It’s that sad time of the year, the time where you realize boating season is over and you have to go through the mundane task of preparing your boat for storage. A moment of silence for all the fun had this year.
Now think back to the beginning of this year. Did everything run smoothly, and were you out on the water in virtually no time? Or were there some hiccups and maintenance issues because you didn’t follow the proper winterization steps this time last year? Don’t worry, it happens to everyone, but let’s make sure it gets done right this year. Whether you purchased your boat this year and this is your first time winterizing or your 30th, we’ll cover what needs to be done, so you can get out on the water faster next year.
Where do I store my boat for winter?
For first time boat owners, this can be a pain in the butt to figure out. For seasoned boat owners, you likely have a spot already setup, so feel free to scroll past this section unless you plan on upgrading. If you don’t live on the water, you likely have to transport your boat via a truck and trailer to and from the landing. In the summer time, it’s probably alright to leave your boat under just a cover since it’s getting used every weekend or so. In the winter, it’s a little different.
Ideally, storing your boat in an indoor facility with climate control is the best option. Your big shiny investment is protected from the elements and most importantly, the cold. However, that isn’t always the most practical option. Indoor storage is expensive, let alone climate controlled and if you have a massive boat, it may be difficult to find a place where your boat can fit.
If you’re set on indoor storage, but on a budget, look for dry rack storing. These facilities house multiple boats in a single warehouse and move them around with a forklift. Best of all, you won’t have to do any of the heavy lifting, just call ahead and they’ll have it ready for you to haul away.
Outdoors Out of Water
The next best option is to remove your boat from the water. Pretty straightforward if you haul your boat to and from a landing. Many people simply cover their boat and park it outside of their house, even if it is an eyesore. Others may have a small pole barn built on their property. A pole barn is great option and is better long term as you’ll generally save on the costs vs. renting space. If you plan on doing any work on the boat yourself, this further adds to the reason for building a long term structure.
If you live on the water and have your own personal dock, an easy option is have a boat lift installed and store your boat under a canopy. A lift will bring you boat out of the water and onto a set of racks. From there, all you need to do is go through the winterization steps below and you won’t have to worry about UV or water damage throughout the winter.
Outdoors in Water
Another option that is available in some locations is a wet storage marina. This is essentially a parking spot for your boat where it will sit in the water or just outside of the water. The benefit here is when the weather gets warm again, your boat is ready to go at a moment’s notice. Sometimes these marinas have dry storage options for smaller boats and electrical hookups to keep your boat’s battery charged.
Steps to Winterization
These steps will vary based on your boat, so be sure to check with your manual to make sure there aren’t any additional steps or precautions that need to be taken.
Change the Oil and Filter
Just like a car, the oil and filter should be changed at regular intervals. For most people, this is at the end of the season or every 100 hours of operation.
Old oil sitting inside the engine cause parts to corrode amongst other problems. To change the oil, you’ll likely be using an extraction pump to suck the old oil out. If you’ve never used one before, they’re pretty straightforward. It works like an air pump, but instead of pushing air out, it’s pulling air (or oil) into the collection tank. Be sure to turn off the engine before using the extractor. See the video below for further explanation.
After extracting the old oil, replace the filter and using your finger, run some of the old oil around the rim of the new filter to help create a firm seal. Hand tighten the filter.
Some people may opt to purchase cheaper, store brand oil in order to flush out any sediments and old oil left in the system, before putting in the ‘good’ oil. This isn’t a bad idea for winterization, but it isn’t necessary. If you choose to do so, follow the steps below, run the engine for 5 to 10 minutes again, and then repeat the extraction process.
Fill the engine with the recommended amount of oil that your owner’s manual indicates. Run the engine for another 10 minutes and then check your dipstick to ensure the proper amount of oil is in there. Once it checks out, check your filter again to make sure there are no leaks around it.
Flush with Coolant
Follow the video below to flush your outboard motor with clean water. If your boat does not a have a direct connection, you will need to purchase some earmuffs. Additionally, you will want to make sure your antifreeze complies with your manufacturer’s recommendations. While the engine is running with cool water running through it, you may also fog the engine as described below.
There will always still be some water leftover in the engine and this can freeze and cause damage to internal parts if an additional flush is not done. The easiest way to perform this flush is to purchase a DIY kit, like the one found here. Instructions are included, but it essentially involves connecting the motor to the included tank and running antifreeze through it.
Fogging the Carburetor
Remove the hood from your engine and locate the carburetor. Turn the engine on and rev it to a bit above idle. Tap the top of the spray into each of the carburetors just enough to almost kill the engine. If you do kill the engine that is alright since you will have the most amount of fogging spray in it possible. You should see lots of white smoke coming out of the exhaust.
After you’ve gone through and sprayed each carburetor several times, turn the engine off and remove the spark plugs. Spray fogging oil directly into each of the cylinders. With the spark plugs out, briefly turn over the engine and back off. You may want to cover the engine with an old rag as fogging oil will spray out when the engine is turned on. Repeat the process once or twice more and reinsert the spark plugs.
Fill up the Tank with Gas and Stabilizer
Empty space in the gas tank is an opportunity for condensation to form, which can cause damage to the tank or worse if it freezes. Fill up the tank and add a fuel stabilizer, like this. This will help to keep the fuel fresh during storage for up to 24 months and further help to prevent condensation from forming.
Disconnect the Battery
Use a multimeter to check the voltage of your battery. For a 12V system, it should ideally be somewhere between 12V-14V depending on its age. If it is not, charge your battery according to the manufacturer’s specifications for a 100% charge. Again, depending on the age and condition of your battery, this can vary.
Secondly, depending on the type of your battery and your storage location you may want to invest in a trickle charger to keep your battery fully charged over the offseason. Trickle chargers can connect directly to a wall outlet or be solar powered.
Removing the Interior
This is an optional step, but if you plan on storing your boat anywhere outdoors, it’s a good idea. If any of your electronics are removable such as the radio head unit or fishing gear, it’s best to take that inside your home. Any sort of seat cushions, leather, or canvas materials should also be removed if possible to avoid damage. Make sure your interior is dry and any accessories like lifejackets, have been stored safely.
