Providing jump-start assistance when the on-board battery is discharged is one of the free services included in a SeaHelp membership. Not without reason, as can be seen from the SeaHelp breakdown statistics, because the number of jump-start requests has increased significantly in recent years. A clear distinction should be made between conventional car batteries and on-board batteries on ships, boats or yachts, because if the conventional car battery fails to do its job, you can sit back with confidence and alternatively fall back on an existing second car, the local car repair shop or a breakdown service for jump-starting.
On board, especially if you are at anchor or on a buoy and a storm or thunderstorm is brewing in the sky, the only thing that will help in most cases is a call to SeaHelp with a request for jump-start assistance to avert the danger.
Different battery – types
To get a little more feeling for the power source on board, the different types of on-board batteries should be briefly discussed at this point: In general, a distinction is made between so-called lead-acid batteries and the new type of lithium batteries. Lead-acid batteries have evolved accordingly, depending on the requirements profile. While older on-board batteries still had to be topped up with distilled water due to their design, owners can save on this with sealed on-board battery types such as AGM, gel or lead crystal batteries. The same applies, of course, to the new types of lithium batteries.
Not all on-board batteries are the same
Which system for which boat type and the respective requirement profile of the owner corresponding advantages, can be clarified actually only over the individual consultation of the specialized dealer of its confidence, because too differently are the criteria. Starting from the production quality over the discharge time indicated by the battery manufacturers, the discharge depth or the number of possible charge cycles, the differences are defined not always, but nevertheless more and more often ultimately also by the price.
Starter battery decisive
As starter batteries, which primarily require jump starting, so-called AGM batteries (Absorbent Glass Mat, design form of the battery’s interior, editor’s note) are suitable for the vast majority of on-board uses, in which, among other advantages, no acid can leak out. They have a low tendency to self-discharge, can withstand high charging currents (possibly also during jump-starting operations), as required when operating an anchor windlass or bow thruster, and can survive prolonged periods at low temperatures without damage.
Lithium batteries require complex battery management
Expensive lithium batteries would actually be the perfect alternative if they did not require a special technically complex battery management system that monitors the on-board battery and immediately disconnects it from the on-board power supply in the event of a malfunction, without the skipper being able to exert any influence on it. For this reason alone, they are not yet suitable as starter batteries, especially since they also lose a lot of power at low temperatures, as is well known from electric vehicles. And in use, they can shut down the system without warning in the event of damage, whereas with conventional lead-acid batteries you can notice the loss of power noticeably with every startup and have the opportunity to react.
Pay attention to the battery during long idle periods
However, even if often separate systems on board are responsible for starting the engine on the one hand and an additional power supply provides the “usual suspects” for a discharged battery such as refrigerators, lighting, radios, laptops, tablets or cell phones, you are never so completely immune to discharging on-board batteries, especially if you have been lying unconcerned for several days at a buoy or anchorage and have been tempted in a vacation mood not to pay the necessary attention to the battery on board, so that you do not need a jump start.
Here are a few SeaHelp tips to keep your on-board power storage unit fit:
A battery for your boat needs to be cared for and maintained just like any other battery. However, due to the size and performance of these batteries, there are a few finer points you can use to extend or improve the life and also reliability of your battery. Read through the following points to prevent boat jump starts in the first place.
- If you are anchored for a long period of time and do not have generators or solar panels on board, then you should run the boat engine for 1-2 hours to give the battery a little charge. It would be even better to make a short trip, because then the battery charges even a lot faster and you avoid jump starting.
- If you have a generator or solar panels, you should always make sure that these actually charge the battery or batteries.
- If you plan to use an electrical device that consumes a lot of power, such as an anchor winch, water pumps or a bow thruster, then you should always run the engine during this time so as not to discharge the battery too much.
- Plan in advance: already during the implementation of the boat electrics should be made sure to connect a separate battery to start the engine. This should not be able to be “tapped” by other consumers.
- Do not use the main switch (master switch) in position/function 1 or 2, because in these cases all batteries would be weakened if only one of them has a little less voltage. There are comprehensive reports and instructions on this.
- All contact points and terminals should be in good condition. They should be regularly cleaned, cleaned of any rust and serviced, and in the worst case then replaced. The cables on the boat are relatively less susceptible to corrosion and aging at the insulated areas, but the weak points are all contacts and terminals that are exposed to the weather at sea – even below deck. Overloading can even lead to overheating, posing a direct fire hazard from outgassing.
- Cables and the exposed contact points cannot tolerate rust or dirt. A black or green color are always signs that you need to replace or refurbish something. You should make sure that all the wiring on board is always in “tip-top shape”, even if it is sometimes a tedious task. Believe us, it will be worth it and many a captain could have saved themselves a jump start or jump start emergency if the electronics had received more attention. Of course, if you want to play it really safe, you can have such work done on a regular basis by your trusted boat builder or shipyard.
Were batteries better in the past or is more power used today?
With all due caution: as is so often the case, the devil is in the details and therefore just in the on-board electrical system, or batteries. Anyone who talks to SeaHelp emergency personnel, who have to deal with such problems on a daily basis, quickly comes to the conclusion: many batteries today, even when new, no longer have the quality they once had, because there is hardly any other explanation for the frequent defects that repeatedly lead to deployments. Perhaps with one exception: the skippers have not adapted their usage behavior to the possibilities offered by the on-board electronics. Or the other way around: they consume more power than is actually available or can be recharged by on-board means.
SeaHelp safety: jump start or tow – free for members
If you want to play it safe, you should sign up for a SeaHelp membership. Then all it takes is two clicks on your (hopefully still loaded) smartphone on the SeaHelp app, and a response boat will bring jump-start assistance. This makes you doubly safe: if it was not the on-board battery but the on-board electrics, the skipper and ship can be towed to the nearest safe harbor, which, by the way, is also a free SeaHelp service.