Electrical System Complete!

After a couple of solid months of work, I think I can finally call TIE Fighter’s electrical system complete. Well… arguably finished – I’d still like to add a bunch of solar and possibly a wind turbine, to remove myself even further from the grid, but at least now I know that there’s a very solid base to build upon.

wiring, inverter and charger
the new wiring, inverter and charger

When I took possession of the TIE Fighter the electrical system was working, but it was a mishmash of new and old components, new and ancient wiring and… well, frankly it was obvious that several different people had had their hands on the systems over the years.  Some of the work was efficient and solid, other areas were sloppy and a few were downright puzzling.  When I traced out the existing wiring, at least half of the leads didn’t actually go anywhere, ending in unexplained ring terminals or even just exposed wiring, posing a fire hazard.  With several false starts, I finally decided that the only way forward would be to tear everything out and start fresh.

And so starting fresh is exactly what I did.  I began with the charging system, as the old twenty-amp charger and charge manager were barely functional, charging the batteries at a trickle of about five amps, which meant that a full charge cycle for the existing ninety-amp-hour house battery bank would take approximately fifteen hours of running the generator.  Fifteen hours pretty much every single day – that adds up to a lot of gasoline!  I was going through about a hundred litres of gasoline per month just keeping the lights on and the laptop charged up.

the galley panel up close
the galley panel up close

The new charger was a ProMariner ProNautic 1250 C3, which worked perfectly for approximately two weeks, then died.  The charger would power up but showed an “Under Voltage” fault light – according to Google this is a pretty common failure of this particular charger, possibly caused by using it with a generator instead of shore power, and they’ll replace the faulty circuit within four to six weeks of mailing them the charger.  Several forum posts reported that the replacement chargers died the same death however, and so rather than spend months on this problem I decided to jump ship and go with the much cheaper Iota DLS-55 charger instead.  The Iota charger has far less bells and whistles – pretty much none, to be exact – but comes with glowing reviews of reliability by happy owners.  So far it’s performing exactly as advertised, charging my batteries at a very acceptable 50a.  Once the ProMariner charger is repaired, I’ll be selling it on Craigslist.

TIE Fighter also came with a variety of professional-looking circuit breaker panels from Blue Sea Systems, which as it turns out are well made, well designed, and startlingly expensive… the eight-switch panel comes in around three hundred dollars, and TIE Fighter came with three of that panel.  The puzzling part was that though the components were expensive, the installation was awful, using wood screws and rough-cut wood paneling, with the wiring wrapped in electrical tape and dangling over the navigation table.  I ripped all three panels out and rewired them, ordering in labels directly from Blue Sea.  One of the panels was installed into the galley, and as shown in the photo the panel is now active and happy.  There’s even a label for the watermaker, which doesn’t currently exist, and a spare switch for something else down the line… a refrigerator perhaps?

four trojan t-105's and wiring
four trojan t-105's and wiring

The biggest and most expensive upgrade to the electrical system – after the ProMariner charger, of course, but since it’ll be getting repaired and sold I don’t intend to count it in the bottom line – was a brand-new set of Trojan T-105 golf cart batteries.  These are six-volt batteries, which means that you have to run two batteries in series (ie connecting positive on one battery to the negative terminal on the other) in order to get 12v out of them.  Trojan batteries in particular have a very strong reputation in the liveaboard world as being very resilient and reliable – the lead plates in golf cart batteries are much thicker than the plates in a standard car battery, which means that they can be charged and discharged thousands of times.  I purchased the batteries from Norm and Dave, aka Century Batteries, and they were prompt and helpful and delivered the batteries right to the dock.

In order to install the new batteries I had to completely rebuild the battery compartment, removing the old battery box and constructing a new one out of 3/8″ marine-grade plywood, epoxying the corners for strength.  The fit is tight but secure; I measured very carefully and there’s less than 1/4″ of extra space on any side!  Four batteries, connected in two sets of two, cost me approximately $600 and should last for at least five years if maintained properly.  There was easily another hundred dollars or so in custom-built cables and terminal fittings, but as I said, I now have a stable, reliable, modern electrical platform on which to build.  The new batteries give me a grand total of 450 amp-hours of capacity. which so far has proven to be about four days of regular use between charges.  Suffice to say, the boat is a much more peaceful, relaxing place without a generator running on the deck every day!

Next up on the project list: more engine work!