Learn about life afloat the easy way

Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.


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Yearly Archives: 2012

2012 12 24 Newsletter – Merry Christmas and a happy New Year (on the waterways)

Living On A Narrowboat News 24th December 2012Living on a narrowboat: The Real Cost of a Life AfloatIf you’re thinking of buying a narrowboat, especially one to live on, you need to know how much the boat is likely to cost you to buy and to maintain. This useful guide details all the costs I’ve incurred during the two and a half years that I’ve lived on my own narrowboat. You’ll discover the hidden costs when you buy a narrowboat, mooring fees, utility costs, propulsion fuel costs, repair and maintenance expenses and much, much more. Download your copy here.

“This is an extremely useful booklet for anyone considering living afloat. The author has covered all of the outlay that you are likely to face in an easy and straight forward manner. I have been considering living on a narrowboat for years but was put off by the unknown. Having read this I am more likely to make the dream come true.” Tigs, Amazon Kindle Review

I know you’re busy getting ready for the big day tomorrow so I won’t keep you long. I just wanted to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. If your goals include buying a narrowboat or just to get out more on the one you own already, I hope you achieve all that you set out to do.

Last week’s newsletter included the first part of an excellent article about narrowboat electrics written by full time liveaboard and solar panel installer Tim Davis. I’ve now published the second and concluding part of his article. He talks about generators and invertors and what he considers the Holy Grail of onboard electrical systems. Tim is also thinking about writing further articles for the site. If you’ve enjoyed reading the two he’s written so far there’s an option for you tosuggest which of several subjects he addresses next.

House V Boat

I know exactly how much utilities cost me on the boat, but I’ve lost touch with the cost of water, heating and electricity in a bricks and mortar home. I’ve spoken to Sally about the difference between maintaining a house and maintaining a boat. She still has a house which she now rents out and she has kept her utility bills from the last year or so. I’ve found the costs very interesting but I would like some additional information from other house owners too so that I can compare the costs for an aticle I’m writing. Are you able to help me? If you own a bricks and mortar home, and you keep records of your utility paypemts, would you mind sharing them with me?

All I need to know are typical monthly water, electricity, gas or diesel costs in the winter and in the summer and the size of the property. This information will help site visitors determine whether a life on the waterways is something they can afford. Many wannabe narrowboat owners think that narrowboat ownership is a very low cost alternative to a home on dry land. Hard facts will allow them to determine the true difference. If you can help, and I really hope you can, please email me with your details.

Treat Yourself At Christmas

This is a shameless plug for my guide Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost Of A Life Afloat. Of course, I earn a few pennies from the sale of the guide which helps with the running costs of the site, but it’s not just that. You’ve sibscribed to the site and this newsletter because you want to find out more about living on a narrowboat, possibly with a view to living on a narrowboat yourself. You need to find out all the costs involved before you commit  to the purchase of a very expensive boat and the running costs that go with it. The guide will tell you all of the costs you’re likely to face.

I ask everyone who buys the PDF version of the guide (Amazon doesn’t share purchase information from Kindle sales) for constructive feedback, both good and bad. I’ve only received one negative comment to date and that was from a guy who said that he didn’t feel that he’d learned much from the guide, but that was probably because he’d been living on a narrowboat for the last six years!

Here’s what some of the other readers said…

“Excellent book – easy to read and very informative. Not expensive and gives so much information for and against. Highly recommended.J. Moon (Amazon Kindle Review)

“I have found the structured breakdown of costs with practical data particularly useful in allowing me to calculate possible ongoing costs. Thanks for the time and effort you have put into the guide.” Dudley Pexton

“Hi Paul, have downloaded and read your book about living on a narrowboat, I’m so pleased I did, it hold a mine of information.” Sally Owen

“I purchased this book because my wife and I plan to return to the U.K. In about a year from now.I have read this book and played around with the figures, even going a little bit crazy and adding a few more percent interest on what I expect the costs to be around a year or so from now and I am very impressed with what I found out. The links supplied are amazing for further research and ideas. I really recommend this book to anyone considering living afloat as It is money very well spent.” Alan MacLellan (Amazon Kindle review)

“Hi Paul,  Firstly, I found it very useful and although I had already put together a spreadsheet of my own to try and establish likely costs of owning and running a narrowboat, that one day I hope to own, it certainly either filled in some of the blanks or made me aware of expenditure I had not thought of.  As computer/internet literate as I am, I would very much like a hard copy of the Guide that I could easily reach for as a reference or memory jogger. Printing off the pdf version wouldn’t quite be the same somehow. I suspect however, that this would dramatically increase the cost of the guide?

I liked;

  • that you gave the background as to how you came to own James and the trials and tribulations you encountered in the early months
  • the layout of the guide
  • that it concludes with a summary and a breakdown of the annual costs.

 I didn’t like

  • Very little really and certainly nothing worth mentioning, informative and written with a personal touch.”

Gavin Clark

The guide on it’s own is a great way for you to determine whether you can afford to buy and maintain your dream boat, but shorly you’ll be able to plug the costs detailed in the guide directly into the new narrowboat budget calculator on the site. It’s nearly ready for release, it will be free for you to use and I know you’re going to love it. You’ll be able to enter every cost you’re likely to incur including those that aren’t directly boat related such as food and drink, medical expenses, clothing and entertainment and pretty much anything else you can think of. And if you do think of an expense that you’d like to include that isn’t already there, you can add your own category. It’s a very powerful tool… especially when the guide is used for reference. Make sure that you understand all the cost you’ll face afloat and download your copy of the guide here.

Popular Forum Posts

Here are some more forum posts for you. If you can’t find an answer to your narrowboat questions on the site or in the forum, please post it on the forum. It’s easy to do. All you have to do is to make sure that you’re logged in before you post. There’s no such thing as a silly question, so go ahead and ask.

  • Liveaboard Conclusions – Mel Davies has been doing  plenty of research into her hoped for lifestyle afloat. Here are the conclusions she’s reached and comments from a few existing liveaboard narrowboat owners.
  • Handling Floodwaters – How safe is a river mooring during and after heavy rain? Can you stay on a river when the level rises? What can you do to minimise danger?
  • Narrowboat steel thickness – How thick is your boat’s steel? How long does it last?
  • Retro fitting a solid fuel stove – Where’s the best place to put your stove and what’s involved in fitting it?
  • Converting from a cassette toilet to a pump out – A pump out toilet is far more convenient to use than a toilet with a portable cassette but how easy are they to retro fit in a narrowboat?
  • Gas free boating – If you don’t fancy heaving unwieldy gas bottles into a difficult to reach bow locker, a gas free boat might be the solution
  • Winter on the cut – Are you able to cruise all year on your boat or should you find a mooring for the winter?
  • Transporting your boat – Sometimes you may want or need to take your narrowboat by road rather than cruise along the canal. Here’s an idea of the cost
  • Bike types and preferences – If you don’t have a car parked near your boat, you’ll probably want a bike, but which type of bike is best?
  • Towing a butty – I’ve upset someone. I didn’t mean to. Wainbody wanted to know the best way of towing an unpowered second narrowboat (butty). I came across as patronising when I replied. It was unintentional but to make amends I thought I would ask anyone with boat handling experience to reply to his thread with some constructive advice. If you can help him, please reply to the post.
  • The best flooring for a narrowboat pets –  What’s the best way to protect your floor from a dirty doggy?
  • The best time of the year to buy a boat – Is there a deal to be done by buying a boat in the winter?
  • The best length for a liveaboard narrowboat – What’s the best length to buy? What are the pros and cons of different length boats
  • ONE tip to offer a potential narrowboat owner – If you are already a narrowboat owner, you can share your experience. If you haven’t bought one yet, you need to read this thread.
  • Powering your computer on a narrowboat – Can you power your computer/laptop from the boat’s 12v supply or do you need mains power?
  • Must-have gadgets and necessities – The most useful/useless gadgets for life on a narrowboat
  • Choosing a stove for your boat – Are domestic solid fuel stoves as good as the ones designed specifically for boats? Which is the best one to buy?
  • Diesel heating for boats – How important is a solid fuel stove on a liveaboard narrowboat? Is a diesel heating system OK as a primary heat source?
  • Computers on boats – Can a computer be powered from your boat’s 12v system or does it need to be plugged into the mains
  • Receiving post on your boat – How does the postman find you when you’re cruising? How do you apply for a driving license, a TV license or a bank statement when you have no official address?
  • Bikes on board – Many boat owners do not have cars so they rely on bikes to get them to the shops (or the pub). Some use bikes to collect their cars after a day’s cruising. There’s a huge selection of bikes to choose from. Which are the best for your boat? To tell you the truth, I don’t know the answer. Can you point forum member Ainslo in the right direction?
  • VAT on narrowboat sales – Does the price of your narrowboat contain a VAT element? Can the VAT be reclaimed?
  • Internet access – How do you connect to the internet when you live on a boat?
  • Living off property rental income – Do you have a property that you indend to let while you cruise the waterways? Read this before you work out your budget.
  • How to find a narrowboat to live on – Here’s an article about choosing a liveaboard narrowboat, and a question about finding a narrowboat with a steering wheel.
  • Vertigo – How to deal with walking over lock gates if you’re frightened of heights.
  • Long term narrowboat hire – If you aren’t ready to buy a narrowboat yet, what are your chances of hiring a narrowboat for more than a few weeks?
  • Residential moorings and single handed boating – How do you handle a narrowboat on your own? What do you do about a mooring if you live on board and only want a mooring for part of the year
  • Too tall for a narrowboat? – Is a narrowboat suitable for you if you are above average height?
  • Dealing with condensation – Do all narrowboats suffer from damp? What can you do about it?
  • Solar panels – More information about portable and fixed solar panels
  • Heating systems – Hurricane and Mikuni heating systems discussed

What’s Missing?