General Clean Up
Wipe down all areas of the boat with some warm soapy water and dry. Wash the exterior of the boat and apply a coat or two of wax. Wax will help to prevent corrosion amongst other damage to your boat’s body. Not to mention, it’ll be nice and shiny when taken out for the first time next year.
Purchase a Cover
Regardless of whether you’re storing your boat indoors or outdoors, a cover is a must. It’ll protect your interior from dust, dirt, and moisture that may want to find its way into your boat. Price will vary depending on the size of your boat but expect to spend around $100 or so on a decent cover.
Once you’ve figured out where you plan on storing your boat, then it’s just a matter of a few hours of work to get everything prepared. Taking the proper steps now will ensure you can get out on the water quickly on the first warm day next year. Below are some additional resources you will want to check out if you need to make additional purchasing decisions.
Below is our selection for the best marine batteries. While these are our top picks, be sure to read the remainder of the article to ensure you are purchasing the right battery for your needs. Links will open in a new tab.
For a starting battery, you need one that’s going to be reliable, durable, and able to perform when you need it to. That’s why the Optima BlueTop Starting battery is our top pick for a cranking/starting battery. Optima is a well-known brand and uses spiralcell technology to build their batteries which offers a more energy-dense cell.
Renogy is better known for their solar power charging kits, which you should check out if you’re in the market for one. However, they make a pretty damn good battery too. With or without a solar kit, this battery simply performs. Utilizing high purity lead and a patented gel electrolyte, this battery is the best deep-cycle option available. A perfect option for building a battery bank.
For small watercraft weight tends to play a factor in the battery you purchase. If you have the funds, purchasing a lithium-ion battery is ideal. Lithium ion batteries are incredibly lightweight, and are very compact compared to other types. Depending on your power needs, a 50Ah or 100Ah is the way to go.
Renogy takes another spot! Offered both in 100Ah, and 170Ah options, their lithium-iron (yup, you read that right, lithium-iron) phosphate batteries are a fantastic option for storing energy for multi-day use. If you plan on building a battery bank and have a larger budget, this is the way to go. The 100Ah model weighs under 30lbs, and the 170Ah model weighs less than 50lbs.
Nothing fancy about these batteries, but they’re tough and they’ll do their job. This is the economic option for a deep cycle AGM style battery. Each puts out 100Ah and if you’re working on a budget battery bank or need to replace another deep cycle battery and keep it cheap, here’s your best option.
You’ll want to consult the owner’s manual for your boat lift, but you generally won’t need a battery with a lot of power. ExpertPower’s battery is an AGM 33Ah deep-cycle battery. Hook this up to a drip feed solar charger and you’ll have all the power you need to operate your lift whenever you need it.
Don’t have the space for a cranking battery and deep-cycle? Here’s your next best option. Odyssey batteries are built to last. They’re strong, reliable, and have a strong warranty behind them. This model in particular provides 880 CCA and a RC of 135 minutes. Perfect for a boat or RV.
Buying a battery for a marine vessel is a little bit different than buying one for your car or truck. There’s different types of batteries and different needs that need to be taken into account throughout the purchase process. By the end of this guide, you’ll have answers some of the most common questions like:
Cranking (aka starting) vs. Deep-Cycle Boat Batteries
What is a Cranking or Starting Boat Battery?
Whenever starting any sort of large engine, whether a boat or a car, there’s a large amount of energy needed in a short amount of time. In order to provide this burst of energy, cranking, or starting, batteries are designed with this intent in mind. No need to get into what these batteries look like on the inside just yet, we’ll cover that shortly.
What to look for
Most likely you’re boat came with a battery, which should be a good indicator for the kind of Marine Cranking Amps, or MCA, you’ll need for you new battery. Regardless, it’s recommended to check the owner’s manual to be sure the battery in previously was providing enough power. The MCA rating on the new battery needs to meet or exceed the recommended rating.
If your boat is recommended to have a 700 MCA battery, you’ll need a 700 MCA or 700+ MCA rated battery. A 800 or even 900 MCA battery will work just fine. Just be sure to take measurements of the old battery, or better yet, take it with you. The new battery will have to fit in the limited space the old battery was living in.
What is a Deep-Cycle Boat Battery?
If you have a trolling motor on your boat or plan on constructing a battery bank, a deep-cycle battery is the way to go. A deep-cycle battery is different from a starting battery in it’s meant for a longer, slower pull of power. Instead of a quick burst in a second or two, these batteries are built for hours of gradual pull.
What to look for
If all you’re powering is a trolling motor and a few small accessories, you’ll be able to add up the power usage from those, the estimated time you’ll be using them and make some calculations. There are other factors you will need to account for such as depth of discharge. DoD is basically how much of your battery use before recharge. Since it’s not good to run batteries all the way to 0%, most manufacturers recommend not going anywhere below 20%-25% of power. Doing so significantly reduces the battery’s lifespan.
The exception to this rule is lithium-ion batteries. A lithium-ion battery can run 100% DoD, without harm to the battery. However, with all batteries, the shallower the discharge, the more cycles you’re able to get out of the battery. For example, if you get get 1000 cycles out of a battery at a 50% DoD, then you may be able to get 1200 cycles at a 70% DoD, ignoring other factors.
For even smaller batteries, some manufacturers do not recommend going below the 50% threshold. Your functional power is essentially cut in half.
Let’s say you have a single trolling motor that provides around 40lbs of thrust. This is roughly 2/3 of a HP, 500 watts, or 40 amps at 12.6 VDC. Here, were rare assuming 746 watts equals a single horsepower and 58lbs of thrust equals a single horsepower.
You decide to purchase a deep cycle wet cell battery which has a 100Ah (Amp hour) rating at 20 hour rate, meaning it functions at a draw of 5 amps per hour. Since this is a smaller battery, you won’t want to discharge this past the 50% point, leaving you with about 50Ah of functional power.
If you use the battery for 30 minutes every time you’re out fishing, the result is 20Ah of use (.5 x 40 amps). With 50Ah of functional power, you could take 2, 30-minute trips before needing to recharge the battery. However, these calculations don’t take into account other factors, like battery age, temperature, etc.
In a perfect world, you could get 2, 30-minute trips. However, in reality you’re safe getting in that single trip with some extra time to spare if you want to take the long way home. Rate of discharge and other accessories will draw power from the battery and simply said, you’ll want to charge the battery after every trip.
