Michele and I are very fortunate to have a plethora of electronic gadgets on our boat. We have a hydraulic autopilot, 4KW HD radar, two vhf radios, 7 inch touchscreen multifunction device (chartplotter), microwave, TV, water pumps, bilge pumps, etc… you get the point. All of these gadgets, both essential and superfluous, take up a surprising amount of electricity. We estimate that our electrical usage while at anchor will be approximately 110-125 amp hours a day. While at sea it will be higher due to the autopilot and radar being active for the majority of the time while sailing. While this is a lot of electrical demand, it is by no means insurmountable with today’s technology.
In this part of the series I will focus on the sizing and selection of our system. The first step in sizing the system was to ascertain what our actual daily usage will be both at anchor and at sea. There are several useful calculators online that give reasonably accurate estimates, but we wanted to go a bit further. We decided to install a digital battery monitor that tells us the percentage charged, amp hours used, amp hours available, current amps, voltage, and historical data so we can know precisely how much electricity remains in our batteries at any given time. The Victron Energy BMV-702 meets all of these needs in a very easy to install and professional looking package.
Most battery monitors utilize a high amperage shunt that is installed between the batteries and load/generation in an electrical system. The shunt is then wired to the battery monitor. With the BMV-702 it is as simple as running a computer network cable (included!) from the shunt to the battery monitor.
The 50mV shunt I installed for the battery monitor
The next step in the installation of the monitor is to decide where to mount the unit itself. We had a 1970’s era voltage meter that no longer worked taking up a large space in our electrical panel area. After removing the old Danforth meter we had a serious hole left in the bulkhead, however…
Modern battery monitor size vs 70’s era voltage meter
Thankfully my dad was able to fabricate a black lexan panel that matched our existing panels quite nicely.
BMV-702 installed with new panel
With the new monitor installed and running, we were able to accurately determine our actual electrical usage averages 90 Ah a day. Granted we are at dock right now so our usage is different than it will be while at anchor, but we now have a very good estimate to size our system with. We decided to add a buffer of 33% to account for increased inverter usage and other possibilities.
To meet all of this electrical demand, many people choose to install and utilize a diesel generator to meet their electrical demands while cruising. This is an acceptable choice for day sailing, hopping between marinas, etc that can quickly become expensive if used as the main source of power for a vessel. The maintenance and fuel for a generator can quickly meet or exceed the maintenance costs of the main engine on a cruising sailboat.
We decided to go with a hybrid setup that utilizes both solar and wind power sources simultaneously. This has the benefit of high power generation while also diversifying the source of power… on rainy days we will generate less solar power, but most likely more wind power. We also will have as a last resort backup our engine alternator that can charge the batteries to nearly full in a few hours. The next part of this series will showcase our solar panel, charge controller, and custom solar panel mount installation.
Some games come in more travel friendly shapes and sizes. This is our Battleship game.
In Downsizing for the Boat: Part 1, I talked about how we downsized our big ticket items. Today, I’ll show you something even more critical to living on a boat…entertainment! Board games, DVDs, CDs, and books all have the challenge of taking up a lot of space. I know some people with personal libraries at home that almost require half of their house in shelving (or have to be stored away in boxes)! How do you bring along plenty of entertainment for long days on the water without overwhelming your space requirements?
Most of the books we decided to bring were reference guides of some type.
First, let’s talk about books. I am a total book lover, bordering at times on serious addiction. Someone on an online forum recently asked the question, “Could someone recommend a good short book that can be read in about 2 days?” I couldn’t help but laugh, as I had just devoured an entire series in the past two days. The problem with that habit is buying books is expensive and they take up a lot of space. Luckily, with the advent of the ebook (and libraries renting them) my appetite can be sated without breaking the bank or sinking the boat. Most libraries now have the ability to rent a large collection of ebooks at no charge to members, just make sure you have your account set up before leaving and your library card is not going to expire soon.