I want the site to be a comprehensive guide to anyone who is thinking about living on a narrowboat. I’m sure that there’s plenty of stuff missing, so I need your help. In general terms, what do you think is missing from the site? What would you like to see more of? What would you like to see less of. And, specifically, what can’t you find the answer to? Is there a specific question about life on board that you need answering? I’m not talking about specific technical aspects that will be of use to you, but of no interest to other readers but subjects that will be of use and of interest to the majority of visitors to the site. Please help by completing this very short survey. You don’t have to leave your details so you can say what you like.

Newsletter Archive

Useful Links

Find out what parts of the canal are closed and for how long. Essential cruising information for you.
Do you need to find a home for your boat? Here’s a comprehensive list of the narrowboat friendly marinas in the UK
Do you want to see where these marinas are on a map? Here it is.
Here’s a map of all the canals on the system to help you plan your route.

 

If you’re wondering why you are receiving this newsletter it’s because you subscribed to my site (Living On A Narrowboat). I hope that the information I send you from time to time is useful. After all, the site is all about narrowboats and you probably found the site from doing a narrowboat related search through a search engine. However, I don’t want you to receive emails that you really have no interest in. I know from personal experience how annoying they can be. If you really don’t want to receive information about living on a narrowboat and updates on the on-line, offline and marina moorings in England and Wales you can unsubscribe using the link at the bottom of this email. I hope you stay. I sincerely hope you find the information useful.

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A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Xanadu

Mike is a kindred spirit. He moved onto his boat after his marriage failed although his first floating home was far more of a challenge than mine… a 27ft GRP cruiser. His current 50′ widebeam must feel SO spacious after that!

Who are you? (and your significant other and, of course, your dog if you have one)

My name is Mike, no significant other or pets, unless you count the spiders, I haven’t got around to naming them yet but do talk to them…

Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to live a life afloat

Same old story, separated after 35 years marriage, (second one at that) and it was all I could afford! I already owned a 27 foot GRP cruiser so I lived on that for well over 3 years, now that’s what you could call challenging…

What is your boat called and why did you decide on that name?

The boat is called Xanadu, it was already named and it seemed appropriate.

Do you have a permanent mooring?

She is moored at Hartford Marina at a permanent berth, a pontoon, with electricity (prepaid card) and water. I look out over the open basin and have my cruiser moored next door (divorce not settled yet so that will probably have to go!!!!)

What is your boat style and length

I admit to being a bit of a fraud here now as it is a 50 foot all steel widebeam, but hey, what’s a widebeam but a stretched narrowboat??

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

Not withstanding the above confession I have owned it for just over 12 months.

How did you finance your boat?

Cashed in all my sayings whilst I still had the chance!!

How much time do you spend on your boat each year?

XanaduMost of the time although I did spend September in Australia.

Are you still working? (If so, what do you do?)

I work as a Lead Internal Verifier at a local FE college (will be 65 next March so hope to retire then)!

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Condensation and the chilly mornings

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

Freedom to move if I get fed up here!

If you could change just one thing about your boat, what would it be?

That’s a difficult one, it is an on-going project so couldn’t put my finger on one thing.

When you are cruising how do you resupply (How do you get to the supermarket without a car)?

No problem as I have a permanent mooring and a supermarket within a couple of miles.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

Again no problem as I have a washing machine.

What type of toilet do you have on board and are you happy with it?

Now there’s a story! Up until a few months ago I had smart sea toilet. Great piece of kit until the foul water tank under my bed decided to leak in spectacular fashion! The carpet I had just fitted floated out the door closely followed by my socks and slippers. Fortunately for me, if you can call this fortunate, I had worked over 20 years in the water industry and had spent many a happy hour up to my armpits in the smelly stuff so I wasn’t too fazed by that side of the disaster. I spent the whole day mopping, cleaning and disinfecting before I could locate the problem. The tank had rusted through in the bottom corner and was beyond repair without some serious upheaval. I removed the toilet and put a porta potty in its place!

How do you connect to the internet when you are on your boat and are you happy with the service you receive?

I have a 3G PAYG sim in a dongle. The reception can be patchy and slow but it’s ok for emails and browsing the web but not much else.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

As I live on the Great Ouse and my cruiser is a widebeam I have only ever used the wide canals but I guess the section of the Trent that uses the Nottingham Canal is OK.

How do you generate electricity when you are cruising and how much do you use?

I have access to mains electricity but also have a generator, a decent solar panel that keeps the batteries charged up, that is when the sun comes out, and an inverter. Whilst I use power for the washing machine, fridge and freezer plus all the other random equipment that has a plugtop on, I only need to feed the meter with a £5 card once a week!

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

Mmm, can be rather cool! I don’t have a stove but rely on an Eberspacher feeding a conventional 5 radiator wet system. It’s ok at the weekends but it is not cheap to run or easy to keep the fuel tank full. When I lived on the cruiser, during that bad winter a couple of years ago, the water pump, filter, shower and pipework froze and split during the night while I lay and shivered in bed!

What advice can you offer someone considering living on a narrowboat?

Buy the best you can, trying to carry out major refurbishments whilst living on board can be difficult. Also have a very good relationship with your partner, there aren’t many places to hide on a boat, whether it be narrow or wide!!

What obvious questions have I missed from this list?

Would I change the lifestyle – defiantly not! In can be a pain sometimes but I love waking up in the morning and listening to the wild fowl. On a summers evening (what summer I hear you ask) there’s nothing better than sitting up on deck with a good book and a cold beer, although a good woman…

Are you one of the lucky few who lives the dream on board your own narrowboat full time? Would you like to share your experience with some of the thousands of potential floating home owners who visit this site? If you can spare the time to answer a few simple questions, I would love to hear from you. Just let me know so I can email the questions to you. I’ll create a post like the one above complete with a link back to your own blog or website.

 

 

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10

Narrowboat Electrics Part 2: Generators and Inverters

By Tim Davis

This is the second of two articles exploring power generation and use on board narrowboats. The first part is a very detailed look at batteries. You can read it here.

 Generators come in different types. The petrol hand pull type, and the more expensive “suitcase” type which are now very quiet.

Petrol Hand Pull Generators

These are very useful but great care must be taken with petrol storage and use – fumes dropping into the cabin from a generator being filled on deck combining with the gas cooker being on have caused many an explosion – so always fill on the bank!

These output AC mains 230V which you simply run from the plug on the generator to the socket on the back of the boat. The boats electrics see the power as a landline (you may have a transfer switch that will need to be set to landline position). All your 230v sockets will work as normal, though you will only have the maximum output that your particular generator has to offer. A small generator is typically 1000W and a larger one maybe 3000W, so you do need to choose a generator that will run everything you have on board.

If you have a washing machine you will probably need at least a 2000W generator and probably a 3000W. Really importantly, don’t forget that when your generator is running to turn the mains battery charger on too! You may as well get some valuable charge in while the washing machine is on! This is where having a smaller output charger might be a benefit as it will run happily on a lower powered generator- some of my customers have two chargers – a big one when on shore power and a smaller one when using the genny. Most generators do have a 12V charging plug as well, but they generally only output a low taper charge of about 6 amps so you are far better off using the mains output to run your 3 step charger instead.

Built in suitcase diesel generators

These offer all the benefits of the petrol generator but are built into the boat, enclosed in a sound proof capsule and start by pressing a button inside the boat. I have one of these and it works very well.

Generator Use

 The usual practice is to “save up” things that require a lot of power and do them all at once when the generator is on. So I generally do the washing, vacuum the boat and run the immersion heater to heat my water, and of course put the battery charger on at the same time as watching the television! You get into a routine really quite quickly.

Other types of generator

A/C Mains generators mounted on the main engine like another alternator.

This is actually another alternator on the boats main engine but it outputs 230V mains which is fed into your system through a transfer switch (see below). They are usually 3500 watts and are quite expensive (around £2K). They basically allow you to run heavy 230v loads while the engine is running without having to use the batteries and an inverter.

Inverters

 Now this is the important one and a great source of flat batteries if used incorrectly! An inverter is a device that takes your precious 12V power from the battery bank and converts it into 230V mains electricity which is then fed into your boat through a transfer switch (see below). It sounds great doesn’t it? Mains power with no noise coming from nowhere by magic! However, beware – generating mains this way is VERY costly on battery power. Let’s take an example….