A Word of Caution
Do not switch out one battery type for the other. These batteries will be clearly labeled and if for some reason the label has become unreadable, don’t risk it. Using a cranking battery in a deep-cycle application will cause it to overheat, fail, and / or possible start a fire. A deep cycle battery in a cranking application typically won’t work. In the event it does, it’s likely to not start up the second time since deep cycle batteries take a significantly longer amount of time to charge. Better to be stranded ashore, then on the water.
Batteries don’t like the cold! In colder climates, and generally any temperature below 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll likely see a drop in performance. In sub-freezing temperatures, wet-cell batteries can even freeze and become useless. There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for battery usage in colder climates, but just know you’ll likely need a stronger battery if the weather around you isn’t 70+.
Additionally, wet-cell batteries self-discharge during warmer temperatures at around 1% every 24 hours. In a few weeks’ time, it’s not unlikely the battery could have lost 20Ah of power. It’s recommended to purchase a solar panel charger in order to prevent this. More on solar chargers here.
The rate at which power is drawn from the battery also has an effect on the battery’s lifespan and use. This pertains more so to deep-cycle batteries. When a lot of power is drawn in a short amount of time, this not only shortens the lifespan, but also lessens the total functional power you can utilize. A significant portion of that energy is lost as heat.
If you’re town between a cranking battery and a deep-cycle battery, there is a middle ground! Dual-purpose batteries give the best of both worlds without having to worry about frying a battery in the process. If possible, it’s best to have a separate starting battery and a separate deep-cycle if you have the need for both types. However, there scenarios where that isn’t possible, like if you’re limited on space.
What to look for
For a dual-purpose battery, you’re looking for the same factors and specs you would on a cranking or deep cycle battery. You need to make sure your CCAs meet or exceed the requirements of your motor, and make sure the reserve capacity will suffice for your intended usage.
Four Types of Batteries: Wet-Cell (aka Flooded, Flooded Cell, Lead Acid), Gel, AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat), and Lithium-Ion
Wet-cell, or flooded-cell batteries are your most basic batteries in boats, cars, SUVs, trucks and pretty much anywhere you need to draw a large amount of power in a short amount of time. They’re the most affordable option available, but also tend to require the most maintenance.
These batteries contain many lead plates that live in a mixture of distilled water and sulfuric acid. While we won’t get into how they work (that was for high school physics), the important thing you need to know is they’re capable of up to 1000 discharge/recharge cycles. This means they can last for years if well taken care of, at a low cost.
These batteries are less likely to be damaged by overcharging and for weight to energy output, they tend to weight the least. The problem with these batteries is you need to be checking the water levels to ensure they’re full. The additional problem with having to check these levels is insides of the battery are accessible which means they could potentially spill or leak battery acid in applications where there’s lots of movement – like a boat. When opened these batteries release hydrogen gas, which is flammable, so maintenance needs to be done in a well-ventilated area.
Lastly, these batteries do self-discharge. So when left off of a charger and not being used they typically discharge somewhere between 1% a day to 7%-8% per month, depending on factors like age and temperature.
Gel batteries solve many of the problems wet-cell batteries have, but at a cost. These batteries are sealed at the time of production, so these batteries are maintenance free. Instead of lead plates living in an acidic solution, these batteries are filled with a liquid electrolyte that is gelled with silicates.
As mentioned earlier, these batteries are meant to be used (or discharged) at lower rates over longer periods of time. Because of these, they can be stored for extended periods of time without worrying about losing power. Compared to a wet-cell’s of up to 1% per day, these batteries lose less than 1% of power per month.
Downside to these batteries is they’re typically more expensive and a special charger, or at least one with a gel-setting needs to be used. These are recommended to be charged to 13-14 volts.
AGM stands for Absorbent Glass Matting, meaning these batteries are composed of a dense filling of glass threads that are woven together to form a literal mat. These designed to wick the battery electrolytes between the lead plates.
Similar to gel batteries, these are sealed at production, meaning essentially no maintenance is required but some external cleaning. The downside to these batteries is they are sensitive to overcharging (rendering them virtually dead if overcharged), and are more expensive than their wet-cell cousins.
Whether or not you know it, you use lithium-ion batteries on a daily basis. They’re in our cars, phones, power tools, and other electronics. The largest benefit with lithium-ion batteries is their lifespan and the energy density. Compared to other battery types they can hold more energy in a smaller amount of space and for a longer period time. When it comes to weight, these batteries win again. A 100Ah battery will usually weigh around 30lbs or so, compared to a AGM that will weigh 70lbs+. Lastly, there isn’t any reason to worry about depth of discharge. Lithium-ion batteries can be fully discharged without damage – this makes them great for building a battery bank.
The downside is, these batteries are far from cheap, however, they will typically last up to 7-10 times longer than some of the batteries already mentioned.
CCA vs. MCA vs. HCA
Marine Cranking Amps and Cold Cranking Amps are essentially the same thing, just with a 32 degree Fahrenheit difference. You may see that your car battery has a CCA rating. What the CCA rating means is it tells how many amps the battery can send for 30 seconds at a 0 degrees Fahrenheit before the voltage drops to 1.2V per cell or 7.2V for a 12V battery.
Thus a 12V battery rated at 800 CCA, will provide 800 amps for 30 seconds at 0 degrees Fahrenheit before the voltage drops to 7.2V.
MCA on the other hand, is same measure, but at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes ‘MCA’ is simply referred to as ‘CA’, or ‘Cranking Amps’. So, a battery rated at 1000 MCA (or CA), will provide 1000 amps for 30 seconds at 32 degrees Fahrenheit before the voltage drops to 7.2V.
HCA is less common, but sometimes you’ll see this rating too. HCA stands for Hot Cranking Amps and refers to the same measurement, but at 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Earlier we went through the calculations for a battery powering a trolling motor. There is another measure you can use for either building a battery bank or powering a trolling motor and that’s the reserve minutes, or also called the ‘reserve capacity’. This measure is expressed in minutes and tells how long a fully charged battery can provide a constant load (typically 25 amps), before it’s fully discharged.
For a 12V battery, it is fully discharged, once it has fallen to 10.5 volts.
