Electrical, Battery Charger, Part I: Analysis and Installation

The Iota 45 Battery Charger
A battery bank is worthless, if you don't have some way to charge it. Some persons use an alternator on a diesel or gas powered inboard engine to charge their banks. Likewise, those with outboard motors replenish their banks (somewhat). These methods of caring for battery banks, however, are only effective, if the mariner is doing a lot of motoring and very little sailing. This is especially the case with those who rely upon a small outboard. For those who prefer to sail more than they do to motor, there are other options. Solar panels and wind generators can help, assuming there is enough sun and enough wind. When there is not, other more dependable methods of charging the battery banks must be employed. This is why most cruising sailboats have a battery charger of some sort, and its also the reason why the battery charger, powered by a genset or a generator, is so often called upon to bring the bank (or banks) up to full charge. When it came to outfitting Oystercatcher, my 1975 Ericson 25, for cruising, I decided that a battery charger was a necessity. In this three-part article, I describe my process of selection for the charger; my approach to installing it; my construction of a protective shield for it; and, finally, I describe my wiring of it.
When I purchased this boat in the fall of 2009, I inherited many problems that had been created by the previous two owners. Aside from the completely illogical mess of the wiring itself, there were some basic problems in terms of the battery bank, or I should say the battery, for there was but one of them, and it was in ill-health at best.
The previous owner had been in possession of the boat since the early 1980s, and for most of this time he had kept her at the dock you see pictured below. There was no permanently installed battery charger on this boat, nor was there any shore power inlet. This guy instead used an automotive-type trickle charger to maintain the battery. This portable charger he powered by means of an AC extension cord that he routed into the boat from the AC receptacle that was on his dock. From this set-up, it was evident that this previous owner never used this boat for anything more than day-sailing. Sure, he could have gone cruising for weeks or months at a time around the Pamlico Sound of North Carolina (where he lived) without the use his battery, and thus without the use of any navigational lights or lights on the interior of the boat, but I seriously doubt that he did.
Even before I got this boat back home to Charleston, South Carolina, I knew that I wanted to use this boat differently. I knew that the boat itself had the interior size and the overall heft for coastal cruising, so I knew that at some point I would need to rewire this boat accordingly. After a lot of research, I decided that I would use two Trojan brand, T-105, 6 volt batteries, wired in series, for the primary bank, i.e., the house bank. I realized that these two batteries together could pack a big punch for a relatively small price. With 225 amp hours, they would provide just the right amount of power for the amp hours that I planned to consume on a daily basis.
I'm not going to get into the details of the daily amp-hour consumption chart that I created for myself (based upon the various DC lights, fans, navigational equipment, and other items that I planned to install), but I will say that, after meticulous planning, I came to the conclusion that I would use somewhere between 75 and 85 amp hours per day. Knowing that it is not advisable to discharge a battery bank below the 50% mark, nor is it advisable to charge a bank above 90%, and mindful of the advice given by Don Casey, This Old Boat, 2nd Edition, that it is smart to multiply your daily amp-hour number by 2.5 to arrive at the correctly-sized battery bank, I did a little basic math, and came to the conclusion that I would need a battery bank that was capable of supplying around 215 amp hours per day. The Trojan T-105s, therefore, with 225 amp hours, were just right. I should point out at this juncture, however, that after a little more research, I came to the conclusion that it would be preferable for me to purchase T-125 batteries. These were the same size as the T-105s, and they did not cost that much more. They did, though, offer more amp hours: 240 instead of 225 to be exact. I liked the idea of having those extra amp hours, so I settled on the T-125s. With the extra amp hours, I would have more power available in an emergency, and I wouldn't be taxing the battery bank so heavily on a daily basis. This would likely result in the battery bank having a longer life.
In terms of the battery charger, I also did a lot of research, and at the end of it, I came to the conclusion that I would use a charger manufactured by Iota Engineering. This company, located in Tucson, Arizona, sells a lot of chargers to the residential market, but it also sells a lot to those who modify their boats for cruising purposes. I knew that it was a trusted brand, but I was unsure what size Iota brand charger I should buy. There were many to choose from, starting with a 20 amp charger and moving up through those of 30, 45, 55, 75, and 90 amps. From all of the research that I had done, I knew that balance was the key. Too much and too little were not good things. The charger had to be large enough to charge the batteries in a reasonable amount of time, but it could not be too big. Otherwise, it would overheat the batteries, causing them to emit excessive amounts of hydrogen gas.
As I researched Iota brand chargers, I concurrently researched charging sources, i.e., generators. What I discovered was that Honda brand generators are wildly popular with cruising sailors. Unlike your standard generator, which sounds not unlike a lawnmower, Honda generators are incredibly quiet. Moreover, they are incredibly fuel efficient. Given these features, it's not surprising that they are also incredibly expensive, when compared to the standard generators. Nevertheless, many sailors consider them worth it, and after enough research and after seeing enough of them in action among friends and neighbors here in Charleston, South Carolina, I decided that a Honda was worth it to me as well. When it wasn't needed on the boat, I could use it around the house, especially in the event of a power outage due to a storm.