Sterling Inverter 1800wA boater has an electric kettle (bad idea!) that takes 3 minutes to boil and consumes 3kw of power to do so. The boater has a 3kw inverter on board so that’s all fine – it will work! However if we do the sums 3000W divided by 12V = 250 amps -that’s a massive amount to draw from the batteries and remember leisure batteries DON’T like a high current draw. So we have a general rule of thumb here. Avoid using an Inverter to run things that heat up as they all consume VAST amounts of power.

The inverter should be used for light duty things like entertainment equipment and such like. If you are in a position where you need to run the washing machine and don’t have a generator of any sort but do have a big inverter then the rule is you MUST run the engine at the same time as drawing that load so that you are at least putting the bulk of the current back in AS you draw it out through the inverter.

It also pays to have one of the alternator controllers I mentioned earlier to optimise the charge going in. In fact if you have a big alternator, a charge controller and a decent inverter coupled with a decent sized battery bank then you have kind of got all the benefits of a portable generator BUT you are still running that big main engine, that’s where generators score as they are small engines consuming much less fuel and much quieter.

The other golden rule with inverters is to switch them OFF when you don’t need 230 power. They all consume valuable power (around 2 amps typically) just sitting in idle mode, though some new inverters do have a standby function that reduces this I would still adopt the mantra of if you don’t need it right now TURN IT OFF. That goes for ANY device on board not just inverters.

Transfer Switches

 I mentioned that your portable generators just plug into the landline, but if you have a built in one and an inverter there must be some way of separating these 230V power sources in case you were daft enough (by mistake of course!) to have them all on at once! This is done using a Transfer Switch. This is usually a manual switch with either two positions (Land line, Inverter) or three (Land line, Inverter, Generator). So you select your power source then either plug it in or switch it on depending on what the power source is. Some newer boats have automatic transfer switches that will detect the incoming mains power source and select accordingly.

 Tips and Tricks for getting the best out of your power system.

 OK, this is a critical bit of the article – there’s lots you can do both technology wise AND with the way you think about and use power that can make a huge difference for those of you living without that marvelous landline plugged in like a soothing umbilical cord! Part of living afloat, if you’ve recently come from land is changing your whole thought process of how you live.

Minimising your power draw

DO have a12V fridge, and if you really must, a 12V freezer. I have a combined 12V fridge freezer that fits under the counter taking up the space of a normal fridge. Obviously the fridge is smaller but it has an 18 litre freezer compartment with its own door. Advantage: only one compressor to run and takes less space! Many new built boats have a 230v mains fridge – great if you are plugged in but a nightmare to live with on the cut as you have to have an inverter on with all the loss that goes with it for 24 hours every day!

Change your lighting for LED bulbs. This is a relatively new invention. LED lights now give fabulous light output in a nice warm tone, but with a fraction of the current draw. If you have say fifteen 20W halogen lights on your boat, when switched on they will draw 25 amps. That’s a huge amount! Replace them with LED bulbs. You don’t have to change the fittings. You will draw around 2.25 amps for a similar level of brightness. For further technical information on LEDs go to www.baddiethepirate.co.uk  Note that you can also convert favourite table lamps from 230v to LED and 12V.  -You really can’t tell the difference when they are lit!

Try to minimise use of an inverter to an absolute minimum – try to run as much as possible on 12V power. There are many good 12V TVs these days for example. What about laptops? Most are a voltage of around 18 or 19 volts but they do vary. As a result most people switch the inverter on to run them. If you are working from the boat this might mean the inverter is on all day – not good!  It is possible to buy from shops like Maplin or indeed on line a 12V charger. This takes 12V from your boat and steps it up to the required voltage of the laptop.

Be careful with other bits of equipment that run on 12V but normally have a mains adapter. They will likely not like the variable nature of boats voltage (between 14.4 and 11.5) if you just connect them directly to the 12V but it can be done using a voltage stabaliser unit. This sits in the power line to the device and ensures it always gets exactly 12V. Please contact me for further info.

So there is one critical message in here. You need 12V sockets throughout the boat! Interestingly older boats tend to have them while newer boats only have 230V sockets backed up by a big inverter, in which case I would advise having some 12V sockets fitted. 12V sockets are either 3 round pins so you can put a plug on the end of your old 230 table lamp and plug it into the 12V socket, or the car cigar type. They are however invaluable. I have three in the saloon dotted around, one in the galley and one in the bedroom.

Have solar panels (see my last article) these provide a low amp charge but plenty to cover the use of a fridge and lighting and make a REAL difference to life afloat. I recommend them highly!

If you use the inverter to run the washing machine, make sure the engine in running and consider an alternator controller to improve the charge.

If you use an inverter beware of the silent battery killers! Most common problem is many boats have electric water heaters (immersion heaters), great when you are plugged in, but if you “accidentally” leave it on when the inverter is on it will silently drain the batteries VERY quickly! It’s another good reason to have a monitoring panel. When I switch my genny off I always glance at the panel to see if its drawing an unusually high amount as it is so easy to leave something on by mistake!

The other killer is leaving the battery charger on when the inverter is on. This most commonly happens when the generator has been running and the charger quite correctly switched on to get a bit of charge, then the boater switches over to inverter when the generator is turned off leaving the charger on – well you can’t charge batteries from batteries can you?! So all that happens is they drain down fast trying to!

I encourage new boaters to write a check list to help get into the routine – it doesn’t take long but saves you the heartache of running out of power prematurely!

If you decide to have a portable generator, make sure it is big enough to run the heaviest load, and make sure your battery charger is switched on when the generator is on for another reason.

DON’T even consider having an electric kettle or toaster unless you are plugged in at a marina. If you are off grid then use the gas cooker! In the winter I have a kettle on top the stove all the time so I always have a bowl full of hot water when I need it.

Remember – if you are not using it SWITCH OFF most importantly if you have been using the inverter to say run the sewing machine, don’t just turn the sewing machine off when you’ve finished, turn the inverter off too!

In a later article I may well talk all about heating and water so watch this space!

 Building the Perfect Power System

 OK what would I do with an unlimited budget?

Batteries and charging:-

1. A battery bank of 6 x 110 ah batteries

2. A 100 amp or more alternator with a smart controller

3. 300W of solar panels with an advanced controller

4. Built in diesel generator giving 3.5KW of mains

5. 100 amp 3 step 230V charger

Power use: –

1. 1500W inverter for occasional light 230v loads

2. LED Lighting throughout

3. All entertainment equipment 12V

4. A laptop running through a 12V charger

5. A full power monitoring and management panel

Of course you would struggle to achieve all of these goals. I know I haven’t achieved them all but it’s important to aim for perfection!

I hope this article has been of interest, anyone who has specific questions please feel free to email me at tim@onboarsolar.co.uk  I can supply and fit any of the systems talked about as well and a lot of my work is taking a boat and just adding the bits and providing the knowledge to make it better! My full contact details are on my website www.onboardsolar.co.uk  I am considering the following future articles, any feedback you can give with regard to this OR suggested other articles to do with the technical side of boats would be welcome.

Tim is considering writing one of the following articles. Please let him know which one you are interested in most by completing this lightning fast survey

1. Wiring up your narrow boat – what are the issues?

2. Heating your boat

3. Water systems

Useful Reading

The 12 Volt Bible – Miner Brotherton

An American book so some of the standards a different but a good insight into all things electrical

Electrics Afloat – Alastair Garrod

A great book with lots of diagrams and pictures

Boat Owner’s Illustrated Wiring Handbook – Charles Wing

A great book for those wanting deep technical stuff!

If you haven’t done so already, read the first part of this two part series: Narrowboat Electrics Part 1: Batteries

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Summary

2012 12 18 Newsletter – Understanding Narrowboat Electrics

Living On A Narrowboat News 18th December 2012 Christmas is drawing ever closer. We have a few holly bushes around the site but sadly none of them are bearing berries as yet. Maybe that’s a good sign. Abundant berries on trees and bushes is supposed to be a sign of a hard winter to come. A berry free holly bush would be a small price to pay for a milder winter.Over the last two weeks we’ve seen a thin crust of ice on the marina on three occasions and this winter’s lowest temperature – minus seven. I’ve taken one of our hire boats that hasn’t yet been blacked for a spin around both marinas to keep the main channels clear so that any boaters with full toilet tanks can cruise to the Locks marina pump out station. Those who spend any length of time on board are watching the weather carefully to make sure that they don’t get stuck on the mooring as they have on previous years when the marina ice has been too thick to break.This week we’re back to mild, wet and windy and very soggy underfoot. It’s a time of the year that I dislike for many reasons; the leaves are off the trees, I have to wear wellies for work every day because of the mud underfoot and because oft he same mud, Charlie and Daisy, our two spaniels, need a little more management. Because the boat is on a wooden pier, they don’t come onto the boat straight from the muddy ground but there’s still enough muck on their feet to warrant a quick wipe with a towel before they come onto the boat. It’s a bit of a pain but one of the necessary evils of narrowboat dog ownership.

