Friday 20 August 2010

Narrow-Boat Internet Connection.

Well, time does seem to fly - This is my 100th posting into the narrow-boat blog - I started out with limited knowledge of boating issues (some might argue that nothings changed) However, I have found it to be quite a voyage of discovery. (excuse the pun) As I research the various issues I have tried to convert my notes and scribbling's into a much more readable and understandable format.

I first started the blog on  Friday, 27 November 2009. Here we are, the 20th of August some 264 days later. So there are still another 101 days to go to the narrow-boat blog first birthday and only 128 days until christmas!

Today's witterings are about getting broadband internet access to a boat.

Mobile Broadband refers to acessing the Internet using the mobile phone network. This is different from "wireless broadband" which you install on a fixed phone line in the home. A mobile broadband service can be used anywhere within the providers coverage area, just like your mobile phone. So you need to make sure you know what you're buying. Just like a mobile phone the broadband signal can get weak or even drop out as you travel between various locations.

In order to use mobile broadband you will need a modem and a SIM card. The card is similar to the one in your mobile phone. You can get both of these from your network operator, although it is worth noting many new laptops have 3G broadband modems built in. The most common modem is called the 'USB dongle'. In addition, it is possible to buy mobile broadband 'routers' which allow more than one person to share the same connection.
You can get mobile broadband services on a Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) or contract basis, just like ordinary mobile phones. You will find the PAYG and one-month contract services tend to have higher setup fees, whilst 12 month contract will sometimes offer free hardware.

  1. Use anywhere within coverage area, coverage varies so do check before buying!
  2. Get set up the same day.
  3. May be cheaper for 'occasional' users.


  1. Higher latency; not suitable for some games.
  2. Stricter download limits.
  3. Speed variations depending on your location.

Broadband service providers will often sell services based on how many gigabytes (GB) you want to download each month. This allows them to charge a higher price those using their connection more. A 'Fair Usage Policy' is a policy used by some service providers which tries to ensure that the majority of their users are not adversely affected by the bandwidth usage of a minority.
There are various packages which provide for different usage levels. Some include a very small amount of bundled traffic whilst others include lots, or may even suggest the service is unlimited. Make sure you understand your likely requirements, and whether you can change this within your contract period, and select the right option.
Do remember that there is no such thing as 'unlimited'. All mobile broadband service providers will include either a fixed allowance or implement some kind of 'fair usage policy' meaning that everyone gets a reasonable service.
How much will it cost if you exceed your inclusive usage allowance or fair usage policy limits? T-Mobile's terms and conditions indicate they won't charge you but they may restrict your connection depending on how often you exceed the allowance and by how much.

Vodafone's packages include a fair usage policy. Vodafone may "ask you to moderate your behaviour" and they may in extreme cases limit the speed, block your access or disconnect your service if you keep exceeding the fair usage limits.

O2 charge 20p/MB for any usage in excess of the bundle you subscribe to on monthly contracts. PAYG (Pay As You Go) customers will need to top up whenever they exceed their usage allowance.

Orange will charge between 1.96p to 4.9p/MB for "out of bundle" usage subject to a maximum of £30 a month

3 Mobile charge 10p/MB beyond your inclusive allowance for contract customers and 30p/MB to pay-as-you-go customers.

Virgin Mobile charges 1.46p/MB where you exceed the 3GB fair usage policy.

What would be a good deal for a boater.....

The cheap and cheerful option is the T-Mobile pre pay mobile broadband option. You can buy a daily (3gb) connection for just £2. The dongle cost is £24.95 This is a good option for the odd weekend boater. Available here. With no contract commitment.

Make sure you are aware of your mobile broadband usage and performance. All the network operators include software which connects you to the Internet that also allows you to keep track of how much you're downloading. However, you can use an independant monitoring tool to keep an eye on your data usage. Download the tbbMeter monitor tool to see how much bandwidth you use. Available here. tbbMeter is currently only available for Windows XP and Windows Vista (32 and 64-bit versions). It also requires .NET 2.0 or a later version of the .NET Framework to be installed to work.

There is an option with (3) for any continuous cruiser or live aboard boater. With a large data download (15gb) for £15 a month. Available here.
Choose from either a 24 month contract and £60 cashback and free dongle or an18 month contract and £40 cashback plus free dongle.