In my research, I discovered that there are two main types of Honda generators that cruising sailors use - either the Honda EU1000i or the Honda EU2000i. For the sake of simplicity, we'll simply call them the EU1000 and the EU2000. From everything I read and from people I talked to, I learned that those who use the EU1000, also tend to use either the Iota 20, 30, or 45 amp charger. Likewise, I learned that those who use the EU2000 tend to use either the Iota 55, 75, or 90 amp charger. At the same time, I learned that these Honda generators have breakers that will trip, if they sense that there is too large of a draw upon them. Due to this safety feature, there were some who said that their EU1000 could not handle the Iota 45 charger. It simply drew too many amps. Others, however, said that they had used the EU1000 with the Iota 45 with success. In terms of the EU1000 itself, many cruisers said that given the similarity in size and price of the EU1000 and the EU2000, it was worth it to get the EU2000, since it had twice the capability for almost the same amount of money. Taking these words of advice to heart, I decided that to me it also was worth it to spend a little more and get the EU2000.
Having settled on the Honda EU2000i as the primary charging source for the battery bank, I still needed to settle on which type of Iota brand charger I should get. Initially, based upon my calculations and research, I thought that an Iota 55 would be the right size. It appeared that this charger would bring up the bank of T-125s to a 90% level of charge in 1-2 hours. The more I thought about it, however, the more I believed that the Iota 55 might be just a little too much. Overheating the bank was the last thing I wanted to do, so I settled on the Iota 45, figuring it was not too much, not too little, but just right.

The Iota 45, DLS-45/IQ4 Charger
Next, I needed to figure out the linkage between the Honda and the Iota 45. This Honda generator, by itself, will not power the charger. To make the connection, you need a cord. I did not want to run an extension cord from the generator directly to the charger. That would have been unsafe, and it would have looked pretty damn tacky. Instead, I decided, like many, that I would use a pigtail cord to connect this generator to a shore power inlet.
There was not, of course, a shore power inlet on the boat when I purchased it. Therefore, I had to install my own. The shore power inlet would do double-duty. When docked, I would be able to charge the battery bank through a shore power connection. When at anchor (or even underway), when far removed from the grid, I would use the Honda generator to fool the shore power inlet, as it were, into thinking that it was plugged into the grid.
The shore power inlet would be wired to the AC main breaker, which was located within the AC distribution panel. One of the circuits in the distribution panel would be dedicated to an AC receptacle, which would power the Iota 45 charger. For more on this panel, see my article, "Electrical, AC Distribution Panel."
Having settled on the Trojan, T-125 batteries, the Honda EU2000i generator, the Iota 45 charger, and the shore power inlet, I needed to figure out exactly where I should put all of this stuff. As far as the batteries were concerned, I decided that they needed to be located in the same spot where the original bank was located - low in the lazarette and centered over the bilge. Below you see the Noco brand battery box that would house the Trojan T-125s. It sits upon a fiberglass reinforced plywood shelf that I constructed specifically for this space and this battery box. At the time I took this picture, I had not yet permanently installed these items.
The Honda EU2000i generator I decided to locate on the port side of the cockpit. The exhaust for the generator would point aft. Eventually, I would install a swim platform on the stern, just behind the generator. Atop the swim platform I would strap the gas tank.
Within about two feet of the generator would be the shore power inlet, located on the outboard side of the coaming. I wanted the inlet to be outboard rather than inboard. That way, the shore power cord, when the boat was docked, would not interfere with activities in the cockpit. Also, I figured that when at anchor the pigtail from the generator would stay clear of the cockpit.
In terms of the placement of the AC distribution panel, I opted for the port side of the galley. In the picture below, you see the port side of the main salon and galley as it appeared at the time I purchased the boat. The original battery switch and DC panel were located on the bulkhead beside the stove.
I removed these original parts of the electrical system (and all the other parts for that matter). For more on why I did this, see my article, "Electrical, Original."
When I rewired the boat, I decided to stick with Ericson's original plan, as far as locating the heart of the electrical system on the port side of the boat. This made sense to me for two reasons. First, this side of the galley was the hot and dry side, whereas the other side was the wet one. I thus wanted to keep this electrical equipment on the side that was opposite the sink. Secondly, I wanted the AC distribution panel to be as close to the shore power inlet as possible. If I had located the AC panel on the other side of the galley, the distance between the inlet and the panel would have been greater than 10 feet. According to ABYC (American Boating and Yachting Council) regulations, this meant that I would have been required to install a breaker between the inlet and the panel. This I did not want to do. My rationale for this whole set-up should be much more clear now: generator, port side; shore power inlet, port side; AC distribution panel, port side.