Narrowboat Power Systems Explained

Tim Davis wrote an excellet article for the site about narrowboat solar power. He knows a huge amount about solar power and electrical systems on board. Tim has written another excellent article for the site. This time he’s explained everything you ever need to know about your boat’s onboard electrics from battery maintenance and how to minimise the power you use on board to inverters and generators. Even if you’re not technically minded, this is a subject you need to understand. The first part of Tim’s article is about batteries and how to maintain them. Battery care and maintenance is quick and easy to understand. Regular maintenance will prolong your batteries’ life. With modern narrowboat using as many as seven or eight batteries and at a cost for some of well over £100 each you need to do all that you can to ensure that they work correctly for as long as possible. If you only read one article on the site, make sure it’s this one.

Satellite Television For Narrowboats

Narrowboat satellite system installer Martin Hicks emailed me to ask if I would be interested in letting you know about satellite television for narrowboats. In the spirit of providing you with as much information as possible about all aspects of narrowboats and what goes into them, I have created a post with his information. Please note that this is not an endorsement of satellite television systems in general or Martin’s in particular. I know nothing about satellite systems and whether they work on narrowboats. There is a link at the bottom of the post to take you to the forum where you can add any comments you’d like to make.

Treat Yourself At Christmas

This is a shameless plug for my guide Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost Of A Life Afloat. Of course, I earn a few pennies from the sale of the guide which helps with the running costs of the site, but it’s not just that. You’ve sibscribed to the site and this newsletter because you want to find out more about living on a narrowboat, possibly with a view to living on a narrowboat yourself. You need to find out all the costs involved before you commit  to the purchase of a very expensive boat and the running costs that go with it. The guide will tell you all of the costs you’re likely to face.

I ask everyone who buys the PDF version of the guide (Amazon doesn’t share purchase information from Kindle sales) for constructive feedback, both good and bad. I’ve only received one negative comment to date and that was from a guy who said that he didn’t feel that he’d learned much from the guide, but that was probably because he’d been living on a narrowboat for the last six years!

Here’s what some of the other readers said…

“Excellent book – easy to read and very informative. Not expensive and gives so much information for and against. Highly recommended.J. Moon (Amazon Kindle Review)

“I have found the structured breakdown of costs with practical data particularly useful in allowing me to calculate possible ongoing costs. Thanks for the time and effort you have put into the guide.” Dudley Pexton

“Hi Paul, have downloaded and read your book about living on a narrowboat, I’m so pleased I did, it hold a mine of information.” Sally Owen

“I purchased this book because my wife and I plan to return to the U.K. In about a year from now.I have read this book and played around with the figures, even going a little bit crazy and adding a few more percent interest on what I expect the costs to be around a year or so from now and I am very impressed with what I found out. The links supplied are amazing for further research and ideas. I really recommend this book to anyone considering living afloat as It is money very well spent.” Alan MacLellan (Amazon Kindle review)

“Hi Paul,  Firstly, I found it very useful and although I had already put together a spreadsheet of my own to try and establish likely costs of owning and running a narrowboat, that one day I hope to own, it certainly either filled in some of the blanks or made me aware of expenditure I had not thought of.  As computer/internet literate as I am, I would very much like a hard copy of the Guide that I could easily reach for as a reference or memory jogger. Printing off the pdf version wouldn’t quite be the same somehow. I suspect however, that this would dramatically increase the cost of the guide?

I liked;

  • that you gave the background as to how you came to own James and the trials and tribulations you encountered in the early months
  • the layout of the guide
  • that it concludes with a summary and a breakdown of the annual costs.

 I didn’t like

  • Very little really and certainly nothing worth mentioning, informative and written with a personal touch.”

Gavin Clark

The guide on it’s own is a great way for you to determine whether you can afford to buy and maintain your dream boat, but shorly you’ll be able to plug the costs detailed in the guide directly into the new narrowboat budget calculator on the site. It’s nearly ready for release, it will be free for you to use and I know you’re going to love it. You’ll be able to enter every cost you’re likely to incur including those that aren’t directly boat related such as food and drink, medical expenses, clothing and entertainment and pretty much anything else you can think of. And if you do think of an expense that you’d like to include that isn’t already there, you can add your own category. It’s a very powerful tool… especially when the guide is used for reference. Make sure that you understand all the cost you’ll face afloat and download your copy of the guide here.

Popular Forum Posts

Here are some more forum posts for you. If you can’t find an answer to your narrowboat questions on the site or in the forum, please post it on the forum. It’s easy to do. All you have to do is to make sure that you’re logged in before you post. There’s no such thing as a silly question, so go ahead and ask.

  • Liveaboard Conclusions – Mel Davies has been doing  plenty of research into her hoped for lifestyle afloat. Here are the conclusions she’s reached and comments from a few existing liveaboard narrowboat owners.
  • Handling Floodwaters – How safe is a river mooring during and after heavy rain? Can you stay on a river when the level rises? What can you do to minimise danger?
  • Narrowboat steel thickness – How thick is your boat’s steel? How long does it last?
  • Retro fitting a solid fuel stove – Where’s the best place to put your stove and what’s involved in fitting it?
  • Converting from a cassette toilet to a pump out – A pump out toilet is far more convenient to use than a toilet with a portable cassette but how easy are they to retro fit in a narrowboat?
  • Gas free boating – If you don’t fancy heaving unwieldy gas bottles into a difficult to reach bow locker, a gas free boat might be the solution
  • Winter on the cut – Are you able to cruise all year on your boat or should you find a mooring for the winter?
  • Transporting your boat – Sometimes you may want or need to take your narrowboat by road rather than cruise along the canal. Here’s an idea of the cost
  • Bike types and preferences – If you don’t have a car parked near your boat, you’ll probably want a bike, but which type of bike is best?
  • Towing a butty – I’ve upset someone. I didn’t mean to. Wainbody wanted to know the best way of towing an unpowered second narrowboat (butty). I came across as patronising when I replied. It was unintentional but to make amends I thought I would ask anyone with boat handling experience to reply to his thread with some constructive advice. If you can help him, please reply to the post.
  • The best flooring for a narrowboat pets –  What’s the best way to protect your floor from a dirty doggy?
  • The best time of the year to buy a boat – Is there a deal to be done by buying a boat in the winter?
  • The best length for a liveaboard narrowboat – What’s the best length to buy? What are the pros and cons of different length boats
  • ONE tip to offer a potential narrowboat owner – If you are already a narrowboat owner, you can share your experience. If you haven’t bought one yet, you need to read this thread.
  • Powering your computer on a narrowboat – Can you power your computer/laptop from the boat’s 12v supply or do you need mains power?
  • Must-have gadgets and necessities – The most useful/useless gadgets for life on a narrowboat
  • Choosing a stove for your boat – Are domestic solid fuel stoves as good as the ones designed specifically for boats? Which is the best one to buy?
  • Diesel heating for boats – How important is a solid fuel stove on a liveaboard narrowboat? Is a diesel heating system OK as a primary heat source?
  • Computers on boats – Can a computer be powered from your boat’s 12v system or does it need to be plugged into the mains
  • Receiving post on your boat – How does the postman find you when you’re cruising? How do you apply for a driving license, a TV license or a bank statement when you have no official address?
  • Bikes on board – Many boat owners do not have cars so they rely on bikes to get them to the shops (or the pub). Some use bikes to collect their cars after a day’s cruising. There’s a huge selection of bikes to choose from. Which are the best for your boat? To tell you the truth, I don’t know the answer. Can you point forum member Ainslo in the right direction?
  • VAT on narrowboat sales – Does the price of your narrowboat contain a VAT element? Can the VAT be reclaimed?
  • Internet access – How do you connect to the internet when you live on a boat?
  • Living off property rental income – Do you have a property that you indend to let while you cruise the waterways? Read this before you work out your budget.
  • How to find a narrowboat to live on – Here’s an article about choosing a liveaboard narrowboat, and a question about finding a narrowboat with a steering wheel.
  • Vertigo – How to deal with walking over lock gates if you’re frightened of heights.
  • Long term narrowboat hire – If you aren’t ready to buy a narrowboat yet, what are your chances of hiring a narrowboat for more than a few weeks?
  • Residential moorings and single handed boating – How do you handle a narrowboat on your own? What do you do about a mooring if you live on board and only want a mooring for part of the year
  • Too tall for a narrowboat? – Is a narrowboat suitable for you if you are above average height?
  • Dealing with condensation – Do all narrowboats suffer from damp? What can you do about it?
  • Solar panels – More information about portable and fixed solar panels
  • Heating systems – Hurricane and Mikuni heating systems discussed

What’s Missing?

I want the site to be a comprehensive guide to anyone who is thinking about living on a narrowboat. I’m sure that there’s plenty of stuff missing, so I need your help. In general terms, what do you think is missing from the site? What would you like to see more of? What would you like to see less of. And, specifically, what can’t you find the answer to? Is there a specific question about life on board that you need answering? I’m not talking about specific technical aspects that will be of use to you, but of no interest to other readers but subjects that will be of use and of interest to the majority of visitors to the site. Please help by completing this very short survey. You don’t have to leave your details so you can say what you like.

