Cross Breeding Batteries Can Lead To Trouble

My batteries were flooded, but now they are gel,

I’m thinking about glass matte – what’s next

Who can tell!

In my short boating career of forty odd years our choices of marine equipment has increased in powers of tens. We now are bombarded with so many catalogs and choices it makes my head swim. Publications such as Practical Sailor have sprung up to help us make some sense of the hypes and hazards of our equipment choices.

I have been noticing a trend in the boats we’ve surveyed in the last couple of years. More and more vessels have been retro fitted with “more modern storage batteries.” Things were a bit more simplistic when flooded batteries were our only choice. There has always been a good spread on flooded battery prices due to construction, but they were all basically the same animal. Then along comes the Sealed Marine Gel Batteries that cost more, but have some great Sounding advantages. They don’t spill, can be installed on angles, are highly resistant to shock or vibration. They are somewhat heavier than flooded batteries, but all batteries look like anvils to me. But guess what folks, your old Flooded battery charger may overcharge these boys and their gel will turn to stone which doesn’t store electricity at all. You now have an expensive rectangular rock. Flooded batteries and gel batteries have different bulk charge rates and You should consult the manufacture about charging equipment before You make the decision to step into this new boating technology.

One step up the technological ladder is the Absorbed Glass Mat battery. They have similar characteristics to their gel brothers. These things are great for high speed attack aircraft that often operate inverted. I don’t know about you, but I don’t operate my boat inverted and don’t ever intend to. Granted if you roll or pitchpole your boat, you won’t have acidic electrolyte dripping out on your overhead, but those aspects of boating are rarely encountered by most boaters. Those who have experienced such odd situations weren’t probably concerned about their batteries as much as their butts. The AGM batteries aren’t as adversely affected by old charging technology, but still any battery bank flooded, gel or AGM, needs to experience balanced charging. There are some really neat three-stage battery chargers available to replace the World War II technology we have embraced for so long. Lots of these old chargers are really killers disguised as chargers who work day and night, rain or shine to gas off your flooded battery and leave a dry smoldering remnant of that expensive heavy thing that you had such high hopes for providing you with light, navigational equipment, and music on your watery adventures. So my basic advice to you is, don’t mix your battery types, solicit information from battery manufacturers about charging requirements before you decide to make a switch of battery types.

If you decide to upgrade your system, there are some really neat three-stage chargers out there which are attractively priced and will aid you in optimizing your DC System. Take a look at the Boat U.S. catalog, the West Marine Catalog, and others. I’m still on flooded batteries, which reminds me, I had better go give those boys a drink. I hope you get a charge out of this and remember, the Lord loves sailors.

© Neil K. Haynes April 1999

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