The majority of conventional canal boats will have systems on board that require electrical power. Whether that power is required to operate a reading lamp in the evening or to run a cinema projection system and a microwave for the popcorn, there has to be a convenient way of storing electrical energy for use on demand.
Generators, in the form of 230v engine alternators or specialist cocooned fixed units, can provide power but only when they are running. Noise, vibration and consideration towards others are the key issues which restrict the running of engines and generators to between the hours of 8am to 8pm. Therefore we need a quiet, convenient and reliable source of power to enhance our travelling experience.
Thus the use of DC electrical systems, usually 12 volt but also 24 and above, and the installation of batteries which enable power generated during the day to be stored and used when required.
Oh, and like your car your canal boat engine won't start without a battery so all in all they are a pretty important component.
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