The group size is a categorization given by Battery Council International, or simply BCI. These sizes are apply to all battery types, including automotive, utility, and commercial applications. There’s a lot of different sizes and if you really want to dive through all of them, a chart is on this site here. Group size isn’t super important, just make sure you take your old battery with your to compare sizes and purchase a battery with the same or higher CCAs.
Tips for Optimal Battery Performance
This is specific for wet-cell batteries but cleaning any sort of corrosion that builds up around the terminals is a must. Too much corrosion can lead to a bad connection. Use a disposable shop towel to wipe away corrosion and other debris into a trashcan – don’t sweep this into the water.
If the corrosion is really bad, you’ll want to remove the connections and take a wire brush to terminals and wires. Once the metal has been cleaned, using a battery corrosion preventative such as NCP2, is highly recommended.
Lastly, doing some basic visual checks can go a long way. Make sure the case isn’t bulging or cracked. This could indicate overcharging and you will want to check your charger and alternator as well.
If you’re winterizing your boat, you will want to full charge your battery and then disconnect them from the terminals. If you have a flooded cell battery, be sure it has enough water before charging. Depending on how long the battery is in storage, you’ll want to check it periodically and ensure it’s fully charged. If you don’t have the ability to check/charge the battery on a least a monthly basis, it’s highly recommended to purchase a trickle charger or a solar trickle charger if left out in the sun.
Consider a Battery Box
A battery box is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a protective housing for your battery. A battery box is excellent protection against the elements while still allowing the cables to be ran inside of the box. Boxes are typically vented to allow any gasses that might need to ventilate. These boxes will collect any battery acid that may leak and they make it incredibly easy to tie down and secure the battery.
Charging and Discharging
As was mentioned earlier, batteries should not be pushed past their depth of discharge as specified by the manufacturer. For deep cycle batteries, they should not go below a 20% capacity, with starter batteries, they generally shouldn’t go below 70% of their charge.
Always charge your batteries after use and do not mix different types of batteries together. Whenever replacing a battery, be sure all the batteries in your system are replaced at the same time. Older batteries tend to decrease the lifespan of new batteries. Never leave batteries deeply discharged for any significant period of time.
What to do with old batteries?
Whenever you purchase a new battery, automotive, marine, or whatever, there will be a core charge added to the cost. This will depend on the size of the battery, but it’s typically around $10-$20 in the US. This core charge is refunded when an old battery is returned to be recycled.
Most of the time, if you have multiple batteries, retailers will be happy to take those batteries off your hands for recycling. Home Depot, Lowe’s, AutoZone, and Rural King are a couple just to name a few. Be sure to call ahead to check. Otherwise, check with your city’s recycling program. EarthCity911.com and Call2Recycle.Org are also 2 additional resources that can point you in the right direction.
Boat Battery FAQ
Can a boat battery get wet?
A marine grade battery can get wet, but only to an extent. Don’t forget, we’re dealing with electricity here. Electricity and water don’t mix, so avoid contact as much as possible. No battery should ever be sitting in any pool or puddle of water. However, most batteries will be fine if they get a little bit of rain on them. It’s highly recommended to store your battery in a battery box to protect it from the elements.
Can a boat battery be used in a car?
It depends on the application. If you plan on using it to start the car, then you need to use a cranking battery that meets the CCA required by your vehicle’s 12V electrical system. In general, if you’re using a cranking battery and the boat battery meets or exceeds the vehicle’s requirement for CCA, then yes you can.
Can you overcharge a boat battery?
Yes you can. While certain batteries are more sensitive to overcharging, like the AGMs mentioned in this article, all batteries can be overcharged. Once overcharged, they can be dangerous to handle and rendered almost useless in certain situations.
What boat battery do I need?
The type of battery you will need depends heavily on the use and requirements of your boat. Generally speaking, if this battery is only used to start up the motor, then a cranking battery is needed. If you are using a trolling motor or looking to power electronics on board, you’ll need a deep-cycle battery.
How long will a boat battery last?
The lifespan of a boat battery will vary greatly based on age, climate, use, and other factors. As each year passes, the total lifespan of the battery loses its ability to hold a charge. For example, a battery that could provide 100% of power at the start of its life, will likely only be able to provide 75% of its total power in 3 years. This number begins to increase significantly has time goes on.
How do I test a boat battery?
To check the voltage of any battery, you’ll need a multimeter. These can purchased fairly inexpensively from Amazon or your local hardware store. To test the battery you’ll want to disconnect the battery from the boat, set the multimeter to DC (or direct current), and connect the alligator clips to the correct terminals.
A fully charged battery will be around 12V or higher. If the reading comes less than 10.7V to 11V, it may be time to replace the battery. You may opt to purchase a multimeter than can perform a load test. A load test is simply a measure of how the battery performs under simulated use. While under a load test, the reading should be somewhere around 9.5V to 10.5V for 30 seconds total.
How do I charge a boat battery while out on the water?
To charge a boat battery while on the water you must have a charger or alternator built into your engine or some other means of replenishing power such as through a solar charger.
Do outboard motors recharge the battery?
Yes, most modern outboard motors have an alternator built-in to recharge the battery.
Marine or land vehicle, ProMariner is one of the leading brands out there. They’ve been in the battery and power supply industry for over 35 years and own almost a dozen brands that cover a variety of battery and electrical applications. Their brands include Ancor, BEP, Blue Sea Systems, CZone, Lenco Marine, Marinco, Marinco Power Products, Mastervolt, ParkerPower, Progressive Industries, and ProMariner. They specialize in both marine and RV electrical systems.
For a marine application you need an inverter that is not only shock resistant but can also stand up to the moisture around it. ProMariner’s TruePower Plus Power Inverters are the ideal choice. This model comes in 1000W Pure Sine, 1200W Modified Sine, 1500W Modified Sine, and a 2000W Pure Sine options.
Each model has all the safety mechanisms built right in including protection from circuit overload, overheating, short circuit, and reverse polarity. There is an audible alarm and automatic shut down for too low or too high of DC voltage. An on/off remote is included with the 9 foot cable and DC covers are included to protect the connections from the elements.
Additionally a on-unit dual color display provides immediate feedback on the DC to AC output, DC input and system status message area. This model is the perfect setup for a boat or even RV.
