Solar power can be seriously useful on a narrowboat and has fast become a big part of my work. My solar installations are well thought out, neatly fitted, really work and look great.
For boaters who spend extended periods out away from shorepower in the Summer months it is a game changer and allows you to moor in one spot and not have to run the engine. The size of system needed depends on power usage and equipment inside the boat and I recommend 500+watts of solar panels for a typical narrowboat. I generally fit and recommend the bigger domestic size panels – they give great output, are good value and are reliable.
I haven’t found a mounting/fixing kit I’ve been happy fitting so have had my own high quality brackets custom made and in my opinion they’re the best available. My brackets are adjustable so I can fit the larger panels to the varying curves of roofs to suit the vast majority of boat builder shells. They allow me to fix panels neatly and securely, are unobtrusive and make them very hard to steal.
My preference is to fit a Victron MPPT controller over any other brand – they are compact compared to the competition, are customisable and are top quality (fit and forget). It’s possible to install a system at a lower cost by using cheaper panels and controllers and I’m happy to fit what the customer wants.
Before installing solar you should think about fitting some sort of battery monitoring system (similar to a fuel gauge in a car). Please call to discuss and I can give you a good idea of total price.
Called out to a 2010 narrowboat in Penkridge with battery problems on an Isuzu 42 engine. For the 12 months of ownership there’s always been a problem with fridge cutting out in morning. New set of batteries recently fitted at boatyard but problems still persist. Poor output from alternator. I fit this 120amp alternator:
With a 60mm pulley and Gates Quadpower belt.
Also fit a Victron BMV700 battery monitor and rewire/balance the battery bank. The new alternator keeps up with the Zanussi washing machine. At the same time resolved problem with solar install. Customer delighted.
The most popular alternator upgrade job that I do – I’ve fitted this kit to ~ 200 Barrus Shire engines all over the canal network.
It replaces the original factory fitted 80 amp alternator which is expensive, unreliable and has poor performance providing nowhere the rated 80 amps. The kit I fit is far better in every respect. Charging performance is transformed with tickover output significantly improved.
The shims and a high speed pulley have been made for this specific job and this marine alternator fits perfectly. I use a longer Gates Quadpower belt which increases wrap around the pulley and brings the alternator further away from the exhaust manifold.
Cable sizes should suit the 90 amp output. Notice in the photo with the original alternator the cable size is 10mm. I upgraded the charge circuit to 35mm including the battery link leads and earth.
Have to be careful with the fixings for the terminals – with heat the insulating washer on the B+ terminal shrinks and can cause the nuts to loosen off which can destroy the alternator. I fit spring washers and locking nuts to prevent this. Also the insulated return negative terminal is only M5 and with the original nuts sustained high current can be too much for the contact – fitting good quality copper tube terminals and extra nuts helps this.
Charging has been totally transformed and customer very happy with the job.
The boat has an Alde Compact gas boiler fitted from new. My liveaboard customer doesn’t want to be reliant on expensive and inconvenient gas. I installed a Webasto Thermotop C diesel boiler into the Semi Trad engine bay. All my installations are done to the very highest standards. It’s very hard to hear the heater running from inside the boat.
Originally customer was expecting to remove the Alde boiler but we retained it and the 2 systems work perfectly alongside each other with no compromise. Also fitted the latest Webasto Thermocall module and the heater can be remotely controlled using the Webasto smartphone app.
Customer delighted with the work.
It’s very important the fuel supply and central heating circuit inside the boat are installed to Webasto’s specifications to ensure that the heater performs efficiently and is reliable long term. These are points and basic standards which you might assume every Webasto fitter installs to. Many engineers, boatyards and even main dealers don’t install to these fundamental standards. Above the basic requirements my installs are always neat and tidy and well thought out. The standard looms shortened, clipped and supported properly. Exhaust systems are supported and installed neatly and where necessary extra lagging is used – the lagging sock supplied by Webasto are not great. Fuel pipe is properly fixed and supported. I pay great attention to refinement and add extra features so the heater runs quietly. Sometimes the heater can be mounted on a welded steel upstand on the swim. This is a neat way to install, keeps fuel pipe lengths short, and helps maximise refinement inside the cabin.
