Taking Charge

Posted on Wednesday 5 July 2006

Here’s the story behind why I was at the marina until 3:00 a.m. on the morning of the Fourth of July.

On the afternoon of third of July, I was was sitting on the Pretty Gee, looking at the navigation electronics, as I wanted to see what the current wind conditions were like—as I was thinking of going sailing. Earlier, I had been getting error messages from the Raymarine Smart Controller, saying that it was unable to charge.

The Wind and Tri-Data instruments were clearly showing problems as they were no longer talking to each other over the SeaTalk network. The depth transducer wasn’t registering on the Tri-Data system either. I started testing the instruments to try and find out what was going on with the depth transducer and SeaTalk network.

My testing found that the voltage on the battery bank I was using was only 7.33 volts. This is even though I had the AC-based battery charger plugged into the shore power system and turned on. I tried using the starter battery bank to see if that would solve the problem. It did—the SeaTalk and depth transducer problems were being caused by insufficient voltage.

This led me to investigate the work that had been done by Peter Kennedy and his company, Peter Kennedy Yatch Services, far more closely. Now, I’ve also written about the previous problems that I’ve discovered with his work thus far, but the low battery voltage—in spite of having an AC-based charger installed by Kennedy’s company—was very troubling.

I opened the navigation console, where most of the electrical system is installed. I checked the wiring for the batteries and started to trace out how the different pieces of the charging system were installed.

Background on the Pretty Gee Electrical System

The charging system on the Pretty Gee consists of several sources for charging the two battery banks. The two banks are supposed to charge from one of three sources—the 12-amp alternator on the 20 HP Honda outboard engine installed by Performance Cruising, solar panels, or an AC-powered 15A Victron charger—both installed by Peter Kennedy.

The two battery banks are a small starting bank, consisting of two small AGM batteries that were installed by PCI, and a much larger house bank consisting of two T-105 golf cart batteries that are in a battery box under the cockpit, that was installed by Peter Kennedy.

Each bank is supposed to have a charge controller monitoring and controlling the charging process, and the two banks are supposed to be connected during the charging process by an ACR battery combiner. The charge controllers and ACR combiner were installed by Kennedy’s company.

Further Investigation

First, the charge controllers were only setup to handle charging the battery banks from the solar panels. The AC-based charger and alternator did not run through the charge controllers. Furthermore, the two solar panels were setup to charge the two banks separately—with the port solar panel attached to the house battery bank CC20000 charge controller, and the starboard panel attached to the NC25A charge controller for the starting battery bank. Apparently, Peter Kennedy and his company don’t seem to understand the purpose of a charge controller.

Second, the starting battery bank was isolated from the AC battery charger. It could only charge from the starboard solar panel or the alternator on the outboard. At the dock, this is a major issue, since I generally don’t run the outboard to charge the batteries, and I can’t deploy the amas—or the attached solar panels while at my marina slip.

Third, the main battery switch was hooked up incorrectly. How Peter and his company managed to do this is beyond me. The original, factory supplied batteries were originally on the first battery bank—which is generally the default setup from what I have seen. However, on the Pretty Gee, the number one bank was the larger house battery bank, and the number two battery bank was actually the much smaller, starter battery bank.

Fourth, the BlueSea ACR wasn’t connected properly. Even though the boat had been on shorepower with the battery charger running, the batteries weren’t charging properly since the battery combiner didn’t close when the shorepower charger was active.

I contacted my friend and occassional crew member Dave, and enlisted his help in straightening out the shoddy work by Peter Kennedy’s company. When Dave arrived at the marina, we took a quick trip to West Marine and Home Depot to get some electrical supplies and tools. When we got back to the boat, we opened up the navigation console and disconnected most of the charging side of the electrical system.

The panel inside the navigation console has the following components on it:

  • ACR BatteryLink battery combiner
  • NC25A charge controller
  • BlueSea fuse block panel
  • Victron 15A Waterproof AC Battery Charger

Also inside the nav console is a ICP Solar CC20000 charge controller, the main BlueSea four-position main battery switch, and the two 12-volt AGM starting bank batteries, in two small battery boxes, as well as the cables that Peter Kennedy installed for the port and starboard solar panels.

