Our four-step approach to power on our boat means that we have electricity for everything we want.

No Amp Ogres!

Dave and I both believe that living aboard a boat shouldn’t be a case of “don’t do that, it uses electricity!”

Neither one of us wants to be the amp ogre, always saying what we can or can’t do — and neither one of us wants to be limited, either. This is where we live, after all.

Our philosophy with Que Tal and now with Barefoot Gal is to set the boat up so that while we may not live lavishly, we aren’t grumbling about not having power for something that’s important to either one of us.

So how do we do it? It’s basically four steps:

First, we decide what our priorities are. What do we care about having enough power for, and what are we willing to live without? “No amp-ogre” doesn’t mean that we can have everything, it just means that we jointly decide what’s important to us and then set things up so that we can have those things.

  • We want enough light to see by. No head lamps for walking around inside the boat, cooking or reading.
  • We want light in the cockpit — low light for just sitting out, brighter light for dinner and brighter still for projects that extend into the evening.
  • We want to use our laptop and tablet whenever we want — not for just a limited time per day. If we need to print something, we want to be able to.
  • We want to be able to play music (MP3 player to the stereo system) and run fans.
  • Recharge cordless tools.
  • Refrigeration. Watermaker.

I think that the fact that we decide jointly what we want is what makes us feel that there’s no amp-ogre. We respect what we each want and try to ensure that we can both have what’s important to us.

For example, Dave doesn’t use a computer nearly as much as I do, but he’s willing to create a system that meets my needs. And while I may occasionally enjoy popcorn, I wouldn’t necessarily plan to have a popper on board . . . but it’s one of Dave’s favorite snacks.

We both agree that we don’t have to watch movies on the boat or have an electric coffee maker and we don’t include them in our power budget.

Second, we reduce the power required as much as is feasible for the things we do want. There are three main things we’ve done:

  • We look for low-draw options where ever we can. Replacing incandescent light bulbs with LEDs from Cruising Solutions (TBG sponsor) has been huge. But “wherever we can” also means that when a low draw alternative just isn’t satisfactory, we don’t use it. Case in point: I tried using a tablet as my primary computer because it took a lot less power than a laptop. The small screen, small file storage and limited USB connectivity drove me nuts when I was trying to write articles or Google information for a project. Not worth the amp savings and I returned to the laptop.
  • We use solar lights for much of our “outdoor” lighting. Many of the solar yard lights aren’t really bright enough for our purposes and we’ve learned to opt for the higher quality lights that are now being made (yeah, we’ve tried the cheaper alternatives). A Solar Kandle Rail Light lights the steps where we land the dinghy — it also gives just the right amount of light for sitting in the cockpit — and we use Luci lights for a dinghy light and a bright cockpit light.
  • We turn lights and others things off when not in use. We believe in using what we want, but also don’t want to waste power. Most of our electronics stop drawing power when fully charged, but not all do. I unplug our MP3 player and the little device that makes it play via the radio when not in use — both are older and draw power whenever plugged in. Inverters are also turned off when not in use.
  • Barefoot Gal has a well-insulated 12-volt refrigerator. It’s on the small side and we do what we can to help it run efficiently.

Third, we have ample charging — and from multiple sources. We monitor our power generation and consumption so that we know our exact battery status at any time. We have a large solar panel with an efficient charge regulator (read more about our solar power here), a Honda generator and a 75-amp shore charger (if you have a generator, you need to have a reasonably large shore charger to take advantage of the power produced). And of course, the alternator on the engine.

Finally, we take care of our batteries. We use lead-acid golf cart batteries — and our battery monitor ensures that we never discharge them too deeply. They’re in a fairly inaccessible location for checking and adding water, so we took a day and added a battery watering system — now it takes about 2 minutes to do every two weeks and the fluid level never drops to damaging levels. Well-maintained batteries hold their charge better, enabling us to get more power out of them.

