Category Archives: The “Best” Boat

Selecting A Boat for the Great Loop

March, 2018: Added comments on “seaworthiness,” “seakindliness,” “hull balance”
             and “deck access.”
September, 2018: Added hullform design thoughts under “seaworthiness,”
            “seakindliness,” and “hull balance”
November, 2019: Added thoughts on under loading diesel engines
August, 2020: Added thoughts on “machinery choices and access;” miscellaneous
             edits for poor spelling and grammar

The Great Loop is a very significant cruise, and one for which people usually plan and prepare for months – sometimes years – in advance.  Some people buy a boat specifically for the purpose of doing the loop cruise.  Others make their purchase decision without having the Great Loop goal in mind.  In anticipation of cruising the Great Loop, there was a recent request for advice from a self-described “newbie looking for the right boat.”  “What is the best boat,” is a seasonal frequently asked question on the AGLCA discussion forum.

Cruising the loop really consists of three very different kinds of life activity.

  1. First is that all of the activities that comprise our daily life do not end because we went cruising.  We all must handle meal planning, provisioning, banking, bill paying, medical appointments, keeping in touch, computer crashes and sick pets aboard, except on the boat, these things all occur outside of our familiar comfort zone.
  2. Second is the boat itself.  Considerations involving the capability of the boat to handle unpleasant, difficult, and even severe conditions at sea (seaworthiness, seakindliness, hull balance and deck access), and the attention and focus that boat ownership and operation (navigation, piloting, maintenance, repair and weather) requires of captain and crew..
  3. Third is that “doing the loop” is a highly rewarding, fast-paced, marathon social experience.

Choosing a boat involves having an understanding of all of these areas.  First and foremost is safety of the boat and her crew while aboard.  It’s easy to imagine yourself on a boat in bright sunshine, with puffy clouds and unlimited visibility, in 10 – 15 knot winds and essentially flat seas.  And sure, that does happen sometimes.  But it would be the unusual boater indeed who never “gets caught” in less favorable conditions.  We don’t start out planning to get “beaten up,” but it does happen.  So in selecting your ideal boat, you need to imagine yourself in those less favorable conditions.  Cold.  Rain.  Cold and rain.  Lumpy seas ahead; lumpy seas abeam; lumpy seas following.  Fog.  Dense fog.  Seasickness involving self, spouse, crew, guests, and pets.

Seaworthiness has to do with how well the boat stays afloat; how well it keeps water out when the rain is teeming down; how well it sheds water when the decks are awash; how well it keeps water out when the bow buries itself in the next wave; how tight and secure the doors, windows, ports and hatches are.  One friend of ours tells the story of entering the Barnegat Inlet (New Jersey) from the ocean, and having the boat lay over on it’s side at 90º from upright in offshore rollers.  Seaworthiness in that case was that the boat kept water out, didn’t founder in that inlet, and righted itself.  Boats with keels that protect propellors and rudders are inherently more seaworthy than boats with exposed propellors and rudders.  Everything about a boat is a compromise.

Freeboard – for this purpose, the height of the caprail above the waterline – produces a boat having a dryer ride when facing rough head seas.  Freeboard forward adds buoyancy to the hull, reducing the likelihood of taking “green water” over the bow in rough conditions.  Freeboard aft helps to reduce or prevent the boat from being “pooped” by overtaking waves in following seas, and more particularly, in ocean inlets, where waves are often amplified to twice the size of seas prevailing outside the inlet.

Bow Flare – In any significant ahead seas, wind-driven spray will be driven upwards as the forefoot of the hull slams into oncoming waves.  Generous bow flare will turn back the bow wave and direct spray away from the boat to provide for a “dry ride.”  Absence of bow flare will result is a ‘wet ride.”  Decks awash in seawater affect the stability of the boat, and require ample drains (scuppers) to quickly allow that water to escape.

Seakindliness (also called “ride comfort”) has to do with the motion of the boat in high seas.  Shorter, lighter boats can travel in shallower waters, but tend to have sharp, rapid, motions in heavy seas that some people consider uncomfortable.  Longer, heavier boats tend to move more gently.  The motion a boat will have in a seaway is greatly influenced by the ratio of length (Load Waterline Length, LWL) to width (Waterline Beam) and the design shape of the hull.  Generally, wider width (beam WL) is more stable.

Generally, a rounded-bilge boat is superior to a Vee-hull or flat-bottomed hull for use in any significant seas.  A rounded-bilge hull (displacement hull) is physically and mechanically stronger than other hull forms.  Rounded-bilge hulls have longer roll periods while exhibiting less snap than other hull shapes in rough seas.  Boats with rounded hulls will role farther from side-to-side, but will do so with less sharp and uncomfortable accelerations and decelerations.  Boats with “square” underbodies (hard chines; semi-displacement) will have good stability at berth and in calm seastates, but their roll motion in bigger seas is often very snappy and uncomfortable.  Most people find rolling motions more uncomfortable than pitching motions.