Vodaphone have an offer that includes a dongle for a one off payment of £25. This comes with £15 pre-paid for the first month. You will have to purchase a further £15 top-up each month thereafter. There is no carry-over of unused bandwidth into the next month. Available here. With no contract commitment.

As with all such offers - you must read the small print before committing - Do some research of the coverage in the areas that you anticipate using the device. If you find that your mobile operator promised good coverage in your area but you just can't get a signal, don't let them keep you in a contract. You should be able to argue that if they said you should get coverage, then you should be able to use the service. Do this sooner rather than later. Raise a support call with the provider (keep a note of the call reference for use later) and explain that you are having issues with the signal quality.

Tip: If you are thinking of having broadband at home, avoid "TalkTalk" like the plague. TalkTalk have also announced that they have signed a mobile virtual network operator agreement with Vodafone UK. This will allow TalkTalk to increase the amount of services available with the launch of SIM only voice and data tariffs expected later in the summer. I have only ever experienced problems with this company and would not recommend them to my worst enemy - or maybe on second thoughts I would.

Now updated Click Here


Tuesday 17 August 2010

Boat Battery Maintenance Pt III

Boat Battery Maintenance Pt III

Most vessels use lead-acid storage batteries for starting engines and the operation of other onboard electrical equipment. Proper maintenance of the lead-acid storage batteries can and will lengthen their service life.

The number of times a battery can be discharged is known as its cycle life, and this is what determines its suitability for use with boats. Car batteries are the most common type of lead-acid battery, but will survive only 5 or 10 cycles so are unsuitable for our purposes. For boating applications a battery needs to be capable of being discharged hundreds of times. This type of battery is known as a deep-cycle battery.

Lead-acid batteries used on boats present several hazards to owners who are interested performing their own maintenance. Lead is a well known toxic heavy metal. It shouldn't be a danger unless the battery case is broken. The electrolyte used in the battery composed of sulphuric acid and water. Sulphuric acid will severely burn eyes and skin. Goggles and acid resistant gloves should be worn while servicing the fluid levels of conventional lead-acid batteries. Charging a battery produces explosive hydrogen gas. Avoid introducing sources of ignition near the battery and ensure good ventilation. Always wash your hands after working around batteries.

A lead acid starter battery is made up of a series of identical cells each cell containing a positive and negative plate. The resultant voltage of single lead acid cell is normally 2 volts. In order to achieve the voltage required for the equipment, each cell is then connected in series to form a battery. In a typical battery (such as that used in a boat for starting the engine) the voltage required is 12 volts. This is achieved by connecting six cells together in series and enclosing them all in one plastic box.

Leisure batteries as used on a boat where a sustained current requirement is needed, as well as the ability to be discharged to 90%, have a different make-up to that of a starter battery.

Each cell in a lead-acid battery is filled with an electrolyte solution made up of sulphuric acid and distilled water with a specific gravity of 1.270 at 60deg F (15.6deg C). There will be more on "specific gravity" later.

Boat batteries come in all shapes and sizes. They are often subjected to a wide range of adverse operating conditions. From the extremes of heat in the summer and the deep cold of winter. Add to this alternator undercharging or alternator overcharging and you will find that the typical day-to-day conditions will take a toll on your battery performance. Battery maintenance is often a chore that gets neglected and is only done when a dire situation dictates. Situations like, when you turn the engine starter key and the only sound is a dull click. Its still summer, the weather is conducive to doing a bit of boat maintenance, which will certainly become a pain in the rear if it is left until the winter. Now is the time to think about battery maintenance.

Battery maintenance always begins with a visual inspection:

Look at the exterior of the battery. Look for cracks in the case, dirt or corrosion on terminals, and leaking electrolyte. Batteries with any external damage must be replaced. Next check battery cables and connections, looking for any damaged components. Cables need to be clean, the insulation intact and the connectors not be frayed.

Using a wire brush clean the battery posts and terminals until they are nice and shiny. Bare metal-to-metal mating surfaces are required for good current conductivity. To prevent corrosion on terminals, thinly coat the terminals, terminal clamps and any exposed metal around the battery with high temperature wheel bearing grease or petroleum jelly.

The three most important aspects of care for all types of batteries are both charge and discharge cycle as well as keeping them topped up with distilled water, unless it is a sealed low maintenance battery. It is extremely difficult to accurately measure the state of charge of a lead acid battery and to predict the remaining capacity or overall condition.

External visual inspection doesn't tell the whole story of battery condition. Testing battery's open circuit voltage and specific gravity of its electrolyte will give a more accurate picture of the battery's health.

