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post #1 of 18 Old 04-12-2019 Thread Starter
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hooking up solar and trickle charger

My current setup is attached. Not a very pretty drawing, but basically what I'm trying to illustrate is that I have my solar charger, trickle charger, and electric bus (labeled "BOAT") all connected to the battery terminals. Is there any problem with running a setup like this? Or should the connections for the solar and trickle charger be 2-way-switched so that only one of them supplies power to the battery at a time? Or even further, should ALL 3 be switched so that the battery is either connected to the solar charger, trickle charger, OR boat bus, but never more than one at a time?

Obviously, the way shown is the easiest to hook up, but I didn't know if that would wind up causing any issues. To be honest, I have never actually had to power anything on the boat for a quite a while since my outings are usually in the daytime and fairly short. So I haven't really been in a position to see if my setup is problematic. But today I went out to the boat, and nothing electrical seems to be working. The solar charger should have been keeping the battery charged, but the battery is about 4 years old and hasn't had much of a load put on it in a while, so it is probably just dead. But I'm trying to revamp everything on the boat, and if I need to redesign my electrical wiring, now is the time.

And lastly, if I were to hook up a volt meter to check the battery charge status, would I simply connect it directly to the battery terminals? That is, unswitched along with the other 3 connections? I have heard that for volt testing to be accurate, the battery needs to be completely isolated to just the volt meter and not connected to any charging source, but not sure if that's 100% true.
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post #2 of 18 Old 04-13-2019
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Re: hooking up solar and trickle charger

To start, is any of this fused? Do you use a charge controller for the solar?

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post #3 of 18 Old 04-13-2019
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Re: hooking up solar and trickle charger

The only clear answer I have is that it’s fine to be charging and drawing from the batteries, at the same time. Your batteries will experience the net of the two, whether that’s net draw or charge.

As to your two forms of charging, the term ‘trickle charger’ is used and abused. No way that know what you mean by it. Unless your charging systems have a controller (resident in the charger or external) that cycles through bulk, absorb and float, you’re probably not charging well at all. Whether that matters depends on your use and needs and how often you expect to buy new house batteries. At the least, the shore charger should have the smarts and the solar may essentially be in float all the time.


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post #4 of 18 Old 04-13-2019 Thread Starter
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In answer to both questions:

Yes, both the solar charger and AC charger are fused. They also both have controllers.

This is the solar panel:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0046DSLFS..._PKDSCb70C821C

This is the AC charger:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000CITKCE..._0ODSCb9ZHKA40

And I agree, I should not have used the term trickle charger. In this case, it appears to be used incorrectly. The AC charger is controlled and "smart."
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post #5 of 18 Old 04-13-2019
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Re: hooking up solar and trickle charger

Hi Blake, both those chargers put out minimal amps. I would call them both “trickle chargers”. They are designed to keep a battery up to charge, but they would take a long time to recharge a battery from a low discharge state. Neither appear to be controlled.

Had you discharged the battery previous to the time you found it non-functioning? If so, I bet it just hadn’t had time to recharge using these tiny chargers.

Also, some solar panels will draw power from a battery at night. There needs to be an internal diode, or a proper controller, to stop the flow. I’d have to look at the detailed specs of this panel to see if there is a diode. I assume there is no controller.

The trick with DC power on a boat is to first determine what your needs are. Build a battery bank that can provide those amp-hrs, then design a charging system that can support that bank.
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post #6 of 18 Old 04-13-2019
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Re: hooking up solar and trickle charger

Second what Mike said.

First order of business is to run various load usage calcs.... sailing, at anchor, day, night using your present or future loads... such instruments, lighting, pumps, refer, radios, radar and AP.

THEN you will know how many amps you will need to put back into the batts. And this will inform you on the AMP capacity of the batteries you will need. You certainly get get larger ones... but they are heavier, bigger and spendier. Larger capacity batts which are not deeply discharged may last longer.

You do this typically with the alternator when the engine runs. Consider getting a high out one with a smart regulator. This is you best fast charging method.