We disconnected the two charge controllers, and most of the cables going into the fuse block. I attached the Victron battery charger directly to the starting battery bank to try and revive the two AGM batteries—which were currently at 7.33 volts. The only piece of gear that seemed to be properly connected was the ACR BatteryLink.

Upon further inspection, it appears that the ACR BatteryLink was not configured properly. The battery banks on it were reversed, and it was not configured to sense charging level voltage on both banks, which is setup by running a single wire from the secondary battery terminal on the ACR to a sensor terminal on it. I have added that wire, and now the ACR will combine banks if either bank is being charged.

We connected the port and starboard solar panels directly to the fuse block. We then connected the output of the two solar panels to the input on the CC20000 Charge controller. This will handle all the charging from the solar panels. It also allows for adding additional solar panels with little modification to the system.

We then added a second fuse block. This fuse block handles the battery charging from all sources except the outboard motor alternator. The output from the CC20000 charger controller is led into this fuse block. The Victron charger is also connected to this fuse block. This fuse block is being used in a slightly different way from most fuse blocks—which have a connection to the batteries coming in and distribute the electricity to the various fused load circuits. This fuse block is being used to connect various charging sources, via the fused connections, to the charging side of the electrical system. This fuse block allows the addition of a wind or water generator without much difficulty.

We then connected lines from the common positive terminal to the charging inputs on the NC25A. This means that most of the battery charging takes place through a charge controller—unlike Peter Kennedy’s original setup. The outboard engine’s alternator output is still not directed through either of the charge controllers, but this shouldn’t be an issue since the actual run time of the outboard is fairly minimal. The battery combiner should now allow the alternator output to charge both battery banks. We connected the output of the NC25A directly to the starting battery bank.

I spent part of today getting some more of the electrical system straightened out and organized. Peter had mounted the components to a 1/4″ piece of Starboard, which was also screwed into a 1/2″ piece of plywood, just inside the front panel of the navigation console. However, like much of his other work—the shoddy quality of the installation was clearly apparent—with mis-matched screws used.

Also, some of the screws that attached the components to the Starboard were also being used to attach the Starboard to the plywood—but with poor execution and attention to detail shown in all of Peter Kennedy’s work—I can’t tell if this was by design or through incompetence. I’ve since changed this to have four screws dedicated to attaching the electrical component Starboard panel to the plywood. Shorter screws now hold the components to just the Starboard electrical panel.

Conclusions

I had been using the cabin fan and electronics for several days at the point the problems started, and running them off of what I thought was the house battery bank. Due to the mis-configured main battery switch—instead of running off of the larger house bank, I was actually running off of the starter battery bank. This was compounded by the problems in the charging system setup—where the starting bank could only charge from the alternator or a solar panel. This is how I ended up with 12-volt AGM batteries showing 7.33 volts of charge, and a bunch of weird navigation instrument problems.

If I had been given the wiring schematic or electrical diagram I had requested, I might have known about this problem and avoided it. These problems could have also been avoided if Peter Kennedy and his company were capable of doing quality work.

Please note—all of the problems I’ve experienced on the Pretty Gee’s electrical and electronics systems have been related to equipment or work done by Peter Kennedy and his company, and should not be taken as a problem with any of the work done by Performance Cruising, which has not given me any problems.


4 Comments for 'Taking Charge'

  1.  
    July 5, 2006 | 8:03 am
     

    Good job you discovered this now and not in the middle of the ocean somewhere.

  2.  
    July 5, 2006 | 8:41 am
     

    Very true, and discovering it at sea may have been more difficult, as I might have been motoring intermitently, and prolonging the discovery process. It does appear that no major damage was done to the two AGM batteries thankfully.

  3.  
    Zen
    July 5, 2006 | 1:50 pm
     

    I agree, with the guys, better than out there… where stuff generally shows up.

    Now that U R an expert, when can U come out and hook up my Solar panels?
    :-)

  4.  
    August 5, 2008 | 8:24 pm
     

    [...] beginning… That pretty much says it all. There’s also another page you might want to read located here. __________________ Sailingdog Telstar 28 New England You know what the first rule of sailing [...]

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