does a bow thruster run for? Typically, 3 minutes maximum. Say the thruster was

rated at 4kW at 12V (which equates to around 333 amps); Remember though that

this is an hourly rate (333 amps), so divide it by 60 to get an approximate 5.5 Ah per


pdfDownload the Merlin Split Charging Guide here for more info.

To download my free Excel spreadsheet showing how to assess your power usage while at marina, anchor, or sailing please click here


Sunsei Solar Panels

The Sunsei range of solar panel chargers seem to be attracting a few fans recently.

These are good value for money and reasonably weather proof too. You can use them inside and they willSunsei135 take a charge from sunlight coming through a window but if you do leave the panel on the coach roof or anywhere outside put a bead of clear silicone gel around the edges of the solar plate and connector. Mounts virtually anywhere, suction cups included (no extra mounting devices needed)

All Sunsei solar panels in the SE135 / SE-400 / SE1200 range are equipped with a built-in diode, which prevents any reverse current so they cannot perversely drain your batteries. Touch-action indicator lets you know your panel is charging

  • Sunsei SE 135 = 135mA /2w (can connect direct to the battery – no controller required)
  • Sunsei SE400 = 400mA / 6w (can connect direct to the battery – no controller required)
  • Sunsei SE1200 = 1200mA / 18w (needs separate charge controller before connecting to the battery)

Sunsei bracketWhat do you get in the box :-Sunsei controller

  • 1 cigarette lighter adapter
  • 1 battery clamp connector
  • 1 set suction cups
    10 year power warranty

With the compelling need to reduce our consumption of normal power sources that depend on fossil fuels it is a good idea to do your bit by not plugging in at the marina and becoming a little more self sufficient when it comes to keeping your batteries charged.


Laptop with no moving parts?

You might think I am going off the point by talking about computers but they are really going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future. The marine electronics industry is going to have to withstand quite an assault on the high priced chart plotters and peripheral equipment that they are used to supplying, and the laptop I am referring to here is an early example of what is to come. As is the HTC 7501 I referred to before.

Toshiba have also launched a new Portege R500 Model utilising the latest 64GB SSDPortegeR500 (Solid State Drive). The new Portege R500-10U is the lightest 12″ notebook in the world at 779g. (less than 2lbs !)

The benefits of the SSD and its appropriateness for marine use are very evident and include:

1. No moving parts – Extremely high reliability

2. Extremely robust – Less likely to be damaged or for data to fail

3. Less heat – No moving parts means the drive will operate without generating more heat

4. Power Efficiency – Again no moving parts means that the system uses a lot less power to operate – increasing the battery life of the notebook

5. Faster Access Times – The solid state nature of the drive also offers much quicker access time to the data enhancing the performance of the notebook

The use of solid state storage instead of moving hard discs si interesting. We are all used to this already with our cameras, pda and phones all using some type of solid stage storage and some as much as 4Gb in very small storage cards indeed.

See this review and video of the the new Portege 500

The market for flash-based solid state disk drives which act as drop-in replacements for traditional hard drives used in mobile and portable devices is also heating up. Samsung has announced that it plans to ship a 64 GB solid state drive in the second quarter of this 2007.

SanDisk has also announced a 32 GB flash drive, and Fujitsu is announcing solid state drives as an option in selected LifeBook portable computers.

Not only is the capacity of solid state drives increasing, performance is as well. Samsung claims the respective read and write performance on its drive has been increased by 20 and 60 percent: the 64 GB unit can read 64 MB/S, write 45 MB/s, and consumes just half a Watt when operating (one tenth of a Watt when idle).

In comparison, an 80 GB 1.8-inch hard drive reads at 15 MB/s, writes at 7 MB/s, and eats 1.5 Watts either operating or when idle.