Shore power chargers will keep batts up, but you're tied to the dock... not sailing.

Wind, and solar will trickle amps in when there is wind or sunlight. And they will bring you batts up over a number of days if you are not drawing amps for loads. Each charging sources needs a regulator. Regulators CAN get confused. If you engine is turned on and the sun is out and your panels are raising the system voltage to say 13.2... you smart alternator regular might mistakenly think there is no need to pump out lots of amps. But there could be. So you may want a switch to disconnect the solar or wind when the engine is running so it can assess the proper voltage and use that to determine how many amps to kick out.
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Re: hooking up solar and trickle charger

I certainly get why you called it a trickle charger. That’s less than one amp of charging. In all likelihood, the only thing it means by smart is that it will stop charging when full. However, it appears it will only mantain an already fully charged battery. It does not appear substantial enough to keep up with the smallest of house loads, let alone provide bulk or absorb charging.

Before I throw ideas your way, let us know what you have for a house bank and what kind of loads would be on it. Is it just a radio, bilge pump and lights, or do you have other conveniences? Do you day sail or cruise?


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Re: hooking up solar and trickle charger

I don't see where it says in the ad that there is a charge controller for the solar, quite the reverse.
If you do not, in fact, have a charge controller, then the likelihood of having a diode in the solar system is unlikely, so, as mentioned above, the panels cost you at night.
And do remember, the solar rating of 1 amp if for direct sunlight straight on the panel, not off to the side or through clouds. I'd wager you are getting less than 3 amps on an average day from that.
@.8 amp on the trickle charger, as mentioned above, that is less than an amp, so your max input over 24 hours of constant current is only going to be 19 amps over 24 hours, and as also mentioned above, with a cheap unit like that it probably can't top up your batteries. So, your positive charging amperage over a 24 hour period is less than one amp.
Do you have a bilge pump (4 to8 amps an hour but it probably doesn't run much over a fraction of an hour, hourly) that comes on occasionally or an anchor light? Really it is all about simple math.
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post #9 of 18 Old 04-13-2019 Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the help so far everyone. I'll try to give updates and answer all questions in this reply.

Regarding the solar panel having a controller, I suppose it may not. The only thing I read on the matter was the following line:

"All DuraVolt Solar Panels are self-regulating and typically require no additional controller or voltage regulator."

Document source here:
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon....1J0LfSn2BL.pdf

I guess I just read that and assumed there was a controller, but re-reading it, that certainly may not be the case.

Regarding my power requirements, they are quite minimal. The boat is a Catalina 22. The only powered accessories that I have used with ANY regularity at this point (and even then not often) are the running lights and 1 or 2 small LED cabin lights if I get back to the dock late. I do not have a radio, electric bilge, depth finder, GPS, etc. No need for engine cranking - I have a tiny, hand-start 4 hp motor. As stated previously, I just do daysailing on my local lake. This isn't liveaboard, blue water sailing. Truthfully, up until this point, I could probably do everything I need without even having a battery. If needed I could use a little LED lantern in the cabin and just have my wife sit at the bow holding a pair of flashlights for running lights until we make it to the dock.

BUT... My goal is to start using the boat more often as an overnight camping experience. Probably going out no more than once per month during the summer and staying only one night on the water. Even in this situation, all that would really be required are the LED cabin lights, LED anchor light, and probably cell phone charging. I don't know what the power requirements for that would be, and I can certainly sit down and come up with the numbers, but I wouldn't imagine it would be much.

I agree that until you know your power requirements, it's impossible to say how many batteries you would need (and therefore the charging requirements), but I guess I just figured that my requirements were so minimal that even a single battery and small chargers would be more than sufficient.

However, even without hard numbers, based on my proposed usage, and recommendations on a bigger solar panel and/or shore charger (if needed)?
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Re: hooking up solar and trickle charger

Assuming that you plug the trickle charger in, you can just replace it with an inexpensive proper charger...if you can't return to the boat to shut it off, you could run it through a timer set for 10 or 20 hours. A single 12 volt battery will easily give you a few days or longer without charging.
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