Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Sunday, 2 June 2019

charging electronic devices on small boats when dinghy cruising

Electronics on board Arwen

With the prospect of doing more coastal voyaging this season I have been giving consideration to bilge pumps and to electronics to keep devices fully charged on extended trips aboard Arwen.

My current bilge pump set up, for want of a better description is:
·        A manual kayak style bailer pump
·        One large stout bucket
·        A small hand bailer for dregs on the floor

Thus far this set up has served me well. However, I have never had to shift water out of the cockpit after a capsize in an emergency using these items. When it rains, I have to regularly heave to so I can pump out the water runoff from the sails which gathers in the cockpit.  Very frustrating if sailing long distances or in confined estuaries and river channels. I have considered mounting the manual pump in some fashion so that it is rigidly held in place, pumps out into the centreboard case opening and can be used whilst still sailing. However, it is fairly tall and gets in the way and the only really good place to mount it is next to the centreboard case in front of the front thwart bulkhead, where it will stop me placing galley boxes in the future – so that seems a non-starter really.
I am, however, going to butcher a plastic petrol jerry can to make  larger handled bailer. 

Electronic wise, I have the following - some of which need regularly charging on camping voyages:
·        VHF handheld radio – x 2 – one is batteries (AA) and one needs charging
·        One handheld battery based etrex gps unit
·        One mobile phone with Navionics charts – needs regular charging especially if using Navionics charts and GPS – almost need to have it permanently attached to a battery charger
·        Three GoPros  - and around 14 batteries between them
·        Two cameras – with six batteries between them
·        One anchor light that runs off D cell batteries

For charging batteries, at the moment I carry
·        One 10,000 mAh portable power bank – non waterproof
·        One Power-Monkey extreme solar power bank – 20,000mAh - waterproof
·        Spare AA and D cell batteries

I can normally get by with these on a three-day trip and between them I can get around three charges of my mobile phone and a complete charge or two on the camera batteries before the portable banks need recharging. I can even charge my VHF with a push but it is slow going.

So, what is my problem? What would I like to set up on Arwen?
I think there are three possible options here.
1.       A portable bilge pump box and then some solar powered battery banks which I can then use for trekking, land-based camping and cycling as well – the advantages are portability and multi -use; the disadvantage are they would require solar charging which takes 25 – 35 hrs per pack.

2.       Install separate bilge whale pumps and then have portable solar banks as described above – cost is an issue I guess on this one

3.       Have a 12v battery system which powers an electric pump and then charges everything I need whilst sailing and overnight – not multi-use friendly that’s for sure but probably same cost as other options above.

Bilge pump – well if I go electric - I think I need an electric bilge pump that can work after a capsize and be switched on and off or left on permanently when the boat is on the drive – using a float switch to trigger it to pump out rainwater that gets through the boat cover and gathers in front of the round hatches on the vertical front thwart bulkhead. The number of times the water has built up and then slowly leaked through the hatches into the lockers! Even replacing tarpaulins, placing them on frames etc has not prevented water ingress. Arwen lives on a steeply sloping drive and winter bilge water is a fact of life. A battery powered pump with float switch seems sensible for storage on the drive and for pumping out rainwater on a trip or after a capsize. I quite like the idea of a sealed portable box with the pump connected to it which can be placed in different parts of the boat as well. I have seen some kayaks use such approaches.

I could install a proper manual whale pump but location is an issue. Some people have installed one either side of their boat in easy reach when sat sailing. Sadly, that is not an option in Arwen as they would have to be mounted where the galley boxes currently go and cost is also a consideration.

With longer sailing trips on the horizon, some sort of larger capacity battery, stored in a waterproof, easily removable box - with a simple portable solar panel for topping off the charge – capable of charging all my electronics, an anchor light and the bilge pump seems to be another possible sensible way forward. I suppose future proofing it as well is an important consideration – I may at some stage take the plunge and buy a chart plotter and echo sounder in one and therefore need to fit a transducer as well. My rudimentary, initial thinking about this option is that I would keep everything in a plywood box with tight fitting neoprene gaskets and lid. I have a spare food provisions galley box that would do it. Things could charge in it during the day and overnight and a solar panel would then top up the battery during the day. But that is my initial idea knowing nothing whatsoever about how this would all work.

Which brings me neatly to my problem. I know nothing about electronics whatsoever. So even this simple set up is going to tax my levels of comprehension. In a follow up blog next week, I will dive a little deeper into each of the three options. If anyone has any ideas, thoughts about the three options in the meantime – I am really open to and would welcome further help and support.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

No bilge pump on Sparrow but my electrical/electronic'al needs are slim and similar to yours... the following may give you some hints and tips??? You'll need to read in reverse order...

steve said...

you are such a life saver - if we ever meet - first few rounds on me!! THANK YOU!!! :)

@SmallCraftEG said...

USB to 12VDC charging cable. It will take longer to charge since this cable supplies a limited amount of current but the voltage is 12VDC.

steve said...

Thanks Jude - good tip - will go investigate

Patrick Hay said...

Perhaps you could take your electric bike with you and use it as a generator. Just put it on a stand and pedal for an hour or so every day!

steve said...

Patrick - Hi - now as it happens - I have a friend who is a keen cyclist who actually has a dynamo arrangement on his cermaic hobs and he charges all his electronics as he pedals along - so actually a good idea :)