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  #1  
Old 08-29-2012
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Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

Did an overnight anchor-out at China Camp in SF Bay last weekend - noticed a rather pungent sulfuric odor once we got back to our marina in Sausalito. My knowledgeable berth-neighbor informed me that it was from the batteries being recharged, creating hydrogen sulphide in the process.

I've not experienced this with charter boats, which may have newer batteries, and having purchased our boat only 6 months ago, have no idea how old the batteries are.

So my questions:

a) is this a clear sign that the batteries need to be replaced? They seem to hold their charge well, but the odor is significant and not easily ventilated.

b) I'm also told that the gas created is extremely flammable. Is this true? Definitely a minus if so.

Not sure if these unpleasantries are something to be tolerated if batteries are still functioning fairly well, or if they are eliminated by installing a new bank. Or, if this is a common occurrence with any battery bank.

Thanks in advance....

Neal
Tartan 4100
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Old 08-29-2012
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Re: Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

When charging I'd suspect it is exceeding tolerance or else maybe there is a weak connection within one or more of the battery cells. Not good. I'd check the charging voltage is within tolerance and check for hot spots on individual cells. The sulfur smelling gas is likely flammable. Hot spots on an individual location would suggest there's a bad cell. I assume the cells are closed (maintenance free) but maybe not and maybe out of electrolyte.

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Old 08-29-2012
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Re: Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

That smell sounds like wet-cell batteries that have been overcharged and evaporated all the water. If there are caps to fill with water, make sure they're full with distilled water. And check to make sure the charger (or alternator since it sounds like this happened underway not on shore power) is dropping to a trickle charge when the batteries are nearing full charge.
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Re: Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

Thanks Sea Dawg. Informative link as well.

Second Wind, I filled each of the house batteries to the brim prior to departure but will check to see if they possibly could have evaporated. Still getting to know this boat!

This did happen under way, so will check the alternator too...

Sounds like something is definitely awry, which is certainly good to know....
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Old 08-29-2012
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Re: Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

Batteries can definitely explode! I've seen it several times. Usually there is an occurrence just like you are experiencing, all that takes is a spark. In the explosions I have seen usually there is a bad connection and then a load on the battery such as starting the engine. The bad connection may Spark, and then boom plastic everywhere. You could have a cell going bad causing the odor in just one battery. Keep a eye on the level in every cell throughout your battery bank, if you see one that is bubbling more than the others, evaporating quicker, that Battery should be replaced. Also as suggested on the above posts check your battery voltage.......ps don't smoke or create a spark while you're doing this and by all means wear safety glasses. captg
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Old 08-30-2012
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Re: Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

Quote:
Originally Posted by djangodog View Post
Thanks Sea Dawg. Informative link as well.

Second Wind, I filled each of the house batteries to the brim prior to departure but will check to see if they possibly could have evaporated. Still getting to know this boat!

This did happen under way, so will check the alternator too...

Sounds like something is definitely awry, which is certainly good to know....
You shouldn't fill them to the brim, just to the fill line / marker, a short distance (5mm?) above the plates. Filling them to the brim leaves no room for gas, and hence it has to vent. Charging raises the acid level and overtopping can result in acid overflowing, too.

I wonder if the smell was just overflowing sulphuric acid.
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Re: Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

The charging could be producing hydrogen sulfide gas, normally due to low liquid level within the battery cells. Hydrogen sulfide is extremely toxic. Do not breath it. Problem may be with the charger or the battery.
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Re: Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

Did you read this? "I filled each of the house batteries to the brim"
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Re: Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

Not meaning for 'to the brim' to be taken literally, but I did top them off to make sure the batteries had plenty of water prior to shoving off.

I'm heading up to the boat later today to look into a few things. Will report any findings relevant to what's been mentioned.
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Re: Sulfur Odor from Battery Bank

Inspected the batteries yesterday and there is nothing notable to report. Water levels are essentially unchanged and there is no sign of leakage of either water or acid. Everything 'looked' totally normal.

One battery seems to bubble slightly more that the others, but the water level is no lower. I'll keep an eye on that one.

Seems the next likely step is to check the alternator, which I'll do when she's next fired up.

Any other next steps? Seems we are narrowing down to either charging issues or potentially a poor connection. Are there any other issues to look into?

Thanks in advance.
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