Hulls with concave flare at the bow throw water away from the boat and generally move through the water with less effort, and consuming less energy.  However, the pitching motion of these hulls is greater in ahead seas because the vee profile provides less buoyancy facing head seas.  Boats with convex hull forms forward are wetter rides, but will often experience less pitch excursion because the shape of the hull creates increased buoyancy facing head seas.

All boats of all hull designs will have a characteristic “roll-moment.”  The sails of a sailboat will dampen rolling motion, but there is no practical equivalent on power boats except for mechanical stabilization.  Stabilizers are large, heavy, energy-consuming mechanical devices generally suitable to larger power boats.  They require substantial periodic maintenance.  There is a passive form of stabilization called “Anti-Roll Tanks.”  ARTs contain water, which moves from side-to-side out-of-phase with the roll motion of the boat.  ARTs help boats while underway, but also while the boat is anchored and experiencing beam rolling waves (such as when a boat turns when at anchor with respect to oncoming seas as tides reverse).  ARTs require very extensive naval architecture design engineering to perform properly, and are not often found on smaller boats (less than 50 feet).  Everything about a boat is a compromise.

Hull balance (also called “Weather Helm”) has to do with the way the boat steers in seas.  This is a critically important characteristic of the boat in following seas.  Following seas can be surprisingly and deceptively strong around ocean inlets and in swift following currents.  Keels found on displacement and semi-displacement power boats add greatly to tracking stability.  A boat with poor hull balance is exhausting to steer manually, and can over-power an autopilot.  Everything about a boat is a compromise.

Draft – the amount of the hull that extends below the waterline – make a significant  difference to seakindliness and hull balance.  Large, deep keels protect running gear and help the boat maintain steerage in rough seas.  Shallow-draft boats are disproportionately affected by cross winds and currents (“set” and “drift”), and require more energy in the form of speed to maintain steerage and helm control.

Deck Access has many implications.  When departing from a dock, when tying up to a dock, and when passing through locks, deck access is essential.  Full walk-around decks make these tasks much easier, but full walk-around decks trade off space from interior living space.  Moving around a boat is an activity that carries an extensive range of risks.  Will you be able to move from bow to stern quickly and safely?  Can you do so without tracking wet, dripping rain gear through the living spaces of the boat?  What will it take to launch your dinghy?  Daytime in sunshine on flat water is one thing.  Nighttime in darkness offshore in 6 – 8 foot seas on the Gulf of Mexico or Lake Michigan is entirely another.  Everything about a boat is a compromise.

Machinery Choices and Access also has many implications.   When considering a boat purchase, whether new or previously owned, as much attention to machinery and machinery access must be given as to any issues of styling and design, deck configuration, convenience features, and cosmetics.  Nothing affects the cost of boat ownership more than machinery suitability, machinery maintenance and machinery failure.

Many, many power boats built in the 1980s through today are significantly overpowered, which is wasteful in terms of operating costs, can lead to excessive maintenance costs and can create unrealistic performance expectations.  Many, many twin engine boats have extremely limited access to the outboard side of the engines, the space between the engine and the hull, which can discourage proper and timely maintenance.  Anchoring equipment (anchor, rode, windlass) must be adequate and suitable to the boat.

Hull survey and an engine survey inspection and reports can be extremely helpful, including with new boats.  The hull survey should put significant emphasis on the condition and adequacy of the electrical system o the boat.  Maintenance and upgrade records should be available and show that all necessary maintenance is current.

When buying your boat, it’s essential to understand what you will ask it to do for you.  You need to consider the conditions – not that you want to encounter – but that you may encounter.  Everything about a boat is a compromise.

The social aspects of “looping” often don’t get explicit consideration, but they are also important to boat selection.  Those who place a high value on entertaining guests will have different considerations than those who place a high value on personal privacy and solitude.  While on the loop, cruisers will meet many other “voyageurs” along the way.  It’s typical to meet, part ways, and re-meet other cruisers while progressively traveling through interesting and historical places all along the route. Even for cruisers who may have traveled many of the geographic locales before, it’s likely that prior travel has not been by boat.  Thus, the perspective and experience cruisers get from the water will be new and refreshing.  Loopers will want to go ashore to take advantage of sightseeing and the many social opportunities that will arise along the way.  Everything about a boat is a compromise.

Aboard Sanctuary, we like the quiet and privacy of anchoring.  When we planned for our Great Loop cruise, we imagined and assumed we would anchor a great deal.  But very early on, we found we met many wonderful people who became dear friends.  To enjoy time with new friends, see new things and enjoy new places, we found we used marinas more often than we had anticipated.

