Taking care of your Boats Batteries
Taking care of your Boats Batteries
By Reed Montgomery
Taking good care of one to three batteries requires just a little of your time each month. To the tournament angler this could be a dozen or more times in a four week period. However,in the case of most anglers,this usually turns out to be once or twice a month. By simply hooking up a battery charger (upon an all day of standing on a trolling motor ) and turning it off when a charge is indicated,you can extend the life of your batteries tremendously. However, much more than this is to be said about battery care. Many variables weigh the outcome of the life of your batteries. Things such as chargers,trolling motors,wiring and daily use, should be noted to fully get the life expectancy (and your money's worth) out of a good set of batteries.
HOW A BATTERY WORKS Many people believe that a battery has stored electricity and that once it is used up,you simply hook up a charger and it replaces what you used. In a sense this is true,but what you replace is a chemical form of energy. First,there are two different kinds of marine batteries. One is a cranking battery and the other a trolling battery. Contrary to popular belief,there is a difference,and the latter of the two can be used in either situation. But,you should never use a "cranking battery " for trolling(which results in a constant draining and recharging) unless it is an emergency or for a short period of time. Doing so,will result in a short life of your battery. To further understand why this is so,a knowledge of the "composition" of each battery must be explained.
In the latter part of the 18 th century,an Italian physicist immersed two dissimilar metals into a vat of sulfuric acid. When the two of them were connected a "chemical reaction " occurred and produced an electrical current. The metal used then (and still used today) is known as lead. Most batteries of today have lead "plates" that are coated with an active chemical paste. These sealed batteries contain sections of six known as cells. In each section there are two plates,one contains a negative charge the other a positive charge. The negative plate is made up of a more spongy type of lead. The positive plate is treated with a lead dioxide, producing a harder,more dissimilar-type of metal.
Separating each of these plates are plate separators. These used to consist of a thick piece of paper or cardboard,causing a short life for earlier model deep-cycle batteries. After many returned batteries (and unhappy customers) changes were made. Due to lead particles forming on the edges of these plate separators,electrical contact was made resulting in dead or shorted-out cells. Even today, many manufacturer's still use this outdated method (which is cheaper) and results in a customer buying more batteries in a shorter period of time. One "high tech" company that has always produced a superior battery and put customer satisfaction first is AC DELCO manufactor of Delco Voyager batteries. Previously labeled General Motors Component Group, Delphi Automotive Systems,but now just AC Delco. They definitely proved they are "durable and reliable" just like the TV commercials exclaim. To protect their plates AC Delco have developed an envelope separator which is made of high tech plastic. It surrounds the plates on three edges and is open at the top. This reduces shorted out batteries,helps retain active material (electrolyte), increases the life of the battery and most importantly,keeps customers happy and coming back for more batteries when needed.
Another of AC Delco Voyager Batteries innovation is their "lead calcium grid", which bonds together or forms the plates.This, the heart of the battery,helps retain the active material,freely passes electrical current and resists the corrosive effects of sulfuric acid. It also greatly increases battery performance and longevity.Many battery manufacturers still use old-fashioned cast grids made from an alloy of lead and antimony. "Antimony" can poison the battery,causing excessive gas,water loss and rapid self-discharge,while causing less resistance to overcharge. AC Delco's Voyager Battery utilizes a wrought (work hardened),non-poisonous,lead calcium alloy. This is expanded to form a strong, electrically conductive,acid-resistant grid. These grids are 60% thicker than previous models,to extend the life of the battery.
MORE ON PLATES AND THEIR PURPOSE Regardless of what type of battery you prefer,all consist of plates,cells,an acid water(or gel) mixture,and two dissimilar types of metal. The plates are the life of the battery,taking all of the abuse from occasional mischarges. The solution or mixture(sulfuric acid) has left many holes in our clothing from careless mishandling in years past. These are reminders of the way it can also eat away at lead plates over months of undercharging or in some cases overcharging.