Open Circuit and Specific Gravity Testing.

The first test is to conduct an open circuit battery voltage check.

Note Accurate acid testing depends on the battery being left idle with no charging or discharging for at least 6 hours with 24 hours being preferable.

With a voltmeter check the actual voltage across the battery terminals. Make sure the engine start key is in the off position and any items using the boats 12 volts supply are also turned off as well. You could use the boats battery isolators to be sure that everything is disconnected. You should have 12.50 to 12.73 volts across the battery terminals. 12 volts is acceptable, but only if the battery is not fully charged but has sufficient power (50%) to start the engine. With the engine running and with a properly operating charging system and a fully charged battery, the voltage should be about 14.6 volts.

Charge / Voltage
100% 12.73 volts
80%   12.50 volts
60%   12.24 volts
40%   11.96 volts
20%   11.66 volts

The second test is check the battery acid specific gravity.

To complete this test you will need a lead acid battery hydrometer. They are inexpensive and you can get them on eBay for a few pounds. The battery hydrometer measures the proportion of sulfuric acid to water, which gives a precise measurement of the state of charge. You will first need to remove each cell cap and visually check the electrolyte level in each cell. The level should be just above the plates and just below the level of the filler hole. If you can see the plate tops, then you will need to top up the cell with a small amount of distilled water. NEVER USE TAP WATER. You can purchase a litre of distilled water from any good car spares shop - such as Halfords. You can even use the hydrometer as a pipette to aid topping up each cell.

To test the acid, place the hydrometer into the cell and draw up enough electrolyte into it to make the internal float - float. Do not add distilled water prior to testing if possible. (Otherwise fill and empty the hydrometer with electrolyte from the cell to be tested five or six times to aid mixing before pulling out a sample) On the hydrometer scale the specific gravity of a fully charged cell is 1.265. Each of the cells in the battery should have the same reading. If one cell is lower than 1.215 or higher than 1.310 you have a weak cell at that point in the battery.

Charge% / Specific Gravity

100%        1.255 – 1.275
75%          1.215 – 1.235
50%          1.200 – 1.180
25%          1.165 – 1.155
0%            1.130 – 1.110

The last test is a load or drop test.

Attaching a load to a battery and doing a drop test is something that is not easy to do without a specialist bit of kit called a load meter. However, you can get the battery drop test done at any good auto electrical outlet.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn't. A visual check should be done once a month and a acid test and distilled water top-up every three or four months, especially after the second or third year of the batteries life. Get a drop test done on any battery before purchasing a replacement. Otherwise you might be replacing a good battery if the problem lies somewhere else..

Some Common Battery Problems.

It severely corrodes positive plate grids which weaken and finally disintegrate. Overcharging decomposes electrolyte into hydrogen and oxygen which causes excessive concentration of the electrolyte because of loss of water from the mixture of the battery fluid. This damages the plates and separators. High temperatures also show adverse effects on plates, separators and container. Excessive gassing creates the possibility of the active metal blowing away from the plate surface and fine acid spray escaping from the battery.

Perpetual undercharging results in sulphation of plates and running down of cells. Sulphate deposits are also seen on cell separators, which leak through and create short circuits between positive and negative plates. Undercharging also leads to buckling of plates.

Idle battery:
If left idle and self-discharge takes place, sulphation is observed on battery terminals. Sulphation of the battery kills battery life sooner than normal.

High Specific Gravity:
High SG destroys positive and negative plates and also reduces battery life.

Impure water top-up:
Impure water introduces impurities in the battery every time it is added. Iron and chlorine attack the plates causing to shorten their overall life. Chlorine bleaches separators which is harmful.

Negligence in water top-up:
The concentration of the acid increases due to reduced amount of water and so damages the plates and separators. The plate areas above the electrolyte level get hard and lose capacity.

When charged ions within a lead acid battery sink to the bottom of the cells. This leaves discharged electrolyte or diluted electrolyte at the top. The results is oxidization at the top of the plates and accelerated corrosion at the bottom of the cells due to higher acid concentration.

The depositing of lead sulfate crystals on the plates occurs as the battery is discharged. within a cell that permanently reduces the capacity of the battery. Deep discharging of the batteries can cause the sulphate to expand the negative lead plates separating the lead from the grid, or shorting it permanently damage the cell. Batteries, which remain partially, discharged for extended periods of time develop "memory" of the reduced state of charge due to sulfation. Sulfation accounts for approximately 85% of the lead-acid battery failures. Avoiding extended periods of deep discharge will reduce sulphation.