These energizer power inverters are modified sine wave inverters, but as mentioned earlier, should be fine for most applications. The 1100W model should suffice for most car and truck drivers, although the higher rated models are also available. Just be sure to check your car or truck’s electrical system beforehand to see if it can handle the power that the inverter will draw.
ProMariner power inverters are listed as the best brand, but Magnum Energy comes in close second. Their power inverters are incredibly reliable, offer versatile mounting positions, and are overall just well made products. For a RV, you probably won’t need a marine grade inverter, however you’re more likely to have a greater power need.
For a RV our pick is the Magnum Energy MSH3012M 3000W Pure Sine Inverter Charger Hybrid. This inverter is everything you’ll need and then some. It has all the typical protection points you’ll need and has a 5-stage charging capability. If you plan on being on the road a lot, this is the best option. Even if you don’t have a use for 2000W-3000W you can rest easy in the future knowing your system can handle the extra TV, the kids’ gaming system, or whatever unplanned item finds its way onto your RV.
Simply said, a power inverter allows you to use nearly any device, that requires your standard home wall outlet, in your boat, car, or RV. The current that runs through your typical wall outlet runs is called an Alternating Current or AC. Cars, Boats, RVs, Trucks and other vehicles use what’s called Direct Current, or DC power.
In a metaphorical sense, AC power speaks one language, say Spanish, and DC power speakers another, say English. An inverter is the translator between Spanish and English and allows one current to be converted to the other. For most applications, DC power is being converted into AC so people can watch TV, charge their phones, run refrigerators, and use other items that require an alternating current.
Types of Inverters
Your standard inverter is called a ‘standalone inverter’, or simply a ‘power inverter.’ This takes the direct current and converts it into an alternating current.
An inverter-charger combo is different from a regular power inverter in that it has 2 modes. The first being the regular inverter mode in which it converts DC power to AC power. The second, differing mode is standby or charging mode. In this mode, the inverter converts incoming AC power to charge the DC source, or use the incoming AC power to power the AC devices.
Think of it as a two-way street vs. a one-way street. A standalone inverter can only move electricity one way, from DC to AC. While an inverter-charger can convert DC to AC, and AC to DC.
Modified Sine vs. True / Pure Sine Inverters
You’ll notice in the title or description inverters are labeled as ‘true / pure sine’ or ‘modified sine’ inverters. Without getting too technical, pure sine is essentially a more accurate AC current. It’s truer than a modified one and many electronics require a true sine inverter to function.
The main difference between the two is price and performance. Modified sine inverters are significantly cheaper than pure sine inverters, however their performance suffers in certain electronics. Radios or speakers may sound worse due to interference and damage may be caused by the additional heat caused by slight inefficiencies in a modified sine inverter.
So, which should you buy?
If you ask me, it all comes down to use-case. A lot of electronics will work just fine with a modified sine inverter. However, if you plan on powering sensitive medical equipment, like a CPAP machine (especially one with a humidifier), a radio or other item where sound quality matters, or a device or appliance that uses a brushless motor or rectifier, buy a pure sine inverter. Otherwise, a modified sine inverter will usually work just fine.
Continuous vs. Peak Power Ratings
A word of caution – be sure to pay attention to the wording used in listings online or on a package. “1000 Watts Peak Power!” is much different from “1000 Watts Continuous Power!” Peak power is what the inverter is able to handle in short bursts for a very short period of time. Continuous power is what the inverter can handle for a longer, sustained period of time.
The only time peak power will be relevant is on start up of some devices where there is a larger wattage or amp pull. Although, there would have to be a significant gap in the peak handling power vs. the continuous
Watts, Amps, and Volts – What do they all mean!?
Watts, Amps, and Volts are all essentially ways of expressing energy in electrical form. This post isn’t meant to be a science lesson, so here’s the practical information you’ll need to understand how they interact with each other.
WATT = (AMP) x (VOLT)
Yup, that’s it. Watts is equal to amps times volts. Most boats, cars, trucks and RVs run on a 12 volt system, so we’ll use that to calculate the your power needs down below.
Sizes of Inverters
Inverters are sold based on their wattage size. They typically range from a few hundred watts, all the way up to several thousand watts. If you only need to power a few small electronics like a phone, toaster, or charge a laptop, a 700 or so watt inverter will be more than enough, and your current battery will support it most likely. However, for larger applications, you will want to make specific calculations, which you can find help with below.
You need to make sure your current system can support the size of inverter you purchase. Other factors besides the posted rating will affect your current system’s output like age of battery, temperature, condition, etc. A general rule of thumb for 12V systems is you need a 1:10 ratio of DC input to AC output. So, for a 1000 watt inverter, you’ll need at least 100amps from the battery source.
What Size Inverter Do I Need?
Devices have different have different initial pulls and continuous use. What you’ll want to do is create a list of all the electronics you plan on running off the inverter. Add up the wattage and amperage displayed on those devices.
For example, let’s assume you plan on hooking up a microwave, 32” television, portable refrigerator, and your laptop charger. Open up Excel and create something like the setup below.
Note: When looking at any electronic that has some sort of heating element, look at the input power. The input power is what the device actually draws from the power source. A microwave labeled as 900W is likely pulling 1300W or more. You can find this in the item’s manual.
Note 2: Some electronics won’t provide the ampere pull, so you’ll have to do a little math to figure that out with the Watts=Amp(Volts) formula.
Note 3: Items that have motors or compressors will usually have higher ratings than what is printed on them. For example, in the case of a refrigerator with a compressor, it will have a higher pull (sometimes called a ‘surge’) rating each time it has to kick on vs. the average or continuous rating it may indicate. You will want to contact the manufacturer to obtain the startup wattage and amp pull. This is sometimes also referred to as “surge.” It’s common in vacuums, power tools, and other items with a brushless motor.
Now that we have our total, 1225W and 15.5A. This is assuming all electronics are running at exactly the same time. The microwave is heating something, the TV is on, the fridge’s compressor is running, and a laptop is charging – not recommended to run all at once unless your system can handle it, but not unlikely. The big thing to pay attention to here, is what is drawing the most and how much.
Looking at the numbers, the microwave is drawing the most amount of electricity and this item will not be running the entire time. Likely, only a few minutes at a time, if that. Furthermore, you probably won’t want to run the microwave until the generator/alternator is running or you’re connected to shore power.