The plates in each cell are submerged in a solution of sulfuric acid and labeled an "electrolyte". Regardless of their size,each set of plates (two per cell,one positive and the other negative), produces approximately 2.1 volts. This is produced by connecting two dissimilar metals. A volt is best described as "a unit for measuring the force that moves an electrical current". These volts are increased in multiples,by adding more cells (usually 6),which are connected negative-to-positive and positive-to-negative. When multiplied,this amounts to 12.6 volts. This type of connection is called a "series connection". The size of the plates determines how much "strength or amperage" is available in each battery.
If more of these plates are connected in common,such as positive-to-positive or negative-to-negative,more amps or amperage is produced. This type of connection is termed as a "parallel connection". Confusing? Maybe so,but perhaps now a little more understandable. Still, you may ask, " Why does all this occur and how does charging and discharging take place? Also,how does this effect my fishing?" For the answer to this and other questions,read on.
A fully charged battery will gradually lose its charge upon constant use and constant recharging. As this takes place the sulfuric acid is broken down to its components. This is reacted with and absorbed by the lead plates,until all the acid is dissipated. This leaves only the water (or gel) in each cell,thus creating a state of discharge. By using a battery charger the process is reversed. The electrical charge causes sulfate-ions to be released from the lead back to the liquid in each cell. This in turn chemically changes back to sulfuric acid and returns the battery to a full charge. So why all the fuss over which battery is more suitable for trolling or cranking? A cranking (or starting) battery is designed to deliver a short burst of energy due to a large number of relatively thin plates. The outboard motor's alternator then quickly replaces this small amount of energy used. If however you used this thin plate battery for trolling,the thinner plates would warp and deteriorate much faster than the thicker plates of a deep-cycle battery. The oxides used in a cranking battery are much more porous. This will allow a quick release of starting energy needed for today's high horsepower outboards,where a deep-cycle battery possesses a tight mixture of oxides providing a much slower release of energy. However,even a 200 horsepower outboard motor requires a relatively low amount of starting energy. Therefore,a trolling (or deep cycle) battery can do an acceptable job of starting the engine provided the battery is not dropped below a 20% charge. Although some will argue this point (when all the dust is cleared) most will agree. It is best to keep cranking batteries and trolling batteries within their engineered ranks. After all,that's why they make two different kinds of batteries.
CHOOSING A BATTERY How much do you want to spend? Besides cost,many factors should influence your decision. Quality and performance are definitely in this group,but most important of all will be battery life expectancy. As in most of life's situations involving money you get what you pay for. But usually if you pay a little more it is for a good reason. Many reputable companies compete today for the honor of being at the top of the consumers list of battery sales. Doing so produces quality products and repeated sales from many satisfied customers. With a recognized group of over 60 million anglers in the U. S. alone (of which over half are bass anglers) that comes out to a lot of batteries.
Open any fishing magazine and usually there will be a number of ads for some well known brands of batteries. Advertising exposes their products to thousands of anglers that buy as many as three batteries every other year. Most of these ads are backed by some reputable bassing pro or a well known television host. None of which would put their reputation on the line for some inferior product. One such company AC DELCO known for their marketing of the "Delco-Voyager " line of Marine and RV batteries, proclaim through their TV and magazine ads that their batteries are " Durable and Reliable." Backed by such TV personalities as Jimmy Houston and Hank Parker,along with many of the touring pros on the Bassmasters Tournament Trail and the Bass-N-Gals Trail, they have definitely proved they are the top of the line batteries for the serious angler. They are also an official sponsor of Bassmasters and the Bassmasters Classic World Championship Tournament featured each year.
