Tag Archives: Electrons

Sneaky Amps

IPNRight after we installed the satellite TV antenna, we spent several days metering what it meant to us in battery consumption. The antenna and receiver are both 12 volt DC. The number we got was a bit steeper than we hoped for, but not outrageous.

And it was wrong.

Day before yesterday, I noticed all the status lights on the navigation laptop were off, and I knew we hadn’t shut it down. This is a ten year old IBM x40 Pro*. Given the way it has been treated, 10 years seemed a bit soon for it to drop dead, but it’s tech, so there is always the random element. The light on its 12 volt DC transformer/charger was on.

Then I noticed the router, which is on the same bus as the laptop, was frozen in stand-by mode. I touched the laptop transformer…and immediately unplugged it. It wasn’t, “melt things hot,” but it was too warm. My first thought was the after market battery in the laptop had failed.

I fired up the laptop using the 110 v AC charger and the battery was at 2.5%! Yep, failed!

Nope, it immediately began accepting and holding a charge. (Well, at least as well as it had been. Not all after market batteries are created equal, and this one is five years old.)

Apparently, the DC charger failed the day we fired up the satellite TV for the first time. Prior to the satellite TV installation we would have an early morning dockside deficit of about -50 to -60 amp hours (aH) (starting from zero about an hour before sunset). With the new TV antenna-receiver in use this had increased to -80 to -90. Like I said, not great, but not impossible. I attributed it to boat movements driving antenna realignment.

What I know now is the the laptop DC transformer shorted internally. With the laptop now charging off AC, our morning aH deficit is back where we expected it to be, about -5aH more than it used to be.

Clearly at anchor it will be greater than that because more antenna realignment is required.

So once again a battery charger failed us, and I am reminded that once again I need to check current draw on an item by item basis more often than I have been.

We ordered a new charger and will evaluate it here at some point. The ordering process was certainly easy.

*Reading this old x40 review with the current state of the art for digital devices in mind leaves me wondering just how much will things change in the next ten years?

LED There Be Light?

byebyebebiThroughout this site, and over the years, we have promoted Bebi-Electronics — especially their 18 LED Beka Kaukaua  anchor light.  We liked it because it was a superb anchor light that also illuminated the deck, making the extent of the boat easier to determine.

Sadly, politics in Fiji have driven them out of business. We haven’t needed a new light (they were so well  made), but the The FrankenBebiTM Project appears to be well on its way to creating a successor light based on improvements in the same design principles.

AC Voltage Management

klaxonstrongNo cute title, this is a serious issue.

Power outages are eventually followed by power restorations, but the voltage supplied at restoration may not be what it should be. The wrong voltage can damage AC powered equipment and can cause overheating that can lead to fires. This is not a boat/marina issue nor is it exclusively an away from the US issue.

This morning, early, we lost AC power to the boat. I know because I heard our transfer switch solenoid release. Later, I just happened to be sitting in the nav station looking at weather information when the power was restored. I looked up at the battery charger and saw negative amps (discharge) while the status panel indicated bulk charge. WRONG. I also realized the charger cooling fan was already operating. WRONG. My first thought was, “the Xantrex charger is at it again.”

I looked up at the AC Watt/Volt/Amp/Hz meter, and there was “73.6 VAC.” NOT GOOD. I flipped the main breaker, and then realized I could hear loud humming from the dock. When I went topsides, the loudest hum was coming from an unhappy transformer 50 yards away.

While this is not just a boat/marina nor a foreign issue, it does tend to be an edge of the infrastructure one. When in these areas, consider setting up the equipment you can to not restart on power restoration at non-spec voltage. If you can’t do that, set up a lost AC alarm and use it as reminder to switch AC equipment off until you can personally assess the voltage.

We have also decided we will no longer leave AC powered equipment on when we are away from the boat. Flipping that one big switch isn’t that hard, and we can wait for hot water if we have too.

Shore Power Economics.2

klaxonstrongMy friend, August, suggested a few readability changes. Went there, did that!  Shore Power Economics.2

I Sing the Bill Electric (Sorry Walt)

I have added a page under Special Topics on Shore Power Economics. While the business case analysis clearly leaves out things like (non-electricity) business taxes and unusual peak hour billing schemes, the basic concept is accurate and the bottom line is even with 10-30 percent recapitalization costs, daily power appears to be a cash cow for most marinas. Most will not meter the electricity until one is on a monthly contract. At ICW (Maine to Texas) prices, gross profit margins appear to be on the order of 30-60%. Even if taxes and fees take half that, those are still music to an accountant’s ears.

The average coastal sailboat will have a very hard time using what they have paid for. Trawlers with their larger interior volumes and air conditioning systems may find it a bit easier. If one has a solar boat, as we do, we  consume about 5-10% of the shore power we are paying for. Put another way, 75% of what we pay for electricity goes to the marina bottom line. When it is a one to two night stay, and the weather allows, we don’t plug in any more.

What a Pill (minder)

Well, having reached a point in life where pill minders serve a useful purpose, I was struck by just how useful they can be. Mine is yellow and blue, my wife’s is pink and blue. Since these three colors correlate nicely with wire crimp fittings, and since the bottoms have a curved corner to facilitate pill (fitting) removal, (additional of) these have now become small parts bins in my electrical kit.