Replacement Batteries.

When you purchase a replacement battery, it is important to select the correct type. Remember, the more specialised the greater the cost.

NOTE Purchase batteries only from retailers with a high turnover on battery sales. Purchasing a battery that has been in stock for many months not on a maintenance charge. The battery can have already started down the sulphating route.

Standard lead acid battery type is normally the cheapest type, these are cost effective but need more maintenance and are more prone to damage from being discharged. This type of battery can be purchased from some retailers in a dry state. It will come with the electrolyte contained in plastic containers. When a battery is dry stored its shelf life is many years. I prefer this type of battery and to periodically do the routine maintenance.

Traction Batteries The term traction battery relates to batteries used to power electric vehicles. This can mean anything from a mobility scooter to a fork-lift truck, so encompasses capacities from 30 or 40 Ah to many hundreds of Ah. The smaller traction batteries are usually 6 or 12 Volt units, where the largest are single 2 Volt cells. Traction batteries are intended to be fully discharged and recharged daily and traction batteries can withstand thousands of discharge cycles. There are also batteries known as semi-traction batteries, which can be thought of as higher quality leisure batteries, exhibiting a greater cycle life. Marine batteries tend fall into this category.

Sealed lead acid battery type typically need no maintenance and will hold its charge for longer. These are also safer, as they cannot leak electrolyte as a standard battery may. Years ago, boat batteries lost water at a high rate and boaters were advised to check the acid level as one of their weekly checks. Improvements using calcium as a hardening agent in grids in place of antimony have caused less contamination of the acid and much reduced water loss. This makes the battery maintenance-free so no water needs to be added during its life under normal operating conditions.

Gel battery type are able to cope with more charge/discharge cycles during their lifetime and will hold their charge for longer having low internal resistance and so low self drain properties. Deep Cycle Batteries are designed to deliver constant power over prolonged periods of time.

Absorbed Glass Matt battery type are able to cope with more charge/discharge cycles and are able to hold their charge for longer having the same low self drain properties, they also benefit from being extremely resistant to vibration.

Recharge and discharge cycle.

All batteries have a charge - discharge cycle count. This is set by the depth of discharge.

If a battery is never discharged to more than 30% of capacity then the number of recharge - discharge cycles will be high. However, past this point the number of available cycles will be greatly reduced. See the typical leisure battery discharge-recharge graph from Lucas.

Replacing your boats batteries.

Calculating the power budget for your boat - should give some indication of the minimum Ah (Ampere hour) of the battery pack that is required. You will also need to take into consideration the space available as battery sizes do vary.

Rosie has 4 X 115 Ah leisure batteries plus a 100Ah starter battery. So that gives me 440 Ah or 132Ah before I reach the 30% discharged point. However, the Ah that a battery can give also depends on the rate of discharge. The greater the load placed on a battery the less Ah will be available. It is a complex formula (Peukert Calculator) which you will need to read up one anyway. So I take this into account by rounding down from 132 Ah to 110 Ah. (the same as a single leisure battery Ah rating)

Peukert's Law, was devised by the German scientist W. Peukert in 1897, it expresses the capacity of a lead-acid battery in terms of the rate at which it is discharged. As the rate increases, the battery's available capacity decreases. If you download the calculator, here is some info you will need to set the values. You will need to get the two hour/discharge rates off the battery panel.

C = "nominal" battery capacity. i.e. the number written on the battery or data sheet e.g. 100Ahrs
R = "hour rating" written on the battery or data sheet e.g. 20 hour
I = the "nominal" current at the given rate.
n = Peukert's exponent e.g. 1.3
Ip = the "Peukert" current. The equivalent current that the discharge will remove from the quoted battery capacity.
Cp = the "Peukert" capacity.

So what is Rosie's actual power budget.

Rosie has more lighting available than Blackpool. So I took the opportunity to reduce the wattage of the lighting system. The way I did this was to remove every other light bulb. I still have plenty of light available - but the power budget has been halved. It is not normal to have all your lights on all the time and so I have again used a suck-it-and-see method of rounding down to 20 %.  This gives me a rough 2Ah average figure for lights.

We have a toaster and microwave. This has a combined total of 1,800 watts, that's 12v at 150 Ah with a 100% conversion efficiency. However, I have only given this a 10% figure because we don't use it all that much, so that's 15 Ah average.

