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Old 11-13-2002
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Choosing and Installing a Wind Generator


The wind generator is one of four components in Sue and Larry's energy independence program.

If you see a wind generator adorning an oncoming boat, you can be pretty sure that is someone out cruising. Cruisers worldwide have recognized the practicality and value of harnessing the winds power for more than just filling their sails. The addition of a wind generator to your boat can assist greatly in re-charging your batteries while you are away from the dock.

Sue and I consider a wind generator to be one of four components that make up an overall energy independence program that will allow a cruising boat to stay out of expensive marinas and enjoy the peace and quiet. No noisy diesel generator for us. The other three components include solar panels, a high output alternator and a battery monitor. The high output alternator is reserved as a backup charging source at anchor, or to maximize charging during periods when the engine is running anyway and the battery monitor helps you manage the power.

Unlike other charging sources wind generators have the potential to generate power 24 hours a day. Solar panels can only work when the sun is shining and the high output alternator only when the engine is running. Your overall output from a wind generator is however completely dependent upon whether or not the wind is blowing, thus our reasoning for designating it as part of an overall plan that keeps us covered under any conditions.

Choosing your Wind Generator


The radar arch on this catamaran makes mounting a wind generator a "no brainer."
In choosing our own wind generator, Sue and I had one major consideration that was going to outweigh other factors. It had to be as quiet as possible. Some wind generators have a horrible and annoying sound when the blades are rotating. We knew we couldn't live with that sound so close on our own boat and are even a little unhappy when we find ourselves anchored near another boat with a noisy wind generator.

Our quest therefore was to find a wind generator with an acceptable power output curve, but one that remained silent during operation. We did a little market research on our own in a Bahamas anchorage six years back. We dinghied up to each boat with a wind generator, turned our engine off and just listened. We rated each model then researched their individual power output and price, etc. From that study, we chose an Aerogen 6 (LVM) and we've been very pleased with it ever since. Other models we like that are also quiet and have acceptable power outputs for given wind speed include the Windbugger, Fourwinds and Kiss.

For more technical information about wind generators, and a comparison of thirteen different models, you might want to check out Nigel Calder's book "Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual".

Mounting your Wind Generator
When choosing a location for mounting your wind generator, keep in mind that the best mounting spots allow the generator a free and unobstructed flow of the wind while keeping the rotating blades a safe distance from any running rigging or an outstretched hand from a crew member. On sailboats, there are several mounting locations that best meet this requirement.

Stern Pole - The most common mount used for a wind generator is a stern pole. Aluminum pipe with a base plate welded to it is positioned at the stern and is braced horizontally by affixing it to the stern rail by means of a rail clamp. Bolt the rail clamp to your aluminum pipe at the right height, and you can simply clamp your pipe to the stern rail for lateral support. If your stern rail is flimsy or very low in height, you may need to add additional diagonal bracing from the pipe down to the deck, or from higher up on the pipe to the rail. In our opinion aluminum is a far better material for your stern pole than stainless steel. Aluminum is lighter, more flexible, requires less bracing due to its lighter weight, and is more easily fabricated. The flexibility of the aluminum also helps to dampen vibrations. On our current boat, Serengeti, our stern pole was fabricated using 2 inch aluminum pipe. At the top we reduced it's diameter to accept the base of the wind generator. Here we welded a 12-inch length of smaller diameter pipe. This arrangement has weathered 80 mph sustained winds. When dealing with aluminum pipe, keep in mind that the stated sizes refer to inside diameter, not outside diameter like with stainless steel tubing.


A mizzen mast mounted wind generator isn't easy to service.
Radar Arch - If you already have a radar arch or plan to add one in the near future, it's a no-brainer. Radar arches are multi-functional and allow easy mounting of many different pieces of cruising gear including wind generators. Often we see two wind generators mounted on a single radar arch.

Mast Mount - If your boat has two masts, you may want to consider mounting your wind generator either 2/3 of the way up on your aft mast, or all the way at the top. This location provides for much more wind and results in a cleaner looking deck. You can buy commercially available brackets or have one fabricated specifically for your purpose. If you need to service your wind generator however, this location can make the task quite challenging.