Yes, this all made good sense, but by locating all of these items, i.e., the battery charger, the battery monitor, the DC main breaker, the AC distribution panel, the two bilge switches, and the three DC distribution panels on this port side of the galley, I left not one bit of room for that all-important piece of equipment - the Iota 45 battery charger. So where could I put it? What were my other options?
Well, I considered putting it inside the storage area that I had created behind the backs of the settees. These storage areas existed on both sides of the boat. I easily could have located the Iota 45 in one of these. The only problem, however, was that Iota Engineering specifically said that the charger had to have ventilation while it was operating. They also said that it should not, under any circumstances be within a closed space. This meant that if I located the charger in one of these settee storage spaces, then I would need to remove the backrest or at least lift it up while the charger was charging. This, to me, was completely impractical.
I also considered putting it on the mahogany trim piece, which covered the alcove box. In the picture below you see a break between the Spanish cedar on the left and the mahogany on the right. It was on the Spanish cedar that I mounted the DC distribution panels. For more on this part of the rewiring project, see my article, "Electrical, DC Distribution Panels." Yes, I could have mounted the Iota 45 on that mahogany trim piece, but that would have been bad for two reasons. First of all, it would have prevented anyone from sitting comfortably on the settee in the space directly beneath it. Why? Because the Iota 45 would have prevented anyone from putting his or her head back in a normal sitting position due to the way that it projected into the headroom space from the alcove box area. Secondly, it would have violated my own aesthetic principles. To put it in plain English - it would have looked ugly, and it would have annoyed the hell out of me to see it sitting there screwed to that alcove box, the product of some half-assed afterthought.
I could not put it in the lazarette. The Iota 45 charger is not ignition-protected. This means that if it were located in the lazarette, then it could ignite the hydrogen gas that would be emitted from the batteries during the normal charging process.
Some might say that I could have located the charger on the forward side of the lazarette bulkhead - that side that faces the galley and main salon. In the picture below, we see this forward side of the lazarette bulkhead as it appeared on my boat at the time of purchase. Certainly, I could have located the Iota 45 on either side of the mahogany door, especially since I removed the DC distribution panel you see on the right. I should note that I have actually seen a picture of one Ericson 25 where an owner located what appeared to be a charger in this very spot. The problem I had with locating my charger in this area was that I had cut out a good bit of the fiberglass around the door, so that the access to the lazarette would be much larger.
In its place, I had created a plywood panel, into which I had mounted the original mahogany door. There was no way I could mount the Iota 45 on this panel. I designed the panel so that I could easily remove it when necessary, simply by unscrewing four wing nuts. For more on this project, see my article, "Lazarette, Removable Panel and Door."
Having eliminated all other possibilities, this left me no choice but to consider the starboard side of the galley as the location for the Iota 45 charger. Below we see the starboard side of the galley as it appeared at the time of purchase. Above the sink is the VHF radio. I would later remove this dinosaur and replace it with a new one - one with DSC (Digital Signal Calling) capability. This I would integrate with the GPS, which would be mounted in the same area where you see those antiquated instruments. Given that this space would be occupied with a new VHF and GPS, I knew I could eliminate this area as home for the Iota 45 charger. I also knew I could eliminate the open space just beneath the antiquated instruments. This was where I had planned, all along, to install a binocular rack. Likewise, I could eliminate the space behind the sink. This was where I would install a custom mahogany spice rack.
This left me but one place I could install the Iota 45 - on the bulkhead, next to the ice box, in the same space where that puny spice rack and utensil rack were originally located.
Fortunately, the Iota 45 fit perfectly in that space. In the picture below, you see that I have situated it in that somewhat protected area underneath the cabin trunk protrusion. The duct tape on the protrusion says, "Paper Towels." I toyed briefly with the idea of putting the paper towel holder in this spot (instead of a binocular rack), but quickly abandoned it when I saw how far out into the galley a full roll of paper towels would protrude.
Yes, this spot for the Iota 45 was the best one possible. It was close to the battery bank, it was relatively protected, and despite its somewhat secluded location, it would still be well ventilated. Nevertheless, I was concerned about its proximity to the sink. The icebox I was not worried about, because I never planned to use this as an icebox in the first place. Instead, I intended it to be a pantry of sorts for the storage of dry foods. The sink, though could be a problem. Water, splashing from the sink, could damage the charger. Things could be much worse if a human hand happened to get in the middle of that combination. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to devise some means of protecting the charger from the sink and those who might use it.
I was pleased that I had settled on the Iota 45 charger, and I was pleased that I had settled on a location for it. The task before me now was to create a shield of some sort. This shield, in keeping with the principles I had established for myself from the start of this refitting, had to be both functional and pleasing to the eye. How I created a shield that satisfied these criteria is the subject of part two of this three-part article.

This ends this posting on how I selected and installed the Iota 45 charger in Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.

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