Newsletter Archive

Useful Links

Find out what parts of the canal are closed and for how long. Essential cruising information for you.
Do you need to find a home for your boat? Here’s a comprehensive list of the narrowboat friendly marinas in the UK
Do you want to see where these marinas are on a map? Here it is.
Here’s a map of all the canals on the system to help you plan your route.

If you’re wondering why you are receiving this newsletter it’s because you subscribed to my site (Living On A Narrowboat). I hope that the information I send you from time to time is useful. After all, the site is all about narrowboats and you probably found the site from doing a narrowboat related search through a search engine. However, I don’t want you to receive emails that you really have no interest in. I know from personal experience how annoying they can be. If you really don’t want to receive information about living on a narrowboat and updates on the on-line, offline and marina moorings in England and Wales you can unsubscribe using the link at the bottom of this email. I hope you stay. I sincerely hope you find the information useful.

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Summary

Narrowboat Electrics Part 1: Batteries

Understanding Onboard Power Systems

By Tim Davis

In this follow on from my recent solar power article, I want to talk about power systems in general, the considerations, issues, best practices and trouble shooting of power problems. I have been working on “off grid” power systems for over 20 years, initially remote telecommunication facilities for the oil industry and for the last 12 years on boats.

Interestingly the challenges of living with off grid power are the same regardless of the actual situation. I have also lived aboard for 12 years, most of that time continually cruising the system so get to “live” the issues as well. As with my last piece I am going to focus on the all important “need to know” practical issues rather than deep technical understanding of how it all works. I have tried to give info for everyone from complete novices to those with more experience but who want to understand more. To this end I have used headed sections so you can scroll through and pick a section that is of interest. I hope you enjoy! Before starting to unravel the boats electrical systems, it is important to categorise the different boat “situations”.

  • A live aboard boat based in a marina that only “goes out” for the odd weekend and a couple of weeks once or twice a year. It is plugged into 230V with a decent charging system (more on chargers later), This type of boat doesn’t really have to worry about power at all.
  •  A live aboard continuous cruiser who spends one or two weeks sat in one location before moving on for a day or two (my profile). This type of boat is fine while moving as batteries are kept charged, but then has constant battles with keeping power up and running whilst sat enjoying time in one place.
  •  A live aboard on a permanent mooring without power. The hardest type of boat to power manage as it doesn’t need to travel with the benefit of charging batteries as it moves. It is these second two categories that this article will focus on.

Boat Power – Best practices and source

A boat setup according to accepted best practice will have two power systems.

  1. 12V DC low voltage for all “essential” systems. An essential system is one that in theory you do not want to do without and needs to be available at any time. Things that fall into this category would be; Lighting, pumps for water and drainage, toilet systems and most importantly refrigeration.
  2. A 230V “mains” system that has standard 13A plugs and to the untrained eye works the same as in a house. This however is power for “luxury” systems – that is to say things you can do without and only use occasionally, such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners and entertainment systems. Why have these at 230V instead of 12? In an ideal world it would be great if you could buy 12V domestic appliances at an affordable price with the same range of choice we are used to in Currys. However the market does not exist for 12v luxury appliances so for many of these items 230V is the only way to go. Where it really IS worth spending extra money on a 12V unit is the fridge or freezer as these are on 24 hours a day and if you are not plugged in and where is that power going to come from? An inverter, I hear the more informed of you cry! Yes, but see later for the big power cost….

Source of Power

In my first category of boat, in a marina, the boat is plugged into mains power – this means all 230v sockets on the boat are running straight from the mains power as they would be in a house. Most boats will also have a 12V charging system fitted. This will not only keep the batteries topped up it will also act as a mains powered “battery” and run all the boats 12V services directly from the mains – so in this scenario life is a doddle!

Once off shore power however, as my other categories of boat are, then everything changes. The source of ALL power is the humble 12V battery. I would say without doubt the hardest part of living afloat without being plugged in is power management. In this scenario essential systems described above run straight from the batteries, luxury 230V systems get their power from an inverter – a device that converts 12V DC power to 230V AC power as if by magic BUT in doing so generally consumes HUGE amounts of power (yes, more on this later too…!)

Understanding Batteries

OK, quick reminder from the last article of the volts/amps thing. A battery is like a water tank, but full of volts. (12 of them). Imagine a pipe from the battery instead of a wire and a tap on the end. Open the tap and amps flow down the pipe and out of the tap (opening the tap is, say, turning on the telly). The more the tap is opened, the more amps are flowing. As the amps flow, the volts in the battery drop until it’s empty. Charging the battery refills the battery with volts by passing current in amps back into the battery. This is done using some sort of charging system (the most well known method is, like a car, by running the engine).

Anatomy of a battery

On most boats 12V batteries are used. These batteries come in two main types; starter battery and leisure batteries. The starter battery is used as its name suggests to start the engine only (same as a car starter battery) and is isolated from the leisure batteries that are used to provide 12V power for everything in the cabin described above. You will also here these referred to as “house” or sometimes “ships” batteries. Noticed that I have used the term “batteries” plural. This is because to provide the considerable about of power required to keep a boats essential and luxury systems going it is normal to “bank” up batteries (to provide a bigger overall “tank” of power). Although it is possible to buy a very big battery it is not usually practical to do so therefore it is usual to have, say 4 x 12V leisure batteries connected together to form one large battery (just as you would put multiple batteries in say, a torch). Batteries of course have a positive and negative terminal and it is just a case of connecting all of the positives together and all of the negatives together and taking a single supply from each.

Individual batteries – the familiar shoe box + sized black box )that weighs a ton!) are actually made up of 6 x 2V “cells” that together deliver 12V. Starter batteries and leisure batteries differ in that starter batteries are designed to deliver a very high current for a very short time – the time it takes to start the engine – and are never drained (or “deep cycled”). Leisure batteries are designed to deliver a smaller current steadily over a long period of time and are likely to be regularly drained or deep cycled. The difference is actually to do with the structure of the plates inside, however from our purely practical point of view it’s important to note that key difference.

Leisure batteries are further divided into different technologies. The first of these and by far the most common out there is the wet lead acid battery. These are the oldest technology consisting of two lead plates in each cell dipped in sulphuric acid. Chemical changes occur between the metal and the acid when a voltage is passed through the positive to negative plate that cause it to store a voltage, a reverse reaction taking place when the battery is being used or drained. That’s as technical as were going to go!

Lead acid batteries have several advantages.

  1. They are the lowest cost
  2. They can be “topped up”, when a battery starts to deplete its power some of the acid turns to water, this evaporates off over time resulting in loss of fluid. This can be replaced with de ionised water (distilled water). You just open the cap on each cell and pour some in! Lead acid leisure batteries will tolerate 200 – 300 “deep cycles”.That is to say taking the battery from fully charged to flat. There are now available so called “maintenance free” lead acid batteries. These are sealed lead acid and use a process where gases are condensed and self “top back up”. However if they become over charged due to a faulty or poor charging system then the safety valve blows and electrolyte is lost that cant then be topped up. So I would say instead of the term “maintenance free” how about “cant be maintained”. I’m not a big fan of these sealed lead acid batteries for this reason. Later we shall look at this in more detail – however on with battery types!

Gel batteries are often raved about. These are batteries where the acid electrolyte is contained in a gel paste. They are permanently sealed and were originally designed for applications where the battery may be turned upside down such as ocean going boats, airplanes etc. They can in fact be installed sideways which can sometimes be an advantage. One important thing – Its VERY important to understand that two identically rated batteries, one gel and one lead acid will have the same amount of stored power. Gel batteries do not give you more power in some clever way as some believe. They do however give more deep cycles – a 1000 is about par for the course AND you can leave them is a discharged state then re charge them and they will happily come back up again.

A similar battery type is the AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat). These use glass fibre matting between plates which makes for a bigger plate contact area and thus a battery that can deliver starter type high current and deep cycle. If you have the budget AGM batteries are the best way to go for a long reliable life. However they are not tolerant of being over charged so you need to be really sure your charging systems are in good order. The choice for you the boater is normally a simple one of, pay a small amount on lead acid batteries, treat them as a consumable -use them for a couple of years then replace, or invest in AGM with a “potential” longer life and a “potential” greater tolerance of deep cycling. What do I do? I have lead acid and replace them when they wear out – careful use and monitoring tools I shall chat about later usually give me 3 years of intense “live aboard” use – I’m happy with that!

There is one final class of battery you may hear of and that is the “traction” battery. These are big 2V individual batteries designed and built for mobile electric vehicles such as golf carts and disabled buggies. They are very tolerant of very deep cycling and although take up a vast amount of space to achieve a half decent battery bank size with a lot of expensive cable interconnects are the BEST system but also probably overall the MOST expensive.

Battery Capacities

Most boats have a bank of 12V lead acid or Gel/AGM batteries. Individual batteries have their capacity rated in AMP Hours. That is to say how many amps they can deliver over one hour. So a 110ah battery can deliver 110 amps over one hour if you are drawing 1 amp). So this means if you are drawing say 10 amps with the TV, lighting etc during an evening then every 6 minutes you will draw 1 amp hour. However – a battery’s usable range is not the full range of the batteries voltage.

