When we buy a cruising boat, either a sailboat or a trawler and even before we buy the boat, we dream of exotic destinations and can’t wait to be completely free to decide to live wherever, whenever we want. While it is true that this can be accomplished and it is an awesome experience, there are some challenges to this lifestyle which can be overcome by properly outfitting your boat. Consider that If you constantly have to fuel up to power your boat then you are NOT energy independent and it will limit the time and the places that you can venture to. Marinas are expensive, especially in high demand destinations such as the Caribbean and the Bahamas so if you are able to stay at anchor most of the time, you will save many thousands of dollars.
The most important item to note is selecting the right battery bank for your daily consumption. When you live on land, electricity comes from the power company through a cable and all you must do is pay the bill every month to have electricity. On a boat, electricity comes from your battery bank so selecting a good set of batteries that can last many years is important. When selecting your battery bank consider that cheaper (at first) does not mean cheaper in the long run. When selecting the type of batteries to power your home on the water, think long-term savings and maintenance free use like in the case of Lithium batteries and AGM batteries which have been proven to be cheaper per charge cycle than Lead Acid and offer longer-term worry free use with much less weight on the vessel.
Batteries are the first step but you must then consider that you don’t want to run your engine to charge your batteries unless you have to as this means a shorter lifespan for your diesel engine (diesel's don’t like running on no loads or low RPMs), more frequent maintenance on the engine, costly fuel and the annoying sound and smell of the engine. Furthermore, if you have to leave your boat for some time to go back home or other reasons, your batteries are not getting charged and that can drain the battery completely or lower it too much (this can shorten the life of your batteries) so installing a good array of solar panels, an MPPT charge controller, and a good marine wind generator become the second most important step to being truly independent. These items can provide many years of free electricity, saving you thousands and extending the life of your engine or generator many more years.
Even though the combination of the solar panels and wind gen are effective 80% of the time in providing you with all the energy you’ll consume at anchor or at sea, there are times in which you’ll need to run your engine to charge the batteries because it might be a dead calm type of night or a very cloudy dead calm type of day. It is a good idea to install a high output marine alternator that can charge the batteries much quicker and reduce engine running time, fuel consumption and noise.
If you’ll pardon the shameless plug, at Sea People Depot we sell these and many other boat items to make your cruising dreams a reality.