Pumps and other devices that are used infrequently I estimate at 2 Ah. The TV and satellite system which are 12v I estimate that at 3Ah as that is the current drain from the batteries when only these items are in use. So the total is about a 20 Ah budget. Or about 6 hours before I need to look at charging the batteries again. However, the Victron which measures the usage much more accurate than my rule of thumb calculations says... 22 hours of use before I need to re-charge. So rule of thumbing again I settle for a figure of 16 hours typical use per day.

Battery manufacturer web sites.


Part I

Part II


Thursday 12 August 2010

The good life!

I had a very quiet and enjoyable weekend with just me and Poppy crewing the boat. All of our best intentions for the weekend came to very little. In the main because the Memsahib or supervisor was away again in Birmingham. We had a couple of visits from friends, John, Tracy and a bit later Phil and his lady friend also dropped by, so I was playing mien host for some of the time.

I am currently reading a book by Geoffrey Lewis called "Strangers" which is in itself has quite a good detective story line. However, as the book is targeted at those interested in the "nuvo canal" genre. It is somewhat spoilt and the storyline is strained by some very tenuous links to the canal and narrow-boats. The canal being used to set the scene as a backdrop. It is more of a canal location name dropping list, than part of the real meat underpinning the storyline. But it is worth a read.

Later, I did a bit of shopping and then me and Pop's had a good walk along the cut. Poppy is only interested (fixated) in playing fetch with a ball. Which makes it very easy to give her a good workout. However, I also managed at the same time to collect several pounds of very succulent looking blackberries or brambles to turn into jam. I also picked a few pounds of windfall wild plums as well.

I like to forage for waterside food. Foraging is not only tasty but is a great way of obtaining free food that is commonly found on even the most urban of canals. There are a few do’s and don’ts but as long as you only eat things that you can easily identify and you wash them beforehand you’re set for a satisfying visit to the canal. Remember to leave some of the plant to grow back and you can go back for seconds at a later date. For more hints and tips on foraging safely, visit wild man wild food.

We all know that when it comes to picking mushrooms, knowing what you’re doing is a matter of life and death - there are poisonous varieties. However, mushrooms are amazing. You can use them in so many dishes, from a modest but very tasty mushroom soup, to mushroom bread, mushroom salad and mushroom jam.

It is a bit early in the season for the fruits to be at their best, however it looks like its going to be a bumper crop of wild fruits. With Elderberry, Sloe, Blackberry, Cherry, Pear, Figs and Crab Apple as well as Hazelnut all available along the towpath. I have not even started to look in earnest yet.

This started me musing about how self sufficient it is possible to be. A sort of "the good life" (Richard Briars - Felicity Kendal - Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington) comes to a canal near you. One could become, a bit more frugal from savings made from along the canal bank. Foraging for wood for the log burner stove as well as collecting fungi, fruit and berries certainly spring to mind. But what other opportunities are there available to test ones ingenuity. Certainly one, I have in mind is an idea based on a self pump out system for the onboard toilet holding tank. Which would go some way to us becoming a little more self sufficient.
The addition of Solar panels, Wind turbines, Biodiesel, Solar heating and Growing your own in the form of herbs in plant pots all seem to be viable ways of becoming - just a bit more green and a bit more environmentally friendly.

However, my pet subject at the moment is solar energy harnessed for providing heating. Rather than solar panels providing electrical power. Anyone who has spent some time abroad will have seen solar heating panels used to raise the water temperature for showering and washing purposes. Whilst the weather regime in the UK may not lend itself to heating large amounts of water for domestic purposes. This may not be so on board a boat where heating a small amount of water could be good, because we tend to practice water conservation.

There are a number of useful websites on the Tinterwebby that specialise in solar water heating. There are some good ideas available that just might lend themselves to being used aboard our boat. Plus, deriving heat from the sun is incredibly low-tech and much more efficient than creating electrical energy. On a sunny day the roof of your boat or car can become uncomfortably hot. So, what can we do to get the suns heat and to store it away for later use.

A good place to start is here on the homepower website. Solar heating. This is a very good primer on understanding solar heating as opposed to solar electrical generation issues.

PS. The first batch (2.5 litres) of home made Towpath Blackberry Jam tastes absolutely wonderful - I had some for "testing purposes only" on my toast this morning. As well as a sprinkling of fresh picked Blackberries on my cornflakes.

