Christmas in April

Christmas in April

Finally, an A.C. power source that’s perfect for smaller boats.

By Capt. Bill Pike — April 2004


Photo: Preston Mack/Redux Photos
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Install an Inverter
• Part 2: Install an Inverter
• Installation Photos

 Related Resources
• Maintenance Index

 Elsewhere on the Web
• Charles Industries

For a couple of years now, the Christmas Boat Parade we do here in Ochlockonee Bay, Florida, has caused me a spot of trouble. The reason’s simple enough. Partly because my 23-foot boat, the Scrumpy Vixen, is a little small for a big ol’ chunk of gasoline-fired auxiliary equipment, and partly because I’m into keeping things simple (boats included), I have no genset onboard.

While I sometimes chide myself with the apothegm that the smaller and simpler a watercraft is, the easier she is to use, maintain, and pay for (usually while ogling ads for three-stateroom trawlers with big gensets), every year since I began participating in the local yuletide parade I’ve had to rent a portable generator to power the Christmas lights I use on the Scrump. Such a state of affairs would be no big deal for most folks, I guess. But for me, a guy who’s as sold on frugality as he is on simplicity, it’s pretty disconcerting. Renting generators every Christmas costs me about a $100 a throw, in addition to lots of transportation time and inconvenience, since the nearest rental store is 40 miles away.

Next year’s gonna be different, though. I just finished installing a compact, weather-resistant, 1,000-watt, true-sine-wave inverter from Charles Industries (retail price: $999.99), and from what I can tell so far, the thing works like a champ. Not only does my new On-the-Go inverter silently and unobtrusively power up stuff like boomboxes and laptop computers, it also energizes Christmas lights. But more about that later.

First, let me fill you in on some critical aspects of the installation, starting with a few words about the time and expertise required to do the job. Charles advertises On-the-Go as a “plug-n-play” unit so uncomplicated and complete that an average boater can rapidly install one himself, and perhaps even transfer it occasionally to an RV or truck for travel and tailgate parties. “Installation is as simple as attaching the ring terminals to the battery and screwing the unit to the boat,” the company states. While all this may be true in some cases, the install on the Scrump turned out to be semipermanent and took more than six hours of planning and work, as well as a goodly number of power tools and no small amount of expertise in the realm of boat maintenance and repair.

Routing was my first challenge. I needed to somehow run two battery cables from the inverter unit (which I’d decided to put in the wheelhouse to keep it out of the weather) to the Scrump’s battery bank, located under a hatch in the cockpit sole, about three feet forward of the transom. For starters, the four-foot, ring-terminal-equipped cables I’d received with the inverter unfortunately were not long enough to bridge the gap between the batteries and the inverter. So I had to ask Charles to send me a set of optional #2-gauge 10-foot battery cables. They cost $69 and arrived within a few days.

The ensuing hookup was not straightforward, however. Not long after starting the process, I realized I was going to have to forego attaching the cables directly to a battery as suggested in the inverter owner’s manual—doing so would have required me to drill holes in some of the Scrump’s watertight bulkheads, extend my cable runs to 20 feet or more, or route them over a welded-aluminum fuel tank, options that all seemed inelegant at best. Instead, with the help and advice of the technical folks at Charles, I decided to attach the cables to my three-way Perko battery switch, a strategy that seriously facilitated the installation. I did this by simply bolting the output end of the positive cable (red) onto the positive, engine-feed stud on the back of the switch and bolting the output end of the negative cable (black) to the ground terminal of the boat. I then attached one end of the green ground wire for the inverter to the boat’s ground terminal.

Next page > Part 2: Once my On-the-Go inverter was completely installed, it worked superbly from the first flick of the switch. > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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