The combination of using as many low-draw options as are reasonable and having plenty of charging capability means that we can power the things we want to pretty much as much as we want to. No, we can’t have every electrical luxury . . . but that’s our choice. And there are no amp-ogres!

Our four-step approach to power on our boat means that we have electricity for everything we want.

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18 Comments
  • Mary E Dixon
    Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

    Do you know if cruising solutions will be at miami boat show?

  • Mary E Dixon
    Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

    Solar panels changed our boat life. Haven’t run generator in 2 yrs.

  • Shirley Smith Lambert
    Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

    Interesting Jim

  • Kelli Chater
    Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

    We bought an Efoy system and it changed our entire boating experience. We absolutely love it and never worry about draining our batteries because it is an auto charge system. Plus it has an electric panel that shows you when it is charging and what your power level is at. Plus it’s super quiet. http://www.efoy-comfort.com

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

    I’m right with you Carolyn. Cruising doesn’t have to be camping. You should be able to be happy and do the things you want to do. That doesn’t mean being profligate – use power on purpose, not thoughtlessly.

    We use Sensibulb LEDs in all our reading lamps, but retained incandescent bulbs in overhead lights — we like the way they light up the boat when we (rarely) use them.

    We use a percolator for coffee and a kettle for tea. No electrical power needed (except the small draw for the propane solenoid).

    We have a charging center for handheld VHFs, phones, MP3 players, and other small rechargeables. When we turn on the inverter for anything else, we flip on the charging center to top up all the little devices. The boat computer runs directly off 12VDC.

    We do enjoy movies onboard. The biggest issue (for us) is for one of us to stay awake to turn off the inverter when the movie is done. *grin*

  • Kim Zimmer
    Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

    we have a Honda generator as an emergency back up. How do you use it with a shore power charger and what are the advantages? Thanks always!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

      You can get an adapter so that your shore power cord can plug in to the generator (a 3-prong like on a house outlet . . .). Plug the boat end of the shore power cord in, start the generator, plug the cord into the generator, turn on the charging just as you would if charging from shore power.

      Advantages? Well, it’s a way to charge your batteries from the generator, and do it MUCH faster than using the 12-volt charger hookups on the generator.

      • Kim Zimmer
        Posted at 21 January 2015 Reply

        Thanks!

  • Wes Hargreaves
    Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

    We have about 400 watts of solar panels installed on our vessel….and a quality charge controller…(not all controllers are created equal)…..finally with suppliers and manufacturers off shore….. solar equipment is more affordable than ever….we now travel with our 42′ trawler and can anchor for days with out running gensets or starting the engine…..really freed us up to enjoys the whole experience without always being worried about flat batteries….but we are careful about our power consumption….with most of our dc going to refrigeration (probably like most….)

  • Joe Paul
    Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

    After sitting down and figuring out your electrical usage, how many amp hours did you decide to make your battery bank?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 20 January 2015 Reply

      As we bought it, the boat has 250 amp-hours. There’s not much space to add without serious reconfiguration, so we’re seeing if that works . . . so far, it does but we don’t know if it will once the watermaker is recommissioned. NOTE: Our refrigeration is propane, not 12 volt.

  • Jennifer Dean Neumann
    Posted at 21 January 2015 Reply

    Reminds me of an incident on a ~12 day passage where we were having charging issues and having to watch energy use. It got a little ugly! Interesting read and interesting comments. I’m already looking at solar, will look into the fuel cell as well.

  • Joanne
    Posted at 23 January 2015 Reply

    I can’t believe cruising solutions had the LED household style bulbs!!!! Yay! This saves us from buying the overpriced fancy LED lights!

  • Dave Skolnick
    Posted at 16 April 2016 Reply

    LOL. Again I read one of your articles linked from FB and take notes for a response only to find I already responded with exactly what I had in mind to say. *sigh*

  • Dawn Read
    Posted at 25 August 2017 Reply

    Lucky Read!

  • Donna Cantwell
    Posted at 26 August 2017 Reply

    Rich Cantwell, following

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