Private yacht Power Inverters – A Guide


Computers, hi-fi and microwave ovens use considerable power, so if you aren’t considering using them on board you’ll probably need power inverters.

An inverter is probably main extras most owners consider buying for their boat, whatever size it is. The ability to use 240V equipment when you are on passage or moored away from a shore supply is prized by most people. At the same time, an inverter is one of the easiest items to install, offering you understand the basic steps involved. Inverters range in size from 50W to 4kW, and can power most items which you now plug into the mains, but you need to understand their limitations, as well as for that you need to understand what makes them tick.

How they work An inverter takes low-voltage direct current (DC) from electric batteries, usually 12V or 24V, plus converts it to high-voltage alternating current (AC), either 110V, 230V or even 240V. The process is the same as your battery charger, except in reverse, and some combi versions double as chargers, using the exact same basic electronics inside. Early inverters used transformers to step the particular volts up, and were weighty, but most modern models use solid-state electronics, both to step up the voltage and to convert the current through DC to AC, and are correspondingly lighter.

Domestic mains supply volt quality follows a sine-wave form having a rounded top as the current alternates. But , while this wave form is definitely produced by a rotating generator in the power station, it’s more complex and costly to produce electronically and waste products more power. Instead many inverters make use of a modified sine-wave, or quasi sine-wave, which has a flat topped or square curve. The modified sine-wave capabilities most AC equipment, but may struggle with some items, particularly electronics with internal power supplies and digital timers like computers, TVs and microwave ovens. Recently the internal power supplies for most electronic equipment have changed to switch-mode systems, which better handle poorer quality inbound AC. At the same time, the standard of the best customized sine-waves has improved markedly, close to that of a pure sine-wave.

Private yacht batteries and marine batteries

An inverter can provide high outputs yet all this power has to come from your batteries. Short burst high power appliances like a microwave oven, kettle, best toaster oven or hair-dryer are fine, but to run heaters or machines for long, you need a very large battery financial institution or engine power.

As we have mentioned, virtually anything that you now plug into the mains can be run from an inverter, but the size of your unit governs what it will power. Up to 500W you can run computers, TV, hi-fi, battery chargers for your mobile phone plus cameras, and even a 240V domestic fridge, though not always all at the same time.

Up to 1, 000W, and you can include a small travel hair-dryer. For most people nevertheless the big plus is being able to operate a microwave oven and for this you will need at least 1, 500W, preferably 1, 800W. Don’t be confused by the 60OW or even 80OW rating on most microwaves. This is actually the useful cooking power they create, not the amount of power going in, which is double this figure.

And at this size, your inverter should also strength a standard hair-dryer, plus possibly a kettle, toaster and coffee-maker, even though these may require 2kW.

Installing a good inverter is within the capabilities of the competent DIY electrician, but if you might have any doubts, leave it to some professional. A 2kW, 12V inverter will be drawing up to 200A from the batteries, more than many engine beginner motors, so you need large size cables, short runs, and great connections. For the higher output models, use 50mm cables (35mm regarding lower outputs), a maximum of 1 . 5m long with properly crimped lugs, not screw connectors as they work loose. Anything less and you could reduce too much power down the line, which means decreased performance and possibly tripping the inverter. You need proper cable from a battery pack dealer or automotive electrical supplier. Measure the exact length you want purchase. They will probably crimp the terminals on for you, but check the size of the studs. Most batteries will be 8mm, but the inverter may be l0mm.

If you have to mount the inverter even further, use 70mm cable, or two 35mm cables in parallel for both positive and negative.

Unless a main input fuse is already fitted, you’ll have to fit a 250A blend in the supply line. It’s also a smart idea to have a separate battery master change in line, so you can disconnect the unit totally. This must be capable of taking 250A continuous load. Check the size of its terminal studs – they will generally be l0mm.

The DC insight terminals on some units were very close together, risking short circuit. In case there are no plastic terminal covers, fit your own.

Your battery financial institution is a major consideration when installing any but the smallest inverter… For 200A out of a fully-charged 200Ah bank, the voltage at the electric battery terminals will drop from 12. 6V to 11. 0V on the inverter. If the bank is only half-charged, the voltage could be down to 10. 5V, close to the low voltage stumbling point of 10. 0-10. 5V.

If you’re fitting a 21kW inverter, you should have a minimum of 400Ah batteries, preferably 600Ah. For a 1 kw unit, you will need 200Ah, preferably 300Ah.
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All these figures assume the engine is just not running, which is the usual situation whenever moored. If you start it up, you will definitely get an input from the alternator, as well as the battery volts will rise, which will improve the situation, but you should not depend on this.

The condition of your batteries is also important. High continuous current pumps out will hammer the bank, and rapidly find out any weak cells. Gel or AGM batteries will be much better able to handle continuous heavy tons.

The 230V output from the inverter will be either one or more sockets around the front, or you may have to hard-wire the cable internally Again, only do this if you are sure of your proficiency. UK three-pin outlets are best fitted side by side or upside down so that large plugs or power-supplies dont foul the bottom.

Because the inverters have to be close to the batteries, they will usually be mounted within the engine space, or at least away from the galley area. But because most of them have a continuous residual current empty in standby-mode, you don’t want to depart them permanently switched on. A remote the control panel allows you to turn off the inverter if it’s not needed.

Ideally you should fit the change-over switch in the output routine to switch the incoming AC power between shore supply, generator, plus inverter. It’s important that you don’t have 2 different power sources feeding into your ring main at the same time. Make sure you get the polarity right when connecting the DC or you could damage the unit

Any piece of electronic equipment will give a high short-term output, but will begin to cut out as it heats up. Best exercise is to use the continuous rating to explain the unit. Having said that, the intermittent ranking is important, as some pieces of AC devices, particularly those with motors in them, have a start-up surge that needs a short burst open of higher power.

Most power inverters deplete a continuous current when switched on, even if you’re not using them. This standby current will be at least 2A, sometimes more, which, over 24 hours, it could strain 50Ah or more from the batteries.

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