Trojan T105 batteries have become much more popular in the last 3/4 years. They are high quality, have a capacity closer to what they are advertised at, are good value and have a long life if looked after.
Typically 4* Trojans will replace 3* standard 110AH leisure batteries.
On this job 3* Crown 155AH batteries were replaced with 4* Trojan T105’s. 50mm link leads. All loads taken across the bank (which is sometimes hard with the standard short studs with less room for the terminals). Crown batteries are excellent quality but have only lasted 3 seasons of light use which is pretty poor. I think this is partly down to the original fitment of a Beta Alternator controller (on Beta 43). I removed this and fitted a standard Iskra regulator which gives higher charging voltage over a longer time.
Smartgauge also installed – simple to fit and use, and relatively accurate battery monitor.
I had to completely replace the loom after what I assume must have been the ignition feed to optional 110amp alternator shorted out on the engine bearer. Completely destroyed the wiring loom and could have caused a fire.
Most engine mariners fit a fuse at the starter motor to protect the ignition/engine loom but for this engine they didn’t. Well worth checking yours if you have an Isuzu fitted.
A revisit to a previous job after I was asked to look into fitting a kill switch for peace of mind while disabled wife is maneuvering through locks.
I took the opportunity to take some photos of the previous job.
This was a charging upgrade to a standard liverpool boat with Isuzu 42 engine.
Start battery relocated to welded in steel tray. Fit 3* 12V Trojan Batteries. Upgrade to 90amp Alternator, 60mm pulley & Quadpower belt and fit Adverc regulator adjusted to 14.8V for the Trojans. Fit Victron Battery Monitor. Alternator works very hard generating 60+ amps at tickover. Massive improvement on the original setup.
System has worked perfectly for 4-5 months of Summer cruising every year. Trojan batteries still in excellent shape after 3.5 years.
Customer delighted with the system.
On this job I did the bits the customer couldn’t do and combined 2* 90amp Prestolite alternators with an Adverc twin system. 2* 160 amp split charge diodes. 50mm charge leads. 60mm pulley for alternator driven off the small crank pulley and 65mm pulley for alternator driven off large crank pulley and Gates XPA Quadpower Belts. 700AH Rolls AGM Batteries, Victron monitor.
Adverc Voltage adjusted for the batteries. System works well achieving 180amps just off tickover and customer happy.
Original engineer had told the customer the Travel Power unit needed to be sent away for repair when actually there was no belt fitted! On this version of cocooned Beta 43 there is an idler pulley mounted on a swinging bracket which acts as the adjusting mechanism and it can be a pain. The idler pulleys bearings had worn into the steel causing the pulley to twist and damage the belt. Rather than replace the pulley we made up a different type of adjusting mechanism.
Heavy and agricultural Idler pulleys are frequently fitted to engines with Travel Power such as Beta 1903 and most Barrus and Nanni. It’s normally best to remove the pulley and fit a freewheeling pulley to the Travel Power which will increase the grip the belt can generate. If an idler pulley is also used to tension the belt then an adjusting arm like this can sometimes be used instead.
On this engine it wasn’t possible to fit the freewheeling pulley as alternator is mounted backwards and runs CCW.
This is part of the process in a typical rebuild on the Bosch Travel Power alternator. A new slipring is epoxied and then soldered on. An engineering firm turns the slipring down so it’s perfectly straight. New bearings are fitted and the rotor is re-magnetised. I have rotors rebuilt to this stage so a generator can be turned around more quickly. It’s not always necessary to replace a slipring – some tend to wear more than others. Only high quality parts are used.
It’s important a travel power alternator is serviced from time to time as it’s possible bearing failure can destroy an alternator. The rear bearings tend to fail more frequently than the front. If there’s any play or roughness bearings should be changed.
The earlier Bosch alternator is a re worked low voltage unit popular in the 70’s and 80’s and was never designed to run a poly-V belt system. It’s very easy for owners and engineers to over tension the belt which can lead to premature failure.
Beta Marine often fitted soft aluminum alternator pulleys and often these wear and loose their poly v profile leading to belt slip and over tensioning. I have smaller 50mm freewheeling pulleys which run dramatically smoother than a fixed pulley and increase belt grip and lower belt tension required.