Fore-triangle Hoist - If you just can't seem to find a suitable spot to mount a wind generator, you might want to consider hoisting it in the fore-triangle. Although you can't use it when you're underway, hoisting a generator on the foredeck while at anchor is a good way to supplement your onboard power. Some wind generators are designed to be deployed in this manner, and feature components that are easy to disassemble and store. Charge Controller For most wind generators a voltage regulator or charge controller is necessary. A charge controller senses the state of charge of your battery bank and halts or redirects the output from the wind generator when your batteries reach full charge. Many charge controllers for wind generators redirect the charging current to a dummy load as your battery bank approaches a full charge. The mounting location for your charge controller can be anywhere between the wind generator and the battery bank, but it is usually placed near the batteries for ease of wiring the voltage sensing leads.

Wiring your Wind Generator and Charge Controller
With your stern pole or mast bracket in place and waiting for your generator, the last step before actually seating the wind generator is to run your wiring from the generator to the charge controller and onto the battery. Before you can do that, you need to determine what size wire you'll need. Wire size is a function of the amount of current it will carry along with the roundtrip length. That's the length of wire from the generator to the batteries, and then back to the generator. Use the table below to determine exactly what size you'll need for your own installation.

Minimum Wire Size (AWG) Selector Table

C
u
r
r
e
n
t

i
n

A
m
p

Round-Trip Length of Conductor (Feet)

 

10

20

30

40

60

80

100

120

140

1

16

16

16

16

16

14

14

14

12

2

16

16

16

14

14

12

10

10

8

5

16

14

12

10

10

8

6

6

6

10

14

10

10

8

6

6

4

4

2

15

12

10

8

6

4

2

2

1

0

20

10

8

6

6

4

2

2

1

0

25

10

6

6

4

2

2

1

0

2/0

30

10

6

4

4

2

1

0

2/0

3/0

40

8

6

4

2

1

0

2/0

3/0

4/0

50

6

4

2

2

0

2/0

3/0

4/0

 

60

6

4

2

1

2/0

3/0

4/0

 

 

70

6

2

1

0

3/0

4/0

 

 

 

80

6

2

1

0

3/0

4/0

 

 

 

90

4

2

0

2/0

4/0

 

 

 

 

100

4

2

0

2/0

4/0

 

 

 

 

It's possible that you'll need to drill a hole through your deck for the wire to pass through. To waterproof this connection, install a gasketed through-deck fitting for each wire. If you are mounting the wind generator on a stern pole, you can drill your hole through the deck, and then cover the hole with the flat base of the pole. In this case you can eliminate the gasketed through-deck fitting as long as you seal the wires and the hole really well with a high quality sealant like 101 by 3 M or Sikaflex 291. If you use the second option for running your wiring through the deck, you would mount the stern pole at the same time that you are running your wiring.

Once inside the boat, your wiring will snake through lockers and maybe under headliners until it finally reaches your charge controller. If you're lucky, you may find an existing conduit running from your stern to your batteries or electrical panel area. Do some poking around first to see if one exists before drilling your own route for the wires.


The author's pole mount with bracing is shown here.
At your charge controller you'll find several easy connections. Two voltage sense leads will run to your batteries, the positive leads from your wind generator will connect to the positive input on your controller while the positive output from your controller will lead to your positive bus. Install in this positive output an in-line fuse holder that will eventually house a fuse rated at 1.5 times the rated output of your wind generator, but do not insert the fuse. Your negative wire from the wind generator may or may not bypass the controller depending upon the model. It should eventually connect to your common electrical ground.

Your final connection is one that is going to be made as you install and mount the wind generator itself to the pole. Connect the outputs from the wind generator to your already run wiring, and slide the generator onto the pole. Keep enough extra wiring inside the pole itself to allow you to easily uninstall the unit in the future for servicing. I think we stuffed about 3 extra feet down into our stern pole. Insert the above mentioned fuse, and you're in business.

If you intend to head out cruising one day and like the idea of quiet, no hassle and free recharging of your battery bank, you'll definitely want to include a wind generator when outfitting your boat. We consider ours to be one of the main components that helps us, and many other cruisers, achieve true energy independence. Check out our earlier article "Choosing and Installing Solar Panels" here on SailNet to complement the wind generator for your own boat's energy needs and let the wind and the sun allow you to enjoy your boat in peace and quiet.

willardj and elspru like this.
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