Electrical Fun: Vol. 1

What do I know about batteries? I’ll first start off telling you of my vast “knowledge” of electricity so you know how big of a grain of salt to swallow while reading this.

No, seriously, I was known to do this as a child, albeit with forks, and strangely this kid almost looks like me then too…

I’ll tell you what I knew about batteries before I bought the boat. Well, if you ever get the privilege to meet my parents of my two older sisters, they will definitely explain to you that I liked sticking forks into wall outlets as a kid. I know, shocking right? (Ha!) But on a more serious note, I grew up in a boatyard and marina as a kid and teen so I had to learn how to fix outlets on the docks, change batteries on boats, etc. Honestly though, the extent of my intake was batteries are 12 or 24 volts and outlets are 110 or 220 volt, respectively. Granted I knew how to wire these up and change out plugs and outlets of varying sizes but I had NO IDEA there was so much information and literature on the proper care and treatment of lead-acid batteries. It was mind bottling. Then I found out you could only use half of a lead-acid battery’s total capacity…? Well what about the other half I paid for!? That is the untouchable half, in a sense that if you start using it, you essentially start adversely affecting the battery’s lifespan. No bueno. There had to be something better out there than that for boats, so I started looking.

Old charger…Looks like something from a cheap 70’s Sci-Fi movie.

Enter 2014, I bought Redemption and removed everything electrical on the boat that were once the lead-acid batteries in the engine room. I wanted to start fresh no matter what path I took. That meant removing the analogue battery charger (circa 1980s), isolators, regulators, wiring…everything. When I had my clean slate I found out that some pioneers were leading the way in a new-to-boats battery tech. The batteries are lithium iron phosphate, commonly called LiFePO4, which is a derivative chemistry of common Lion batteries. The batteries in your phone or computer are Lion tech too, different house same neighborhood. The more I read about these batteries the more I realized they fit my bill better than lead-acid batteries.

The previous battery situation. Dismal.

Pluses were nice: can use 80% of their capacity compared to less than 50%, can be charged and recharged faster, can be left sitting for long periods without having ill affects, and were half the weight. Incredible! Just the fact that I could leave them at 50% charge was a HUGE plus as I would be leaving the boat for a few weeks on end due to my job was enough to sway me. I don’t like to baby things too much, I’m way to laid back to monitor something all day everyday. The cons are few but can be big: batteries are more expensive (but you get more usable energy too, almost 2x more), if you are coming from lead-acid it can require upgrading some, most, or all of your charging systems, since they can accept large recharge rates they can be very hard on a stock alternator, batteries aren’t easily available everywhere like lead-acid, and you need to have a good grasp on the entire system and tech as it is not just “drop-in”. I have always been a “lets give this new stuff a try, it seems doable” kind of guy, but I won’t let the stuff burden my time by babysitting it.

What 540ah of batteries look like. Fancy, huh?

So I did my best to learn everything I could about LiFePO4 given my non-electrical engineering brain could understand. I found a good deal on some used batteries near Tampa so I jumped on it. Michelle and I decided on a nice weekend road trip! We made it there, grabbed the batteries and started to head home. Well, we did stop in Pensacola to go out on the boat and scuba diving with our friend and captain from work, thanks Mike it was a blast! And then it was heading home. Now the batteries are sitting in the garage waiting for the rest of the parts and myself to get home to be installed.

Parts I have/ordered are the basics:

  • 12 CALB 180SE LiFePO4 batteries (180ah @ 3.4v each)
  • -House Power Battery Management system(came with the batteries from the maker of the BMS himself, thanks Dimitri!)
  • Blue Seas AC/DC breaker switch panel
  • Tyco KiloVac EV200 Contactor (for main battery cutoff)
  • various large fuses and bus bars
  • 3 Cole Hersee 70A relays (for alternator, wind, solar cutoffs)
  • Lightobject 40A solid state relay DC in AC out (for 110v battery charger cutoff)
  • Blue Seas mini battery switch ON/OFF (for manually turning off alternator)
  • other random bits and bobs that I have ordered in the last 3-6 months that I can’t recall at the moment

I still need a few more components but this will give me enough to do for now. I still have to build a battery box to hold the batteries and permanently fix that under the port aft bunk. Battery cables still need to be measured, sized for voltage/amp draw and ordered. I will be sure to take some photos of this big project as I get things done for another post.

3 thoughts on “Electrical Fun: Vol. 1

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