Imagine the water tank analogy – the pipe running to the tap is a long way up from the bottom! A fully charged battery will sit at around 12.6 volts assuming you don’t draw anything from it. The usable voltage runs down to about 11.5 volts. Beyond that level if you continue to drop the voltage the battery life will suffer so it’s not advisable to lower the voltage beyond this point. Beyond this 11.5V level the battery will quickly drop down to 10.4 volts which is a truly dead battery – referred to as “voltage end point”.

So we have this relatively small operating range between 12.6 and 11.5 which means you actually only have access to about 30% of the actual capacity or about 36 ish amp hours. I would expect (and have seen through the monitoring tools discussed later) around 120 amp hours of actual usable power out of a bank of 4 x 110ah batteries

Battery Charging

The most widely known form of charging is just like a car, running the engine which turns an alternator that charges the batteries. Batteries need a voltage of 14.4 volts to accept a charge. Alternators use a very simple system called a taper charge. The alternator outputs a voltage of 14.4 volts and the battery bank at a much lower voltage accepts this and starts reversing the chemical process of discharge and “takes on a charge” as the battery voltage rises, its resistance to the alternator increases and so the alternator current reduces. It’s a bit like an old fashioned balance type weighing scale, eventually the resistance from the charged battery becomes great enough so that the alternator output drops to close to zero. However, at that point the battery is generally only at 80% of its maximum charge. This is not a problem for a starter battery – that is plenty to start the engine BUT if your leisure batteries are only at 80% charge that is another huge drop in usable battery power. It’s just the simple balanced way that alternators work. Alternators range in their output – older boats tend to have alternators of around 50 amps output where as newer engines are often fitted with alternators as high as 175 amps. Clearly the larger the output the quicker those amps get put back into the battery!

Another important point to be aware of here is, remember we have a starter battery and a bank of leisure batteries? These are two separate battery banks so that if you drain the domestic batteries, you still have the fully charged starter battery to crank over the engine. How is this possible? Older boats typically only have one alternator so some kind of “split” charging is needed. This means that while the engine is running the charge goes to both the starter and domestic batteries, but once the engine is shut down, the batteries are “separated” so the starter does not get discharged by domestic services.

There are a number of ways of doing this. A split charge relay can be used. This is a simple electro mechanical “switch” that closes when the starter motor is energised and ensures charge flows to both sets of batteries, then opens when the engine is shut down so both battery banks are isolated. Alternatively a split charge diode can be used. This is an all electronic device that performs the same task BUT diodes introduce a voltage drop of a little over 0.5 volts – this hugely reduces the charge.

There are also voltage sensing relays that are very simple to fit that connect both banks together when they sense a charge voltage and split them when the voltage typically drops below 13V. Newer engines also tend to have two alternators, a large output one used to charge the domestic batteries and a smaller one to charge the starter battery – this naturally keeps the batteries separated without the need of a relay or “splitter”

Battery Chargers

The second way of charging batteries is to use a built in mains powered charger. Most new boats are fitted with these as standard and they run while in the marina plugged into a land line. These use a 3 step charge process which is a much higher quality charge than that which you get out of an alternator. This works as follows:

  1. Bulk charge phase – the charger puts in its maximum current at a voltage of 14.4 bringing the battery up to its 80%.
  2. Absorption charge phase – The voltage is held at 14.4 but the current is gradually reduced creating a trickle charge that takes the battery up close to its 100%.
  3. Float charge phase – Voltage is dropped to just below 13.5 so the so the batteries don’t start to gas and current is reduced to very close to 0 amps, but if a consumer demands power from the battery the current is raised to support this.

The float charge stage is very useful as it means while plugged in you simply leave the charger on all the time, it will keep the batteries in tip top condition AND runs all of your 12V services at the same time acting like a mains powered battery in effect. This makes marina living very easy!

Chargers range in power output rather as alternators do typically from 10 amps to 120 amps depending on your budget and the speed with which you want to charge the batteries. In reality somewhere around a 40 amp charger is more than sufficient for a typical 4 x 110ah battery bank. In fact many marina berths have a limited mains power supply and large chargers can cause the trip to go off on the “post” that you connect to. Some charger manufacturers provide a way of turning down the input to cater for this.

Smart Alternator Charging

There are devices available that will take the output of an alternator and convert it into the same 3 step charge that mains powered charges use – this is quite an expensive bit of kit but if you are relying on engine charge all the time it is well worth the investment giving you the enhanced charge quality of a land line charger.

How can I monitor my batteries?

Now we are onto the really useful stuff! Battery monitoring is very important if you are living out on the cut with no shore power land line – it’s the only way you can know what’s going on. However it’s amazing how many customers I have that don’t have any way of monitoring their batteries. So what can you monitor and what are the options?voltmeter

Let’s just review battery voltages: 13.5 – 14.4 volts is a battery under charge. Once the charge stops the battery will quickly drop to 12.6 volts which is where it will sit until you start to draw power. You then have from 12.6 down to 11.5 volts as you use the battery, then it needs charging again to avoid damage.

The simplest “tool” is a volt meter. An analogue gauge measuring between 0 and 14 volts usually. Many boats have these and whilst they give you a guide ,because we are only interested in that small window between 11.5 and 12.6 its actually quite difficult to “see” where your batteries are in that small band on an analogue dial.

battery condition meterA better and still cheap option is a thing called a battery condition meter. These can be a similar analogue dial to the volt meter but instead of being marked up in volts the scale has a red section, an amber section a green section and a white section at the far right hand end. The gauge actually measures from 11 to 14.4 volts but the coloured scale usefully shows you where you are.

If the needle is in the green then you are ok, if it drops into amber you need to start thinking about charging and if it drops into red then you need to charge. When under charge the needle goes all the way over to the right into the white “charging” section so it also gives you a good indication that your charging is correct. (see volt meter and battery condition meter pics) These are also available quite cheaply from car accessory places in a rectangular meter about 1 inch wide and about 3 inches tall with 6 LEDs on that you can permanently fit on the boat. See http://images.npautoparts.co.uk/images/products/zoom/1339674342-59023800.jpg.

Alternatively a digital volt meter is another good tool. There are various different types all mountable like an analogue gauge. Using a digital meter you can accurately monitor that window between 12.6 and 11.5.

However the ultimate tool to have is a full battery management panel. These are quite expensive and more complicated to fit BUT give you the full picture. The battery voltage is there, plus a view of the amps you are drawing (shown as a negative figure) or charging (shown as a positive figure). This allows you to see how much current you are drawing “at a glance” and “trim” your power down if need be by turning off things that don’t need to be on. It can be a real eye opener when you are running the inverter with a big 230v load on it – you may see over 100 amps!

power management panelThe third very useful bit of info these devices give is the number of amp hours used. This tells you exactly how much you have used since you last charged. Say, for example, you moor up and spend the evening with some lights on and watching the television. At the end of the evening your meter shows you that you have used 65 amp hours. When you run the engine the next day it will count those amp hours back down to zero by monitoring the amps coming off the alternator. So using this you know for sure how long you need to run the engine for. I wouldn’t be without one of these. It really is the ONLY way to know where you are with your batteries.

If you make use of solar charging, this too can be wired through the system so all solar charge will count back the amp hours too. In fact when these are installed it is essential that all services and all forms of charging are wired through the measuring bit of the monitor (called a shunt) Please contact me for further info if you would like to know more about these devices.

What about battery testing?

The various gauges described above are great for monitoring batteries that are known to be good and in use but what about when you start to have problems? What problems typically occur?

A common problem is that batteries that have been under charge for hours do not “appear” to hold the charge for very long. This is usually an indication there is a problem. A common failure of a battery is for one of the 2v cells to “die” leaving you with a 10V battery – this is because metallic substances from the plates drop to the bottom of the cell during discharge, eventually building up to a level where the cell shorts out. But of course your batteries are in a bank of maybe 4 or more so it’s not immediately obvious what is going on but what happens is the good batteries keep draining into the one with the dead cell as soon as the charging stops. The only way to check for this is to disconnect each battery so they are no longer in a bank and run a volt meter over each one in turn until you find the 10V one.

In the short term you can just leave this battery out and reconnect the remaining batteries. Strictly speaking you should then replace the ENTIRE bank of batteries as replacing just one is not a good practice as it will have different charge characteristics to the others. However if you know the remaining batteries are good then you can get away with it as long as it’s of the same type and size.

One “gotcha” to watch for is that many lead acid batteries have a little window on top of the battery that shows whether it’s fully charged by turning green. Do not rely on this as it’s only looking at ONE of the 2V cells, another cell in the battery might be dead, or need topping up for example.

Other issues can arise with the electrolyte (the acid) not being strong enough any more due to water build up and sulphation of the plates (a build up of material that stops the electrolyte reacting with the plate properly). With lead acid batteries the only way to properly identify if the battery is holding a charge is with a hydrometer. This is a big syringe type device with a float inside it which measures the specific gravity of the acid. You just draw some acid – very carefully I must add – into the hydrometer and see where the float is. This is a sure fire way of telling if a battery is fully charged.