Recently introduced, is the new AC Delco Voyager Premium series of deep-cycle batteries. This new premium series offers anglers,boaters and campers up to 12% more usable power. This is due to an increased number of thicker plates than their previously marketed, top of the line, Delco-Voyager M27MF series. Labeled, " The AC Delco-Voyager Premium M30HMF Marine Battery." This battery provides 10 more amp-hours of capacity compared to other batteries. This amounts to a total of 115 amp-hours. Other obvious features are its weight (60 lbs),its length (13.6 inches) and a new flat-top design,of which results in a lower battery height and an easier fit and storage. Added to all this is the M 30's ability to provide 900 marine cranking amps (MCA), which is determined at 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) applies to cranking batteries and is determined by the number of amps available in 30 seconds at zero degrees fahrenheit. This amounts to about one amp for every cubic inch of engine power during an average cold start. The M 30's rated CCA is at 625 (cold cranking amps).
Another rating of high importance is the H.U.P. Hours of Useable Power. This determines how many amps are used up,at a discharge rated in hours and minutes. For instance,if you trolled at half speed on most of today's trolling motors you would draw about 15 amps. This draw of power (amps) using the AC Delco-Voyager M30H would last 5.6 hours under a constant load. Of course no one will stand on the trolling motor that long, but this gives you an idea of its performance. Added to this amp-draw could be two depthfinders, running lights or an aireator amounting to an increased draw of about 25 amps.
With a constant draw such as this,the M30H AC Delco-Voyager deep cycle battery would last 2.8 hours. I personally have owned AC Delco Voyager marine batteries for years and have never had to return one. I recently acquired a set of AC Delco-Voyager M30H batteries and currently run a 50 lb. thrust Motorguide trolling motor. Already I have put them to the test,with over 12 daily hours of steady fishing and trolling and have yet to even notice a drain on these durable,reliable and more powerful deep-cycle batteries. Not showing prejudice, but why settle for anything but the best?
BATTERY WIRING AND CONNECTORS Looking back to the first days of electric trolling motors,small gauge wire (No.10-No.12),did a suitable job of providing power to mostly 12 volt electrics. Even when 24 volt trolling motors arrived,shorter boats of that time meant a shorter length of wiring from the batteries to the trolling motor. But as time went on,so did the length of the modern day bass boat. With some of today's vessels at or over 21 feet in length,a trolling motor can be quite some distance from its source of power. The further these batteries are from the trolling motor the more the resistance takes place. Unlike earlier model trolling motors,many of which were connected directly to the battery,these much more powerful motors meet a lot of resistance through wiring that is too small to deliver a full burst of power. Voltage,amperage and resistance are all interrelated. As the length of wiring increases more resistance occurs. This causes a voltage drop and decreases the output of power to the trolling motor,often overheating the wires.
Remember,the smaller the wire,the greater the distance the "power" must travel, thus the greater the resistance. But this only scratches the surface of the problems associated with too small of a wire. Besides a power loss,overheating can occur,blown fuses or a kicked in-line breaker. Or the worst that could happen,a possible fire. Most authorities recommend at least an 8 gauge wire especially for boats over 18 feet in length. For those of you that are not familiar with wire measurements,this is about the size of a pencil. But more often than not,the trolling motor is about 20 feet from the batteries. In which case a 6, 4 or even number 2 gauge wire is safer and delivers the maximum efficiency. With stranded wire and low voltage insulation,the most appropriate diameter of these wires should be near one quarter of an inch.
CONNECTORS - On both ends of the wires connectors should also be given strict attention. In earlier days,spring-type alligator clamps came on most trolling motors intended for direct hookup to the battery. As 24 volt models became the norm,more secure,ring-type connectors gave a much better connection accompanied with a wing nut. Also in contributing to a good connection are heavy duty plugs for durability and maximum thrust. When installing a trolling motor and making a direct connection to the wire,butt splices and electrical tape should be used to keep out moisture and ensure a good connection. Even a little terminal grease on the battery terminals will ensure less corrosion.
