Living in the world 12 volts is just simpler than trying to live with all the conveniences of 120-volt appliances.The exception, of course, is air conditioning because there is no reasonable 12-volt based air conditioning system.But, living in the world of 12 volts is actually very easy to do and the trade-offs are few and usually quite manageable.
The house battery bank rules.The house battery bank powers nearly everything, except the starting of the engine, running the thrusters and a few other low amperage items, and therefore it can be compromised easily. So, you have to pay attention to the voltage in the battery bank.Once it drops below 11.8 volts, you need to take action to charge it back.With two 12-volt batteries that are tied together as the boat came equipped from the factory, if you want to live off the shore power grid and be independent for more than two days, these are the choices:
Run the engine for two or three hours every other day,
Get a generator and run it for two or three hours as needed,
Get a solar panel array, or
Install a larger bank of batteries.
Every boater has the reasons that work for them on which option to chose.We opted to expand the house bank by replacing the two Group 27 batteries and installing four 6-volt batteries that doubled the amp hours available.However, within a year, we also had to replace the ProMariner smart battery charger with a bigger model to handle this bigger job.
Choose 12 volt.Lights, fans, music systems all add to the comfort and convenience of boating.Given a choice between 12 volt and 120 volt equipment, chose the former;it will save space and will be just as effective.
Amps are the real measurement.Any way that you can save on amps means less demand on the 12-volt storage system and the more time your batteries can serve you.Start with a survey of your power use.West Marine has a great survey tool on their website and use your owner manuals to estimate your power consumption.We quickly found that our refrigerator and the inverter/laptop combination were the biggest users that we had control over.You can save some amps by going to LED’s when the incandescent bulbs burn out. We spent about $100 replacing the anchor light, the two dinette/galley lights, and the two dome lights (galley and cave) with LED's. We got ours from Marinebeam at: http://store.marinebeam.com/
Use the engine power whenever possible.Every time that we are underway, we are charging something: a cell phone, the IPod, a bank of re-chargeable batteries, the electric toothbrushes or the laptop computer.
Use AA batteries.Make you purchase decisions for flashlights, digital cameras and other gear that use AA batteries.This means you do not have to have lot of different sizes of batteries aboard.
Use re-chargeable batteries.This not only saves on space to store batteries, but space in the trash and it is cheaper.But, re-chargeable batteries are not all created equal.The best ones that we use are Sanyo’s “eneloop” and are 2,000mAh. They keep a charge for a very long time and recharge in about two hours. About a dozen rechargeable AA batteries will keep all the cameras and gear in fine shape.Get a charger that can be used both in 12 volt and 120-volt modes.
Get the right inverter for the needs you have.We do not use any 120-volt devices that consume a lot of power.No kitchen appliances and no entertainment media.We needed an inverter to charge the AA batteries, cell phones, the laptop computer, the IPod and the like.A 150-watt inverter with two 120-volt plugs has worked great.The cigarette plug was cut off and it was hard-wired into the 12-volt system with its own fuse and mounted permanently for easy use.You can get a much bigger inverter and spend a whole lot more, but why?
Organize the technology.This stuff has more cords, adapters, and bulk.We have created a technology bag using a soft-sided brief case that holds the laptop, its power cord, the MiFi, headphones, all the cell phone chargers, the IPod and its cords, the rechargeable AA battery kit, and the cords to upload photos from the cameras to the laptop. We use the freezer bags with the slide open-close clip to group and store these by item. Rarely is anything lost and it all stays together.