A fully charged battery should measure 1.265 on the hydrometer. You then need to test each cell in turn, taking care not to spill any of that nasty acid anywhere! Cells that have low acid will also output a lower voltage and should be topped up with de-ionised water which can be bought in car accessory shops very cheaply. Lead acid batteries should have their levels checked and be topped up I would say every 3 months.

Another test is to monitor the battery voltage once the batteries have been charged with everything switched off and see if it rapidly drops below 12.6. If it does then chances are the bank needs replacing.

Another classic problem I see often is that without battery monitoring tools a boat owner will run their engine for a couple of hours each day but find that the level of charge seems to get less each day. This is because on day one the batteries get charged to 80% then on day two 80% of 80% and so on, so the actual capacity dwindles. Hence you can see the benefit of the proper management panel (and certainly this is where solar power charging as covered in my last article makes a REAL difference putting a small current back but all day long).

Narrowboat Electrics Part 2: Generators and Inverters

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A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Badger

Why own just one narrowboat when you can have two? James and Lorraine Spencer have been narrowboat owners for over twenty years. Even though they now live on board full time, they still have a house as a postal address.

Who are you? (and your significant other and, of course, your dog if you have one)

James & Lorraine Spencer

Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to live a life afloat

Took early retirement after 37 years working in a Government Dept. Decided to cruise the waterways for a few years. Instead of only alternate weekends and 2 weeks in summer. As mortgage paid we decided to retain our house in Peterborough and rent it out to our daughter and family so we still have a bricks and mortar base. This  also allows us to  have a permanent address for post, keep on GPs list, Electoral role etc

What is your boat called and why did you decide on that name?

Have two…Aboatime (for sale at present) and Badger. Both already named when purchased. May change Badger to “Aboatime Too”

Do you have a permanent mooring?

NB AboatimeFox Narrowboats March Cambridgshire. All usual facilities that you would expect from a boatyard. Can liveaboard in marina for 10 months out of 12 no stipulation on how you manage the two months that you should not be living aboard ie each night you are away from your boat counts towards the two months. Whilst I am working we usually go off and spend time on the River Nene in Peterborough where free moorings are plentiful. With free pump out and water facilities on the city embankment.

What is your boat style and length

45ft and 54ft both Trads

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

At least 20 years

How did you finance your boat?

Cash by buying first boat cheap and making profit when sold

How much time do you spend on your boat each year?

300+ days

Are you still working? (If so, what do you do?)

Back at work as a QA technician (temporally)

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Being iced up in the winter

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

Freedom and camaraderie of other boaters and users of the waterways. Inexpensive  lifestyle. Drinking and steering!!

If you could change just one thing about your boat, what would it be?

Bedroom. (Next year….maybe)

When you are cruising how do you resupply (How do you get to the supermarket without a car)?

Try to moor as close as we can in towns to get to shops.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

Washing machine on board (Candy Aquamatic)

What type of toilet do you have on board and are you happy with it?

Vitreous china flush Macerator. Pump out. Yes also have self pump out equipment to keep costs down.

How do you connect to the internet when you are on your boat and are you happy with the service you receive?

”Dongle” T Mobile have had this for last 5 years and very happy. Also Tesco via Blackberry Smartphones

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

Far to many to pick one

How do you generate electricity when you are cruising and how much do you use?

Mastervolt 2500 invertor, small 300watt invertor for phone charging & 3Kw generator as for usage no idea

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

Too warm sometimes

What advice can you offer someone considering living on a narrowboat?

Remember canals can freeze over for days maybe weeks in the winter so make sure you are moored close to all amenities

Are you one of the lucky few who lives the dream on board your own narrowboat full time? Would you like to share your experience with some of the thousands of potential floating home owners who visit this site? If you can spare the time to answer a few simple questions, I would love to hear from you. Just let me know so I can email the questions to you. I’ll create a post like the one above complete with a link back to your own blog or website.

 

 

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A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Willow 2

Gary enjoys the best of both worlds. He’s enjoys the cosy comforts of his liveaboard narrowboat during the week on his own, then takes his washing home to his overjoyed wife at the weekends. Marital bliss!

Who are you? (and your significant other and, of course, your dog if you have one)

 I am Garry and I am married to Bernadette. We both have our own businesses so we live apart and see each other at weekends. I live on the boat and she at home. It works for us.

Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to live a life afloat

NB Willow in the snowHave always admired narrow boats and about 2 years ago I decided I wanted to buy one. I looked at some and against advice I bought one. I loved the engine room, she loved the front end but also, it was also a bargain. My pace of life meant that a narrow boat would force me to slow down and it has certainly worked.

What is your boat called and why did you decide on that name?

It had a name but we didn’t know what it was when we viewed it. Amazingly it is called ‘Willow’ which is Bernadettes favourite tree.

Do you have a permanent mooring?

I am on a permanent mooring. There is free water and metered electricity. We also have a toilet and waste disposal. It is at the end of the owners lease and hasn’t been looked after too well. I believe Peel Holdings are taking the moorings back next year so that may change things.

What is your boat style and length

I have a 58ft Trad

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

1yr 7 months

How did you finance your boat?

Bought outright (probably because I work too much!!)

How much time do you spend on your boat each year?

about 5/7 of the year

Are you still working? (If so, what do you do?)

I work in education. Another business is in the leisure industry and another in the handyman repair industry

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

The headroom (I am 6’5″). Other boats that wizz past ignoring any speed limit.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

calmness, no rush, rain on the roof, community spirit, frost on the outside, ducks, stress free (usually)

If you could change just one thing about your boat, what would it be?

reverse the layout

When you are cruising how do you resupply (How do you get to the supermarket without a car)?

usually have everything we need but may have to walk or use a bike

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

save it up and take it home

What type of toilet do you have on board and are you happy with it?

Thetford cassette. Am really happy. So pleased I dont have a pump out after being iced in last year

How do you connect to the internet when you are on your boat and are you happy with the service you receive?

Teather my phone or use the Dongle. Reception can be a bit hit and miss.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

Just going into Lymm village from Stockton Heath. Travelling down from Glasson Dock to the start of the Ribble link

How do you generate electricity when you are cruising and how much do you use?

Use the batteries/inverter. Also have a generator which I have never used

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

Too warm at times

What advice can you offer someone considering living on a narrowboat?

Rent one first (just like I didn’t) or spend time on a friends. Have offered mine to lots of people who rave about the boat but, amazingly, no one has taken me up on the offer.

Are you one of the lucky few who lives the dream on board your own narrowboat full time? Would you like to share your experience with some of the thousands of potential floating home owners who visit this site? If you can spare the time to answer a few simple questions, I would love to hear from you. Just let me know so I can email the questions to you. I’ll create a post like the one above complete with a link back to your own blog or website.

 

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Satellite Television for Narrowboats

Narrowboat satellite system installer Martin Hicks emailed me to ask if I would be interested in letting you know about satellite television for narrowboats. In the spirit of providing you with as much information as possible about all aspects of narrowboats and what goes into them, I have copied his information below. Please note that this is not an endorsement of satellite television systems in general or Martin’s in particular. I know nothing about satellite systems and whether they work on narrowboats. There is a link at the bottom of the post to take you to the forum where you can add any comments you’d like to make.

Here’s the information Martin sent me…

Satellite television has two main attractions for anyone who wants to watch TV on a canal boat, firstly, you can forget ghosting, crackling sound, fading and all other problems associated with watching television when out and about. In theory a 100% perfect picture is available just about anywhere where a dish has a clear view of the satellite. Secondly the choice of channels is huge and you can pick up radio channels as well as TV.

However, receiving satellite TV is not just a matter of connecting a dish to a TV and pointing it at the sky.
In the UK, analogue is being phased out and all UK satellite transmissions intended for the UK are only broadcast in digital form, this means that a digital receiver is required as well as a digital compatible dish.

VIEWING OPTIONS
The number of channels available is far greater than with analogue TV and digital freeview with an aerial. Free to view channels change all the time, however some of the channels which are broadcast on sky and are available without any payment, these include BBC 1, 2, 3 and 4, BBC news 24, ITV 1, 2, 3 and 4, Channel 4 and 5, E4, More 4, several travel, sports, movie and general entertainment channels together with a variety of digital radio channels.

FREESAT
Freesat was set up by the BBC and ITV to ensure that everyone can access the best of free digital TV no matter where they are in the UK, Freesat brings you over 140 great digital TV and radio, favourites like BBC one, BBC two BBC three, BBC four, ITV 1, ITV2, ITV3, ITV 4, More 4, E4 and film 4 are all yours and that’s just a few and no monthly bills either, plus Freesat offers up to 70 hours a week of HD from the BBC and ITV at no extra cost.

SKY
The number of options can of course be increased to include film, sports and documentary channels with a regular monthly subscription. If you subscribe to SKY you can use your digi box from home, or even remove the card and use it in the digi box on the boat but it wont work the SKY sports and main Movies channels.