Before moving aboard, we went through each book in our physical library and asked the tough question, “Are we going to use this while cruising, or not?” If the answer was no, we attempted to sell it on Amazon and eBay. Most got bought up within a month or so and the rest we donated to our local library. (With the exception of our Harry Potter series. Too big for the boat, but no way we could get rid of a collection we grew up on…it’s now taking up precious space in our 2 trunks left behind.) We have 2-Nexus 7 tablets on board as well as a ink-reader Kindle for reading in bright sun. Ebooks are definitely the way to go whether you pay for them or not, as buying and storing books just doesn’t make sense even on a large boat.
Fitting all of our movies into one case…Inconceivable!
Movies and CDs are a lot easier to downsize, as the main goal is to eliminate the overly large plastic jewel cases and consolidate the discs to a case. Another option is to eliminate the disks all together by transferring all of the movies and songs onto portable hard-drives that you can plug into a computer. We chose to just store our discs in a case since it really didn’t lose a lot of space overall to keep them, plus updating our music collection on our phones (default mp3 player!). One large case and a full recycling bin later and we’ve downsized without actually getting rid of anything. Once again, we couldn’t quite get rid of our collector’s edition Avatar case, because well…its Avatar. So yea.
From all of those boxes into the bags. Saving space has never been easier!
Finally, we wanted to bring some board games along, but knew that we didn’t want to store huge game boxes. Luckily, most board games take up very little space once taken out of their original packaging. A few Ziploc bags of varying sizes changed a huge stack of game boxes into one tote bag of fun! Now we have all of our favorite games, i.e. Settlers of Catan, easily available with using up precious space on the boat. All part of the art of downsizing without dumping!
Even this set had been paired down by a few pieces before we moved aboard.
One of the biggest challenges when moving into a small space is trying to decide what to get rid of and what to keep. Over the course of our preparations, each time we moved we would slowly eliminate a few more items. Once we moved onto the boat however, we realized that even some necessary items were too big and bulky for storing on the boat. The top storage issues on the boat currently center around cooking and tools. Over the years together, we have gotten into the habit of purchasing high quality tools when needed and have accumulated quite a collection that is hard to downsize due to the amount of money we spent and the fact that we still need some just not all of them.
From sprawling to compact!
The biggest space consumer was our cookware. Full sized pots and pans just do not work well in tight spaces, regardless of how much you paid for them! We decided pretty quickly that we needed a better solution and decided on a nesting, nonstick cookware set from Magma. Suddenly, we went from filling up a huge cabinet to having all of the pieces in one small package. After a few months of using them, I am still impressed with the quality and the ease of cleaning. At first I thought that having the pieces nested would get annoying, but it really hasn’t been a problem in use.
We received this set as a wedding present. Great for a house, not so for the boat.
This set is perfectly sized for our cabinets…small!
We also found that our traditional dining dishes were too bulky and heavy, not to mention glass! When we first moved onto the boat we figured that the no glass rule was a little too harsh, but fragile things just don’t survive a moving environment. And so, we have officially replaced the dining set we got as a wedding present with a 4 person camping set from Bass Pro. Because they are designed for campers in mind, the entire set of plates, cups, mugs, and bowls all nest well and fit into our kitchen cabinets much better. We’ve only used them a few times so far so the durability is still unknown, but we like the turned up sides for the plates and the sip-top lids for the mugs for sailing.
The throw pillow in the picture gives you an idea of the size of these babies. Small but mighty!
Dan got some new compact tools as well. We decided to replace his large 18-volt set with a new 12-volt set from Milwaukee. The tools and batteries are much more compact and easier to store. While Dan has noticed the reduction in power from his drill, it hasn’t been a big detriment to the jobs he’s been doing. Unlike the kitchen items that we are in process of selling though, we’ve decided to keep his old power tools, but down into deeper storage. That way, if we need one of them in a pinch, we aren’t stuck without a way to fix the boat.
In Part 2, I’ll talk about how we downsized our entertainment items without actually eliminating them.