We don’t notice it on land or at home, but microwaves draw a ton of power relative to other appliances.
For practical purposes, let’s just assume you’ll only be using the microwave while the engine is running. All other items are running from the power inverter.
Removing the microwave, that puts the total at 175W and 6.75A. A very reasonable number and one that is easy to work with.
So you only need a 200W inverter right?
Inverters need power to operate themselves, and 100% efficiency isn’t available just yet. You’ll need to account for these factors along with electronics you may want to plug in and use apart from those just mentioned. A good rule of thumb is to purchase an inverter that is at least double what your planned usage is.
A 400W inverter would be a good choice here, although 500W would probably be better.
What about the microwave?
Microwaves pull a lot of power and if you’re not connected to shore power or running a generator, then that bag of popcorn can drain your batteries very quickly. At minimum, a 3000W inverter would be ideal for the setup mentioned here. It’ll be ideal to have a small battery bank of sorts, which I’ve covered more in depth here.
Why do Amps matter?
But wait, why do the amps matter?
Amps matter as they will provide info to how long your battery (or battery bank) will last without it being charged, or while being used by the inverter. There has to be an external source recharging the power source, like an alternator for power to be harvested and that has to be equal to or above what is being drawn from the battery if using without a generator or recharging on shore power when low.
To put it in simpler terms, if you have $10 in the bank and work deposits $10 in your checking account every week and you pull $11 out every week, you’re pulling money at a -$1 deficit and will eventually run out of money. The same goes for the battery, it has to be continually replenished or very full, in order for power to be drawn from it.
In order to continually run your electronics, you will need to have a generator replenishing that electricity, such as a high output alternator, recharging at shore power when low, solar panels, wind generators, etc.
Calculating Amp Usage
Now you need to estimate how much time each of your electronics will last before the next charge. Insert your estimated time usage in column H in the excel file. Now use the following formula to calculate the amp hours you will be pulling from the battery supply.
(Total Watts/12)(1.1)(Hours) = Amp Hours
Let’s not forget – there are other factors that will also play into this calculation. For one, it’s not good for the overall life of the battery to run it completely down to zero. Instead, only 80% or less of the battery’s total life should be used. Furthermore, different types of batteries (lead acid, zinc-air, carbon zinc, etc.) have different rates of discharge. I will be covering those in this article.
In our example, without the microwave, we’d use 288.75 amp hours if using each device for 6 hours total before another charge. As already mentioned, it’s not good for a battery to be completely drained of its reserve, then quickly recharged. Nor is it good for a battery to be drained below roughly 20% of its total power. There are batteries specifically built for these purposes called, ‘deep-cycle batteries,’ but those are covered in another article.
Instead, you should double the total amp hours you have calculated, (288.75)(2) = 577.5, and then add another 20%, (577.5)(1.20) = 693. This will help to ensure your batteries last long and do not fall short of their intended lifespan.
In an absolutely optimal scenario, you will need roughly 700Ah of power to run those 3 items at those specs for 6 hours before needing to turn on a generator 0or the motor. You can have a smaller bank of power, but keep in mind they will need to be charged more frequently in order to run all of the electronics accounted for at the 6 hour time frame indicated.
You’ve done the calculations and now know how much power you’re going to need. What additional features should you be looking for on top of just having an inverter?
Pure Sine vs. Modified Sine
As mentioned earlier, pure sine is preferred, but if you’re working on a budget a modified sine inverter will work fine for most applications.
Remote Control / Display
Being able to know current usage is incredibly important with any sort of electrical system. Some inverters will have a built-in display while others, like Magnum’s Magna Sine inverter, have a remote display that can be attached just about anywhere on the boat. This is a wired remote, not a wireless one.
Low Electrical Interference
EMI stands for electromagnetic interference which can cause problems with all sorts of important equipment on your vessel. While I won’t get into the specifics of what an inverter can cause problems with, most new high-end inverters have little to no interference. Some cheaper, Chinese made inverters can cause electrical interference problems.
Having too high of voltage or too low of voltage can cause damage to your system. An inverter with a built-in voltage detector can shut off the inverter before it causes damage to the entire unit.
Overload warnings / protection
During regular usage some may forget how many items are actually running off of the inverter. All it takes is one electronic that has a startup spike or surge, to cause a fuse to blow in the inverter, rendering it useless until replaced. An overload warning helps to notify you there is a spike and you need to lessen the load, or it will shut down automatically to protect itself from damage.
Depending on what kind of system you have, having 120V or 240V capabilities offers you some flexibility.
Reverse Polarity Protection
Not as common on mid to lower end models, but just as important. While the name sounds confusing, it really just means protection against accidentally misconnecting wires. The positive and negative ends of a battery indicate the polarity, and if accidentally mixed up, can essentially fry the power inverter, rendering it useless.
Difference Between AC and DC Power
Going back to high school trigonometry, AC and DC currents can be expressed as waveforms. If you recall, which I didn’t until entering it into my old but trusty graphing calculator, sin(x) is a perfectly sloping wave going up and down at a regular interval.
Notice how, in the image, the current alternates up and down (or in a diagram, forward and backward) . Your electronics are fed a constant supply of electricity that alternates back and forth. This probably doesn’t make a whole of sense by that sentence, so I highly recommend checking out water analogy, shown by Spark Fun Electronics (opens in a new tab).
In that example it becomes much clearer how electricity flows. You can see that it moves forward and backwards relative to the power supply.
On the other hand, car battery systems use a current system that supplies a direct and consistent level of voltage. Again using a water analogy, imagine a bucket of water with a hole on the bottom connected to a hose. If you fill this with water, the water will flow out of the bottom of the hose until it’s empty. This is essentially how DC power works. There’s a power supply that will feed whatever device it’s connected to until it’s empty.
This is why cars, RVs, trucks, and boats need to have some sort of charger in their system. In most cases, this is what is called the alternator. The alternator runs off energy produced by the gas and engine to charge the battery while the system is running, since your car’s electrical system is continually pulling power from the battery. Think of the alternator as a person that helps to refill that bucket and keep it from going empty.
For anyone that has ever worked on cars, finding the alternator is an easy job, but what about a boat? Most boats nowadays have an alternator or some other sort of charger built into the motor, especially for outboard ones.