SATELLITE DISH
The dish is the aerial which collects the signal from the satellite, every satellite dish has an LNB (low noise block) this is the part of the dish which receives the signal from the satellite, it’s the mushroom like object mounted on an arm and pointing towards the dish centre.

Standard domestic satellite dish’s can be used but, for most people their size, weight and design make them a lot less convenient to carry and much more harder to set up than a purpose made portable dish. The smaller portable dish is easier to aim at the satellite and once lined up, they are not so badly affected by small movements of a boat, also a free standing dish can be sited at either end of the boat to avoid a building or a tree if necessary. If you have a large permanently mounted dish, you will have to move the whole boat.

MOUNTING THE DISH
A dish can be mounted in many ways, speed and simplicity is essential, temporary mounting can be achieved using a suction and magnetic mount, or with a special designed pole fixing bracket.

SATELLITE FINDER
With digital transmissions the satellite dish must be positioned absolutely precisely, and if it isn’t, you simply wont get a picture. A satellite finder is a device, which, using some form of indicator makes locating the satellite easy, reliable and quick.
It’s connected between the dish and the receiver and should be disconnected when the satellite has been found, used in conjunction with the test screen on the television your signal should be found within minutes.

A COMPASS
A compass is useful for checking the direction in which the dish must be pointed.

SATELLITE RECEIVER
In order to watch satellite transmissions you must have a receiver. The sky digi box is the best known in the uk, there are several different makes but they all have essentially the same features and they all perform the same task, taking the signal from the dish, unscrambling it if necessary and then translating it into a form which a television can recognise, its connected by a co-axial cable to the dish and to the TV via a scart, rf lead or HDMI cable. Sky + and Sky +HD can also be used but require a monthly subscription.
Freesat can be watched via a Freesat digi box, Freesat HD digi box, or a Freesat HDTV recorder digi box, which digi box you have depends on your requirements.

TELEVISION
You do not need a special TV to receive satellite transmissions, using a sky digi box any television of any size or type will do, as the output from the digi box can be connected to the TV’s aerial socket, scart socket or phono sockets.

INSTALLATION
Because satellite TV is such a complex subject, sensible, straight forward and accurate advise is essential, to help you set up for the first time and to get your new system working, an on site fitting service is available, this will include all cable, connectors and leads.
But importantly time spent with you showing how to set it up easily and quickly.

PRICES

  •  SATELLITE DISH £150
  • MAGNETIC MOUNT if needed £25
  • FREESAT HD RECEIVER £200
  • SATELLITE FINDER KIT £50
  • I’LL COME MYSELF ANYWHERE IN THE COUNTRY AND FIT IT MAKE SURE THAT ALL IS OK, AND THE DEMO IT TO THE CUSTOMER £85
  • TOTAL £510……

AFTER SALES SERVICE I’M’ AVAILABLE TO TALK TO, A 12 MONTHS GUARENTEE ON ALL PRODUCTS,  customers may wish to have a recordable freesat receiver or may choose to have a up market satellite finder and also may want a LCD/DVD TV…RECEIVERS and all TV’s CAN COME IN 12 VOLT OR 240VOLT TO SUIT REQUIREMENTS…

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Free Online Narrowboat Budgeting Application

I just thought I would write this quick post to let you know about a very exciting addition to the site. It’s a comprehensive, sophisticated and absolutely free tool for you to use to calculate the real cost of owning a narrowboat, particularly with a view to living on it.

 About two months ago I asked a chartered financial analyst to create a budgeting application for me using Microsft Excel 2007. It covered all of the costs you’re likely to face buying and then maintaining a narrowboat including the purchase costs and any additional expenses associated with it, on and offline mooring fees, boat loan repayments, licensing and BSS certificate fees, insurance, repairs and maintenance and all utility costs. There was even a section to include the total running costs for your car in case you’ve considered a life on the cut but haven’t budgeted for running your car.

I was very proud of it. I sent the beta version to over 100 site subscribers for them to review and test. They loved it too. At least the few who could open it loved the application. Sadly that was only about half of them. I had foolishly assumed that everyone in the world had a copy of Excel 2007. Of course, they didn’t. Nearly half of the testers had earlier versions of Excel, used Open Office rather than Excel or owned a Mac rather than a PC.

Narrobudget Budgeting software for narrowboats

The test demonstrated very clearly that an application written in a recent version of Excel wasn’t going to be accessible to the majority of site visitors. I decided to have the spreadsheet translated into an application that would work straight from the site regardless of operating system or software. I’ve taken constructive criticism from the testers to make the application even more comprehensive and user friendly.

The end result is an extremely easy and free to use application that will, within minutes, give you a very good idea of both the initial cost and then the running costs of your dream narrowboat. Nothing has been left out. It’s an essential but previously unavailable tool for any potential narrowboat owner.

It’s going to be available to test next week. I’m looking for both potential and existing narrowboat owners to run it though its paces. I want to make sure that site visitors like you think it’s as useful as I do. You can see what the original software looked like here. The new application is similar, but better. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see a link where you can email me if you want to test the software. You can either do that or justsubscribe to the site below to receive notification the moment it’s released.

GREAT NEWS: Narrowbudget is now live. Click here to access your copy now!

Your email address
Your first name
Your last name
Are you a narrowboat owner? (Yes/No)
If you plan to buy a narrowboat, how soon? (0-6
months, 6-12 months, 1-2 years, more than 2 years)
How much are you prepared to spend on your boat?
(£0 – £20,000, £20,000 – £50,000, £50,000 – £100,000,
£100,000+)
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A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Shepherds Rest

After a stressful high-flying career, Tim now has a much more relaxed life. After building his own boat he now cruises the waterways offering a full solar power fitting service. He’s recently written an excellent and easy to understand article about the effectiveness of solar power and why he thinks every liveaboard boater should make the most of the sun’s free energy.

Who are you? (and your significant other and, of course, your dog if you have one)

Tim Davis.

Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to live a life afloat

Tim DavisAfter spending many years in the corporate world, 12 years ago I decided to leave the stress of that world behind to both live on narrowboats and build them for a living.  I now run Onboard Solar specialising in solar power systems for narrowboats.  I continuously cruise, often followed by a rather smokey pirate boat.  Despite the smoke I find Baddie the Pirate very enlightening!

What is your boat called and why did you decide on that name?

My boat is called Shepherd’s Rest.  Baddie the Pirate tells everyone I used to be a shepherd, but this is totally libellous!  Shepherd is a family name.

Do you have a permanent mooring?

No.  However I used to moor at Alvecote on the Coventry and have many friends there so it is still my spiritual home.  I can recommend the fabulous Samuel Barlow pub, a great place for a pint and a superb meal.

What is your boat style and length

60ft BCN tug.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

22 years.

How did you finance your boat?

Earnings from my previous highflying career!

How much time do you spend on your boat each year?

Every day.

Are you still working? (If so, what do you do?)

Up until recently I was a time served boat builder.  I now run Onboard Solar which specialises in solar power systems for boats, providing an all-in-one service:  making sure you get the right sized system, supply of all the components, professionally fitted to your boat by myself, all for a fixed price!  I also work in tandem with Baddie the Pirate who is a liveaboard boater who supplies LED lighting for boats.

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Emptying the loo cassette.  It’s a crap job, but somebody’s got to do it!

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

Freedom.

If you could change just one thing about your boat, what would it be?

Shepherds RestThis is the third boat that I have built for myself and I think I’ve finally got it right.

When you are cruising how do you resupply (How do you get to the supermarket without a car)?

I have a car that I move as well as the boat.  (Though I have had Tesco deliver straight to my side hatch!)

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

I have a washing machine powered by my onboard diesel generator.

What type of toilet do you have on board and are you happy with it?

Thetford cassette.  In the winter yes because you can empty it even when frozen in.

How do you connect to the internet when you are on your boat and are you happy with the service you receive?

I have a 3G Android phone, which I use for general email and some browsing and it has a clever wi-fi hotspot facility that allows me to leave it in the window and connect to it from my laptop.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

I have many favourite sections on many different canals, but if I was forced to choose I would probably go for the Macclesfield and Peak Forest.

How do you generate electricity when you are cruising and how much do you use?

I have 200 Watts of solar panels, which keeps all my day to day needs up and running.  I have a 2.1/2Kw inverter, which I rarely use.  I also have a built-in 6Kw cocooned water cooled diesel generator which I use to run heavy duty appliances like the washing machine.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

Very.  I have a solid fuel stove, central heating and a solid fuel range in the back cabin!

What advice can you offer someone considering living on a narrowboat?

Talk to existing liveaboard owners as most will know everything you need to know about making the life a success.

You can find out more about Tim’s solar power fitting service on his web site. Tim’s excellent article about solar power is here.

Are you one of the lucky few who lives the dream on board your own narrowboat full time? Would you like to share your experience with some of the thousands of potential floating home owners who visit this site? If you can spare the time to answer a few simple questions, I would love to hear from you. Just let me know so I can email the questions to you. I’ll create a post like the one above complete with a link back to your own blog or website.

 

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