Should you or shouldn’t you have any electric appliances in the galley? Almost every time that I write a post about using an electric appliance, I get some comments about “I never have anything that requires electricity.” And then when I write about a manual option, I get other comments suggesting an electric option.
The truth is that different options work on different boats and for different lifestyles. And, to be honest, my own thoughts on using electricity have changed over time as charging options have changed.
If you’re primarily a liveaboard at a marina or dock where you are hooked up to shore power, you can use pretty much anything you want, even air conditioning. But if you spend considerable time at anchor or on a mooring, you need to consider your boat’s electrical setup.
If your boat is set up with a large battery bank, good charging capability and a suitable inverter, why use not use electric appliances if you want to? Of course, you should always have a manual backup just in case!
On Que Tal, we had a 450 amp-hour house battery bank, 450 watts of solar power for charging (in a very sunny climate with almost no clouds), a 100 amp alternator and a 2500 watt inverter/charger. While we couldn’t go wild with electric appliances, we did have a microwave that Dave used frequently to make a bag of popcorn and I used an electric coffee grinder every day.
The Geminis that we are looking at (update: now have) have a very different electrical set up, starting with a propane refrigerator instead of a 12 volt one. That means that there is a far smaller battery bank — typically about 150 amp-hours — and less charging and only a 1000 watt inverter. Even if we had a larger inverter, the battery bank and charging system won’t support any large electrical loads without substantial upgrades. So while we might still have an electric coffee grinder, the microwave is out of the question. Most coffee makers take a larger inverter, too. An immersion blender — probably okay.
You need to consider three factors if you’re going to run an appliance from an inverter:
- Inverter: will your inverter supply the power needed? Most appliances need a little extra power right when they start up, called the “start up load” (imaginative, huh?) or sometimes the “peak load” or “surge load.” The inverter has to be sized for this or its internal circuit breaker will trip. Few appliances state their start up load, but a general rule of thumb is double the operating load — which is usually stated. Items with a compressor or pump often take even more on start up — as much as 3 to 7 times the running load.
- Batteries: can your batteries supply the power needed? Even if your inverter can handle the load, the batteries may not be able to discharge the amps as fast as the inverter is calling for them. You may be able to find the maximum discharge current in the specs for your batteries (some manufacturers provide this; others don’t).
- Charging: will you be able to replace the power that you use before you need it for something else? Further, insufficient charging will damage your batteries and considerably shorten their life.
Okay, and maybe a fourth item — is there an outlet near where you want to use the appliance? Whether you have a whole boat inverter or just have to use the plug on the inverter, this can be an important consideration.
Further, for any appliance that has sophisticated electronics in it or a variable speed motor, you need a pure sine wave inverter or you can ruin the appliance. Read more about inverters.
As battery and charging technology is improving, solar panels are becoming more efficient and also costing less, and larger pure sine wave inverters are coming down in price (not to say they’re cheap now, but a lot less expensive than 10 years ago), it’s becoming more and more common for boats to have the capability to run electrical appliances that were once considered impossibilities.Another option is to have a generator and run electrical appliances directly from it. But before jumping on this bandwagon, think about whether you really want to fire up the generator every morning to make a cup of coffee (the quiet of the morning is one of the thing we treasure most about being at anchor) or to make a bag of popcorn. And if you do plan to use a generator to supply the power, make sure it’s large enough for the start up load.
Bottom line: you’re not totally crazy to want or have electrical appliances on board, but you need to think out the entire power system. Most boats opt for a few things that are important to them, but don’t have all the electrical gadgets that they might have ashore.
The good news: there are manual ways to do just about anything that you can do with electricity. And most of them work pretty well; some will even provide some fitness benefits as a side benefit 🙂