A few final recommendations. As with everything, safety first. If you are unsure of what you are doing, heck even if you are sure, have a professional nearby for instruction and supervision. Electricity isn’t anything to mess around with.
Secondly, always buy at least a couple hundred volts up from what’s planned. You never know when you’ll have a guest, or extra electronic that makes its way onto your boat or RV that could end up overloading your system. Additionally the calculations made in this article do not take into account other factors that will affect your system such as wire length, current battery health, etc.
Third, document everything! Be sure to draw diagrams, keep manuals, and have all this information close by in the case of a breakdown or emergency. Proper documentation now, will save you frustration and time in the future.
Lastly, while there may be nothing wrong with the no-name brands on Amazon, Ebay, or elsewhere online, keep in mind you will likely not have a warranty with any of them. In the event the no-name inverter fails, fries your current system, or damages your electronics, you probably won’t be able to receive any customer service let alone compensation for damaged goods. Buy from a trusted brand in the first place so you don’t run into bigger issues down the line by trying to save a few hundred dollars.
You’ve identified a problem: you need to keep items cold/frozen while you’re out in your boat, RV, or car. If you’re searching for refrigeration, I’ll bet you’re looking for overnight, multi-day refrigeration/freezing rather than just a day trip-type-of-deal. Regardless of how long you’ll need to use it, here’s everything you need to know to install a refrigerator on your boat or land vehicle.
For this article, we’ll assume you’re not wanting to install a permanent fixture, rather a temporary or semi-temporary one.
There are two main things you’ll want to take into consideration before even looking at refrigerators. Where will it be installed and do you have the power capacity to run it?
For a marine application, I almost always recommend a Whynter. Maybe I’m a little biased towards their brand (which you’ll see), but they make a fantastic product. It performs like a commercial grade appliance but has a consumer grade price tag. Simply said, a Whynter product is a well-made machine that’ll stand up to the abuse of being on the water, road, or wherever life takes you.
My recommendation for a boat is the Whynter FM-62DZ. This a dual zone model with dedicated space for a freezer and a refrigerator. It has all the necessary features for rough travel including handles, latching mechanisms for the lid, LED lights and much more. Furthermore, even when buying from Amazon Whynter makes an effort to reach out and amend any problems without a cost to the consumer.
In all honesty, it’s just about impossible to fit a real portable refrigerator in a car. You could place it in your trunk, but realistically you’re not going to have it in there for any longer than a week. And if for some reason you are, it’ll be wiser to purchase the larger fridge that is mentioned for the SUVs below.
Regardless, Igloo is a well-known brand. They manufacture all sorts of hard coolers, soft coolers, cooler bags, drinkware, etc. No surprise here they manufacture a thermoelectric cooler. This on-the-go model is ideal for short day-trips like a picnic, or road trip.
It’s small enough to fit in the back seat on the floor of most cars and has a generous 8’ cord that can reach your cigarette lighter. It only has a plug for the cigarette lighter, meaning it can only run off DC power, however you can purchase an adapter for less than $10 to be able to plug it into the wall in a regular AC outlet.
If you plan on being on the road for multiple days at a time in a truck or SUV, this refrigerator is for you. The Whynter FM-45G is a unit that boasts all the premium features in a compact, sleek design. With both AC and DC connections you can take this wherever on the road and then easily move it into a hotel for the evening or into the house for when you’re not traveling.
Inner temperatures can reach a chilly -8 degrees Fahrenheit with Fast Freeze mode. A 45-quart capacity is enough to fit up to 60 12fl oz cans and 65-quart and 85-quart models are also available. Handles on the sides are standard and this top-opening unit features a latching mechanism to keep your perishable goods secure.
If you don’t have the ability to place a nearly full-size refrigerator in your camper or RV, a larger portable unit is the way to go. Heck, even if you do have a full-size fridge, you may be seeking additional space.
Whynter comes in as the winner here again with the FM-951GW, a 95-quart wheeled monster that can be used as a refrigerator or freezer. Similar to the previous model mentioned, the FM-951GW features AC and DC options with Fast Freeze mode, handles, a latching mechanism, and a removable wire basket for fresh food.
What makes this unit different is the open-door warning system, built in wheels for easy maneuverability and a taller design.
Tractor trailer drivers are likely to be looking for something that has a larger storage capacity and an option for freezing items. This makes the Dometic CFX 95DZW the perfect option for the trucker on the road. Although it has a high price tag, this electric powered portable refrigerator makes it easy for a single person to pack a week’s worth of meals or more. Who said affordable and healthy eating had to be difficult? All it takes is a stop at the nearest gas station with a microwave and there’s a meal, hot and ready.
Location is everything. The refrigerator is going to generate heat, so ideally you’ll want to place it in an area where there can be some circulation, or at least enough space so it won’t be smothered. You do not want to place it in a compact area without ventilation, or anywhere near an engine or other heat source. While it’ll probably be fine in one of those areas, it’ll be incredibly inefficient because you’ll spend even more energy trying to keep it cool in a hotter area.
Keeping the fridge out of direct sunlight and away from any rain or other moisture is a must. Then finally, you will need to place it where it will have access to a power source. Luckily with some options there is the ability to use AC or DC power.
How often will you access it? If you only plan on reaching into it once or twice a day, it may not be a big deal to store it somewhere out of site. However if you plan on putting in or taking out items more often you will want to keep it in an easily accessible area or purchase a mounting kit that allows it to slide.
Do you have enough power for it?
Unlike other electronics, like a microwave, that are only used for a brief period, a refrigerator will generally be more active as the compressor will kick on every time its internal temperature reaches a certain point. How often it will turn on depends on the use and the climate it’s in.
Power usage will vary by model, so be sure to take into account the current electrical load on your system and if you’ll be able to run it along with other electronics. Unless the fridge is in a very hot area, the compressor will only run when needed. When the compressor turns on, it will draw anywhere from about 1-5 amps while running. A fridge with a ‘Fast-Freeze’ mode will likely have a higher draw because it is trying to cool down quicker.
Most higher end models of portable refrigerators have the option to use either AC or DC power; be sure to check before purchasing. If the one you purchase only runs on AC power you will need an inverter to convert DC to AC electricity. A decent inverter will cost a few hundred dollars and little wiring.
