More power is frequently a request of narrow boaters. Generators are a useful appliance that can be used to supplement a narrowboats electrical output.
Generators… Portable Generators
Portable generators are a popular accessory for many narrow boaters. Their gentle hum can be found punctuating the tranquility of many a tow path and come in a variety of sizes, power options and can run on diesel, propane or petrol.
The first thing we are going to say here is that petrol powered portable generators on narrow boats are potentially dangerous. Storing fuel for petrol powered portable generators is also potentially dangerous. There are propane conversion kits available for most petrol generators which are easier to integrate into the BSS regulations for storing gas on board.
Then there is the question whether or not the generator should be bank side and if it should feed directly into your AC system via the shore power hook up. This all depends on how the generator is wired with regards to earth. Most small generators have what is known as a floating earth and are not designed for feeding complex AC mains ring systems. Should the generator develop a fault the narrow boats circuit breakers may not work with a floating earth so it is arguable that the generator should be earth bonded to the boats hull bonding point. However, if a floating earth generator is hull bonded and an appliance is run directly off the generator without passing through the RCD, then there will be no protection to the user at all in the case of a fault developing!
Then there is the question whether or not the type of generator you are looking at can actually be bonded in the first place. It is not our place to pass judgement on the use of portable generators here, only to point out the “potential” hazards.
By far and away, the biggest hazard presented by a petrol driven portable generator is death by CO poisoning. We all probably recall the sad incident in 2013 on Lake Windermere where a cockpit mounted generators’ fumes killed a mother and daughter who were pleasure boating over a bank holiday weekend.
Do not fix or install a portable generator inside any accommodation space. Also ensure you have adequate carbon monoxide alarms on board your narrowboat. More information on CO alarms can be found here
You must do your research here with the manufacturer of your chosen generator, a qualified marine electrician and your local Boat Safety Scheme examiner.
Generators… Marine Generators
Modern unit use the latest marinised diesel engines to output either AC or DC power. Models ranging from around 4.5KVA upwards are available. They are permanently installed and offer the user quiet, safe power. This power can be used to run AC leisure systems and charge battery banks. For electrically powered craft, a cocooned marinised generator can replace the conventional engine used for propulsion and be used to simply charge a large battery bank which in turn provides all “house” systems and power for propulsion.
They can be situated in a remote location from the narrow boat helm and with silenced raw water cooling will provide power for near silent cruising.
With a high enough specification, a generator and sufficiently large battery bank can provide an ideal solution for a long term live-aboard lifestyle on a gas free narrowboat.
If you are buying a new canal boat or a sailaway and are considering a marine generator, this is something to discuss with your narrowboat builder to ensure it is incorporated as part of the initial build.
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