Living off grid on a boat in Cambridge area

For my next post, I thought I’d explain about electricity. The vast majority of boats in the Cambridge area are off-grid. This means that unlike boats in marinas which can connect to the mains, we have no connection to the National Grid at all, instead relying on generating our own electricity.

On live-aboard boats which are off-grid, you will find a substantial bank of batteries – big ones of the size found in cars. On our boat we have four of these. They output low voltage power (12V – like you get in a car). In order to keep them charged up, there are several methods we use. Firstly, we can run the engine – this charges the batteries nicely while we are cruising along. But we don’t always have time to go cruising, and it’s not pleasant to have the engine running when moored up. So, many of us have small self-contained generators, which run on petrol or diesel. These output high voltage (230V – mains electricity) so we can watch TV etc as well as charging our batteries when the genny is running. To avoid annoying other people, you’re prohibited from running generators after 9pm, and most people use quiet “suitcase” types. At other times, if we want to use mains-powered devices like blenders or hairdryers we have to use what’s called an ‘inverter’ which takes the low voltage battery output and converts it into the standard mains power. 

As well as engines and generators, we also use renewable energy to keep the batteries charged. Wind turbines are not particularly effective in urban areas, which is why you won’t see many along the river bank, but a lot of us use solar panels. They are great for providing hassle-free, clean, green power to the batteries. On Lucky Duck we have a big panel which keeps us well supplied with electricity from March until September. We only use a fridge during these months, choosing to turn it off and store perishables outside during the winter, but plenty of other people keep their fridges going all winter using a combination of solar panels and generators to keep them going.

Living off-grid and having to provide your own electricity rather than having it coming out of the walls has made me think carefully about what I use it for. I’ve naturally developed power-saving habits such as switching off un-necessary lights and being very selective about which TV shows to watch!



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