Types of Refrigerators
If you ask me, there are generally 3 categories of items meant to keep your drinks or food cold. Some manufacturers mix terms together, so I want to be clear on what we’re discussing in this article.
Beverage Coolers – No Active Cooling
These are usually your light-duty day trip coolers (YETIs and similar models being an exception). They do not have any electrical power, but they might have incredibly thick insulation that keeps the contents cold for several days or more. Your $20 Coleman Coolers and all the way up to the pricey Yetis fall into this category. The distinguishing difference here is there is no compressor in any of these.
Thermoelectric Coolers – Active Cooling via Convection Cooling
These are coolers designed to keep food and drinks cold without any ice or a compressor. Instead, these coolers run off electricity and use convection cooling to keep the contents cold. A thermoelectric cooler will need access to a 12V DC receptacle, like a cigarette lighter. Thermoelectric coolers rarely get below 36 degrees Fahrenheit and will not have the ability to keep items frozen or create ice.
If you read closely, these coolers will cool somewhere between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit below the ambient temperature. This is not actual temperature. So if it’s 90 degrees outside the cooler, the cooler will hover around 50-60 degrees. These coolers are ideal for short trips in the car or boat.
Refrigerators – Active Cooling via Compressor
Just like the refrigerator in your kitchen, these models have a compressor containing a refrigerant, like R410-a or R-134a, the 2 most common nowadays. These models have the ability to keep items just above freezing point and keep other items frozen in a separate compartment. These types of refrigerators can run off both AC and DC power and are typically the most durable.
Gas / Propane / 3-Way Powered Refrigerator
Although these are becoming less common, they still do exist. A propane powered portable refrigerator isn’t a bad option if you plan on setting up camp for several days and want a fridge that won’t be running off of electricity. The ‘3-way’ name comes from the fridge’s ability to run off of 1 of 3 power sources: AC, DC, or gas.
The caveat with a gas-powered fridge is it needs to be on a level surface when in use. Propane is a flammable gas, so storing this fridge away from any heat source and on stable ground is a must. A hose or regulator that wiggles loose could prove deadly if ignited.
Portable Refrigerator Features
Front-Opening vs. Top-Opening
This may be a preference of mine but having a top-opening fridge seems to be a better overall option than a front-opening fridge, like you probably have in your home. In the case of rough waters or bumpy roads items are less likely to move around and the door won’t swing open spilling everything on the floor.
Secondly, it’ll be much easier to stack items on top of one another and you can maximize the space with a top-opening fridge.
Whenever a front-opening fridge is opened the cold air gets instantly dumped out to the surrounding area. That’s simple physics – cold air will sink beneath warm air. Top-opening models in this sense, are much more efficient because the cold air stays towards the bottom of the refrigerator, and won’t spill out of the top.
If you’re needing ice for your excursion, you’re better off just bringing it separately, purchasing it along your journey, or buying a refrigerator with a freezer. Rarely do any portable refrigerators come with an ice maker simply because it’s impractical. You need a water line to feed water into the ice maker, which isn’t possible.
Secondly an ice maker will take up useful space that could be devoted to other food or drinks.
Third, it’d be very easy for a portable ice maker to break. There isn’t a consistent power supply, so in the case you do have a way to feed it water, the potential constant melting and refreezing could break or immobilize parts making the ice maker useless.
In the end, if you’re in that bad of a need for ice, I recommend packing it beforehand and purchasing one of the high-end Yeti or RTIC coolers. Ice will last a little over 10 days in one of these coolers if left unopened, so realistically you’d be able to hold ice for a week with regular use.
Need a Freezer?
Higher end portable fridges will sometimes split their space with 2/3 refrigerator space, 1/3 freezer space – these might be labeled as “Dual Zone”. Having a freezer is a great addition if you keep frozen food to reheat later or will be out on the water or road for an extended period of time. Frozen dinners will taste like heaven after the 15th ham sandwich and keep you in action longer.
Locking Mechanisms and Carrying Handles
You might overlook these features, but buyer beware. Don’t forget this cooler is going to be moving around A LOT and rough waters, a sudden stop, or pothole could cause even a top-opening fridge to open up. The last thing you want is having to stop what you’re doing to clean up everything that flew around the galley or rear of the car.
Handles are a must if you plan on moving a cooler or refrigerator, even if only occasionally. Yes, it feels light coming out of the box, but once it’s packed full of ice, food, and drinks, it’s going to be much more difficult to move. Plus, handles make it easier to have someone help you move it and prevent you from spilling the contents everywhere.
Think you don’t need them now – think again. Have you ever tried to find an electrical outlet in the dark, only to be stabbing the drywall until you finally give up and get a flashlight? That’s exactly why having internal LEDs in, at least, the main fridge compartment is a great feature. Imagine trying to rummage through the fridge in the dark, then you go searching for a flashlight, only to find out the batteries are dead or your phone is on 3%. Get a model with the LEDs in the first place.
If you have you eye on a fridge that doesn’t have LEDs built-in, you can purchase these LED discs that you can place around your refrigerator that can be turned on with a remote.
Adjustable Temperature Range – Fast Freeze Mode
Refrigerators in the $500+ range usually have a digital temperature display and adjustability setting. From this display you can set the temperature to whatever you desire. These settings are usually specific to each side of the fridge if it has more than one compartment. This way, one side can be dedicated freezer space, while the other is for more perishable goods.
With a fast freeze mode, you can rapidly cool down fresh food to lock in its taste and provide a better quality meal when its unfrozen. If food is frozen slowly, there’s a greater chance of ice crystals forming around the outside of the food which will result in a lower quality meal when it’s thawed out.
If you choose to purchase a fridge that has a freezer with the fast freeze option (say that 5 times fast), be sure to turn the fast freeze on a few hours before you will be placing food in it. This will allow the freezer appropriate time to reach the desired temperature where food can be quickly frozen.
Capacity and Insulation
Whenever you’re comparing the volume of the fridge, be sure you’re looking at the inner dimensions vs. the outer dimensions. Different models and brands will have varying levels of insulation which will affect the volume it can hold and its cooling efficiency. Thicker walls do not necessarily indicate better insulation. The material used in those walls will determine how well it can keep the contents cold.