It really is the Good Life!


Tuesday 10 August 2010

Boat Battery Maintenance Pt II

Boat Battery Maintenance Pt II

The inside of a battery depends on what kind of battery you have. Boat batteries are normally the lead-acid type and provide a nominal 12-volt potential difference by connecting six galvanic cells in series. Since the cells naturally produce about 2.1 Volts. The actual voltage is roughly 12.6 Volts.

Lead-acid batteries are made up of plates of lead and lead oxide, which are submerged into an electrolyte solution of about 35% sulfuric acid and 65% water. This causes a chemical reaction that releases electrons, allowing them to flow through conductors to produce the required volts and amps.

The Battery bank on a boat typically consists of a number of 12 volt batteries connected in parallel with each other to give a greater ampage capacity whist still providing 12 volts. A typical leisure battery has a rating of one hundred ampere hours. So in this case the three batteries connected together would give a capacity of three hundred ampere hours at 12 volts.

A single 12 volt battery is made up of a number of galvanic cells, each cell being a nominal 2.1 volts. When the cells are connected in series, the cell voltages add together.

In this case the six cells connected together provide a typical single 12 volt battery.

The batteries on a boat are quite expensive to replace and need great care if they are to have a long working life. However, there comes a time when the batteries will have to be replaced or refurbished in some way. If I had to replace all of the batteries on Rosie, I would expect to pay out somewhere in the region of £500 pounds.

So I wondered to myself, is there any way of re-conditioning a battery getting towards the end of it useful life. A process that the average boater could do.

This set me off on a trawl of the T'interwebbie to find out. There is a lot of stuff out there on battery reconditioning. Some of it seems to have some merit on first viewing, and some other is an obvious load of old tosh. I looked at a large number of web sites. However, although using a battery charger with a pulsing system has some merits. I have experienced so Lazarus like recoveries of old batteries from using one. However, never to more than a "subjective 90%ish" of their capacity. So the chemical reconditioning route was the one I favoured the most.

So I had a chat with some of the chemistry boffins at the University where I work, about the subject and several possible solutions were offered. Then out of the blue one of them said that he knew of a way using tetrasodiumethelenediaminetetraaceticacid to do the job. Tetra what? I said.

But I digress....

So it appears that if you have a lead-acid battery that isn’t working properly, you may be able to recondition it. The most common reason for a battery failing is due to the chemical processes which take place in each cell when the battery is not fully charged. Even the slightest discharge condition allows both plates to react slowly with the sulphuric acid electrolyte to form lead ions. In other words batteries have a chemical aging process. It is these lead ions which cause the problems. As they combine with sulphate ions in sulphuric acid to form highly insoluble lead sulphate. When this coats the plates of the battery, it fails to deliver enough power to be of use. The battery may well be serviceable every other way - only the "sulphating" stops the battery from delivering enough power to be of use.

The sulphating can effectively be removed, or prevented, by adding to each cell a chemical called tetrasodium ethylenediaminetetraacetate (often abbreviated to tetrasodium EDTA). Now I asked myself why would the maker of the battery not put this chemical additive in the battery from new? I could not come up with an answer other than to maintain sales levels or that it would not work.

EDTA - ethylenediaminetetraaceticacid or tetrasodium salt to be more specific is the version in which we are interested. This chemical forms co-ordination compounds with many metal ions, including lead ions formed in the discharge cycle of a battery. The compound formed by lead ions and the EDTA ion is not particularly stable in the acid medium of a battery, but when it breaks down again any lead sulphate regenerated tends to drop to the bottom of the cell where it lays harmlessly since it doesn't conduct electricity. Any regenerated EDTA ions are free to continue their work.

Sufficient to treat one 'normal' sized battery - £2.34 including P and P from Courtiestown

Remember -- Only fix the battery cells that need fixing, so test each cell in turn.

First look at this uTube video on re-conditioning by Walt Barrett and listen to the description.
Take note of the tools you will need - voltmeter hydrometer etc. You can get suitable bits from a good car spares shop like Halfords (except for the hydrometer which I found on eBay). Safety goggles, Rubber gloves, Plastic container, Plastic funnel, Distilled water, Battery charger, Drill (for sealed batteries, Tight fitting plastic plugs (for re-sealing batteries), Voltmeter with wire probe (which I already own) etc.

When you have the items needed to check a battery and after you have watched the video you will have a better understanding of what you need to do.