To be safe and to avoid possibly stalling or burning up a trolling motor,a 40 amp fuse or circuit breaker(s) should be installed in-line near the batteries. Tests have proven that by installing four gauge wire over the older and smaller ten gauge wire that efficiency,or thrust,will improve as much as 33%. Just always keep in mind that the less wire used,the more efficient your trolling motor will perform. Which always adds up to more needed power at the end of the day.
BATTERY CHARGERS Experts at AC Delco say the leading cause of battery failure is improper charging. You can undercharge or overcharge, in which either case severe damage can occur. Once this damage is done the life of the battery is greatly reduced. Getting in a habit of monitoring your charger will result in years of battery performance and less on the water problems.
Undercharging, as by now you know, causes sever irrepairable damage to the battery. Buildup,or sulfation of the plates occurs, which is a hardening of lead-sulfates. This in turn can prevent re-charging. A simple re-charging of the battery-within 24 hours after each use-is all the work involved to insure a maximum life expectancy of a battery.
On the other hand,overcharging can do as much damage as being lazy (or forgetful) and needs a watchful eye also. On battery chargers with monitoring systems,this amounts to a disconnection upon seeing a charged light come on. Or a small view of a needle indicating a charge or how many amps are in the battery. All AC Delco-Voyager batteries include a color changing "eye" mounted in the top of the battery. Assuming one has a 10-15 amp Taper Charger,the Hydrometer Eye determines the approximate time as follows: GREEN EYE (70+%) : Charge battery for 8 hours minimum. DARK EYE (50-70%) : Calls for a 12 hour minimum charge. RED EYE (below 50%) : Charge battery for a 24 hour (or more) slow charge. Any battery falling below this 50% charge is in danger of lead-sulfate buildup. It should be given a slow,low-amp charge to totally free the plates and return the proper electrolyte mixture to the battery. This amounts to 24 hours of trickle charge. Unless this is done after each fishing trip,poor maintenance will eventually cause deterioration of the plates,resulting in a short life of the battery.
Many battery charging systems now exist for today's modern angler. From on-board chargers that require only hooking up to an extension cord after each outing,to charging systems that charge all three batteries while the outboard is running. Both of these systems are convenient,but must include some gauge or indication of the battery's charge. Otherwise, one can only assume that a full charge has been administered.
Not having to drag out two battery charges and put them away everytime we go fishing is practical. Even on a weekend trip that means less to pack. But being a bit old fashioned,I still prefer to see what's going on as my batteries charge. A warm battery is ok,so is a warm charger,but if either becomes hot to the touch,it is time to disconnect. How can you know all this if everything in the charging system is tucked from view?
Currently, to help render the problem of carrying two cumbersome battery chargers is a new battery charging system by AC Delco. Labeled "Super Smart" battery chargers and rightfully so,for its main feature is two chargers in one portable unit. But not to stop there,the innovative people at AC Delco have included many other state-of-the-art features in these chargers as well.
For choice of power you can choose a 10-Amp Charger or a 20-Amp Charger. Either has heavy-duty clamps on the ends of color coded wiring for charging two batteries at one time. Charging is monitored by an easy to read L.E.D. readout. Reverse Polarity Protection,which prevents damage to batteries and chargers is also included. There is even a selector switch to correctly charge a Gell-Cell or other water based lead-acid batteries. An Automatic Float Monitor,allows charger shut down at the end of each sequence, monitors the state-of-charge and then re-activates when necessary. All this is built into a rugged metal encasement and comes with a two year warranty on all parts and labor. After all,why buy anything but the best?
With very little maintenance,marine batteries are easily taken care of and should provide years of service. More companies are going to a convenient (and less messy) sealed-type battery.
Maintenance? Applying a mixture of water and baking soda to the posts (terminals) periodically is all that remains to further maintain a good set of batteries. Remember,keep em' charged and cleaned and you will keep them a lot longer. After all, this isn't much to ask of the main system you have for catching a bunch of fish,is it?