Caveat - I have not tried the above yet, but I will be doing so on an old battery that I have obtained just to do a test. I shall report back later on my results.

An alternative and questionable process I found on the web.

I would treat the worth of this procedure with a very large spoonful of "Epsom" salt, but you could try it on a dead battery.

Lead-acid batteries have a slow decline in performance most often because sulphur accumulates on the lead plates of the battery, blocking electric current flow. You can use a common household chemical, magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts), to recondition a lead-acid battery. If you follow the proper procedure, the magnesium sulphate will remove the sulphur and restore the battery to normal operating condition.

  1. Heat a half a litre of distilled water to about 150 degrees F and add 7 oz. of Epsom salts. Stir until the Epsom salts are completely dissolved. Do not use tap water because it contains chemicals that will contaminate the battery.
  2. Remove the battery caps and carefully drain the liquid from the battery. If you have a sealed (low-maintenance) battery, find the access points (also called shadow plugs) and use a drill to open them. Insert a funnel and pour enough of the Epsom salts solution in to refill the cell. Repeat until you fill each cell.
  3. Replace the battery caps. Use plastic plugs to close up the drill holes in a sealed battery.
  4. Shake the battery vigorously for a minute to make sure the solution works its way through each cell.
  5. Place the battery on a charger and allow it to charge slowly for 24 hours.
  6. To completely recondition a lead acid battery, you may need to charge it to capacity several times over the next few days.

Part I

Part III


Saturday 7 August 2010

Boat Battery Maintenance Pt I

A few years ago, on an industrial estate just down the road from me. There was a business that re-conditioned batteries. (I used to park my caravan in their secure yard for a small fee) However, these were not the sort of batteries that you might expect to find on a boat. These were large single cell lead acid batteries which were grouped together when in use. Each cell was about the size of a small suitcase.

The batteries were made in such a way that they could be taken apart. The de-sulphating process was done with a device that looked like a large microwave oven but was in fact an ultrasonic cleaner. The process removed what looked like a thin layer of lime scale and the plates came out looking a uniform dark/dull grey colour. The plates had some sort of nylon spacers in between that would not come out until the plates had been ultrasonically cleaned.

The battery acid was re-used (after filtering) and put back into the battery. The battery was then topped up and then checked out with a hydrometer. The battery was then placed on a large charging bank before being returned.

I don’t know much about the internal construction of modern leisure batteries and whether they would lend themselves to some sort of a re-conditioning process. However, I understand that battery re-conditioning chargers use some sort of pulse charge at a high frequency to loosen the grip of sulphation build up on the lead acid battery plates.

Does it work, I've no idea, but it sounds plausible. I can see some logic in the process, but what happens to the crystallised material that gets displaced? Does it go back into suspension in the liquid or build up on the bottom?

I have a Ring RSC 8 battery charger that also has a six stage recondition and recharge cycle. I use it on motorcycle batteries as some of our bikes stand over the winter unused. It has a selectable charging rate of 2-4-6 or 8 amps. The 2 or 4 amp range is good for not overheating whilst charging small motorcycle batteries. It will re-charge a deeply discharged battery that my other specialist and much more expensive motorcycle charger will not touch.

Most of the above is anecdotal evidence and whilst I have thought about looking round for some of the industrial type batteries for the boat. I have never gone past the musing stage. As for a re-conditioning charger for large leisure batteries - Ring make a 16 amp version (RSC 16) of the same reconditioning charger. If you shop around you can find them for around £50/70 each.

This could be a cheaper alternative to purchasing a new set of leisure batteries or extending the life left in your batteries for your boat.

You can also purchase a Pulser specially constructed just for the re-conditioning part of the charging cycle from Courtiestown. 12V 'High Power' Fully Built  £34.50 + £4.00 P and P.

Further Reading

The leadacidbatterydesulfation BBS

The Homepower PDF

The Comcast Page

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Canal Books

More "canal" books that I have read.

"Ramlin Rose" by Sheila Stewart

The book is a whole pastiche of stories and anecdotes garnered from a number of the old "time served" canal people. With some licence the stories are skilfully woven together to capture the imagination of the reader. I was a bit annoyed at first with the written version of the boat-speak canal vernacular. However, after a while I found that it helped to add some authenticity to the storyline and I could actually hear the voices. Sheila captures some of the hardships endured by these people. At a time when the boatee family was made up of an almost gypsy like group people. An extended family of people who spent a whole lifetime working a cargo boat up and down the canal system. In what was to the people living on the bank something of a secret and virtually unknown world.

Ramlin Rose is a grandma's patchwork quilt of a story. That in one moment has a smile on your face and gives a nice warm feeling inside. On the next page Sheila captures and portrays the death of a child and our emotions turn head over heels. The unwanted child taken into the family and the loss when the child is subsequently taken way. This book captures a whole unique way of life that has now gone forever. It's passing almost as secretive and undocumented as when it came. With just a few faded photographs and failing memories being all that is left. The rivers and canals are now green spaces occupied and enjoyed for leisure activities. The last few pages are an endearing essay of the time. Written by a young girl, who is almost estranged from her boat family. She tells of the life on a boat and of her pride and admiration for her family and the "canal" way of life.  A book not to be missed.

"Starlight" by Geoffrey Lewis

Written in the same sort of genre as Arthur Ransoms Swallows and Amazons. This book will appeal to the younger as well as the older reader. The storyline is set on the canals rather than within Ransom's Lakeland or Norfolk broads region.

A story of two boys both hailing from a time towards the end of the boatee's canal lifestyle. One from the cut and the other from a town of the 1950's. The story twists and turns around their cultural, lifestyle and family differences. When a school friendship is drawn together from playground adversity. Set in the days before "Political Correctness" the book also captures another time that like canal life has been and gone.

A good simple tale that is well told.

"Going It Alone" by Colin Edmondson.

This is what I would describe as a booklet rather than a book. Some of the concepts could be described a bit clearer but never the less the book is thought provoking. Handling a boat through a lock usually requires two or more people. "Going It Alone" addresses the problems you will encounter when going through locks single handed.

Some of the ideas left me feeling a bit uncomfortable with regards to personal safety. But then again it is hard to ensure your safe when working alone. There are hints and tips that I picked up in the booklet that I use even when we are double crewed.

Going It Alone by Colin Edmondson is a good read but not for the faint hearted to put into practice.


Monday 2 August 2010

Fighting a loosing war.

The Memsahib is busy fighting a war. It's a war targeted against various kinds of spider. Every time we arrive at the boat, quick as a flash out comes the cloth and then several trips are made to the bank to hang them by their thread from the local vegetation. I keep saying that this is a war we cannot win, there are so few of us and so many of them.

My take on all of this is that in general, spiders are a safe and organic insect control for our boat. Well with the exception of the black widow, their cousins the tarantulas or any other such spider that have a stinging or poisonous bite that can have an effect on us.

But I figure - first you must know your enemy -

So what have I found out so far. Boat spiders are generally shy and reclusive and just want to be left alone. Their main enemy are the Memsahib and other bigger spiders including mon and dad. Their main defence against being cuddled by us, is by being really ugly little buggers.

We are not into using a big shoe to clobber them with either. In fact in this war so far there have been no casualties on either side. Now this could be a good role model for various armies including ours who are busy belting several colours of merde out of the local inhabitants in other countries.

Fantastic photo of a common House spider taken by Dave Richards

The other countries as far as I can see, have one thing in common, they are full of sand, rock and dust and all of the local inhabitants seem to sport beards.

Now if this is a war against men and women with beards, could they also do me a favour and add people who play the accordion to the list. Those French cheese eating surrender monkeys have a lot to answer for.

I guess they must come in via the mushroom vents. No! Not the French accordion players, I'm talking about the boarding parties of spiders, do pay attention at the back.

A Google search for any solution for preventing or repelling spiders came up with a possible solution. Chestnuts. Yes, I kid you not, people are using chestnuts as a deterrent against spiders. Maybe they play conkers with the spiders who are hanging by their thread?

However the best solution was this one....

A Good Use for Tobacco
Get a package of pipe or chewing tobacco, soak it in a gallon of boiling water until it cools. Strain the liquid into a clean container. Put a cup of tobacco juice and 1/2 cup lemon dish soap into a hose-end sprayer and spray. I did this at our house two years ago and have been practically spider free since. This works on all kinds of bugs.

I bet after spraying this around the home, they also found out that it works on their friends as well.

Looks like we missed the change to speak with another Canal-World forum member Big John on Nb Epiphany. Epiphany was moored almost next door in Tinsley Marina. We were away from the boat quite a bit and so we missed out on the opportunity. Must leave a note on their blog.