People who plan to buy a boat just to “do the loop” already know the cruise will not be an inexpensive adventure.  Even if the plan is to sell the boat at the conclusion of the cruise, “breaking even” on owning the boat is unlikely.  There are fixed water depth and air height restrictions along the loop that constrain the physical dimensions of the boat.  However, even within the physical limits, larger boats will face constraints that smaller boats will not have.  Navigation in some areas is more difficult for large boats.  Availability of slips for large or beamy boats can be limited.  Shore power availability is sometimes limited.  Larger boats cost more to insure, operate, dock, maintain and repair.

A major and important consideration is whether or not over-night guests or family members will be aboard.  Will guests be traveling with you?  Will you have grandchildren traveling with you?  How often and for how long will guests be aboard?  We have had grandchildren with us, together and separately, for several weeks at a time.  We have found that to be an amazing, rewarding and uplifting experience…   occasionally frustrating…   but never dull!  If frequent visitors are expected, what privacy considerations are important to the boat’s owners?  What privacy considerations will be important to guests?  Can male and female siblings co-exist in the same universe, let alone sharing the same head?  How about younger cousins?  Can young visitors amuse themselves, or do they require “entertaining?”  What needs will “mature” guests have?  If you plan to have minor children aboard when you cross an international boundary, be sure you have a notarized statement from the custodial parents or legal guardians that grants you custody.  We had a most interesting session with a Canadian Boarder Official on that topic.

All of the forgoing suggests many personal preference considerations in the matter of “which is the best boat for the Great Loop.”

So, against that background, what about the question?  Just what is the “best boat” to do the loop?  Quite simply, personal preferences are so important in the question that there simply is no one right answer.  My ideal boat may be a poor choice for others, and vice versa.  If the daily destination is very important to the boat owner, perhaps a faster boat is more important.  On the other hand, if the journey is what the owner enjoys, speed may be unimportant.

Personal preferences will express themselves in at least three areas:
1.  The design, configuration and styling of the boat,
2.  The owner’s tolerance for comfort, convenience and risk, and
3.  The owner’s desire for, and ability with, self-reliance, independence and ambiguity.

There are several oft-debated personal preference topics that arise in relation to boat design, configuration and styling: slow vs. fast, deep keel vs. shallow draft, cruiser vs. trawler, monohull vs. multihull, pilot house vs. flybridge, one engine vs. two, anchor vs. marina, walk-around deck vs. inside living space, electric vs. LP gas cooktop?  Many others…

Personal preference in comfort, convenience and risk-acceptance will be reflected in equipment choices: the anchoring system, windlass, bow/stern thrusters, dinghy and outboard motor, battery bank(s), Radar, AIS, autopilot, computer, tablet, TV, DVD, inverter, Sirius/XM Satellite Weather, EPIRB/PLB, washer/dryer, shaft line cutter, wi-fi amplifier, watermaker, towing insurance.  Mechanical, electrical and plumbing skill sets, together with the temperament, self-reliance and independence of the owner, will be reflected in tools and spare parts inventories: spare propeller(s), engine fresh and raw water pumps, fuel lift pump, heat pump raw water circulator pump, head (toilet, not engine) re-build kit, extent of hand and power tools and test equipment, etc.

The request for advice raised by the recent post stated an initial preference for “staterooms and heads both fore and aft.”  Two early responses to the poster suggested the American Tug 34 and the Krogen Manatee, neither of which offer staterooms with heads both fore and aft.  They are both wonderful boats with relatively large salons for lounging, entertaining and dining, but more limited if cruising with visitors aboard.  The Manatee is a slow boat, the AT is a fast semi-displacement boat that can move along more briskly.  They both offer good living space, but trade off deck access, sleeping space and privacy to do it.  Pilot House boats generally reflect the owners personal preference to pilot the boat from inside.

We personally prefer to pilot from our “classic” trawler’s Flybridge, which we do virtually exclusively aboard Sanctuary.  Most Pilot House boats (AT34, Nordic Tug, others) tend to have limited visibility aft, which can be problematic if “crabbing” against sideways set and drift in narrow, confined, shallow channels.  There are many places along the loop route where visibility aft is important to staying in a channel.  This is a common issue in Florida (both coasts and Lake Okeechobee), and in the coastal shallows of US East Coast states. The “classic” trawlers with forward and aft staterooms (Monk, Albin, Grand Banks, Marine Trader and others) are generally flybridge, dual helm station boats, which offer very good 360º visibility.  These “classic” trawlers favor sleeping space over lounging, entertaining and dining space.

Both Pilot House and Flybridge trawlers can be single-handed rather easily in locking situations, usually from the inside helm station.  That said, many owners have strong personal preferences in this area, and self-confidence and comfort with maneuvering and locking is important on the Great Loop Cruise.  The Krogan Manatee offers both a large salon and a flybridge, but can only be piloted from the flybridge.  It trades off a walk-around deck for interior space, so single-handing in locks requires practice and forethought.  This can all be worked out, of course, depending on the preferences and physical agility of the owner.  These are just a small sampling of the pros and cons to individual boats that only your personal taste and personal preferences can settle for you.  If you’re not (never) going to be single-handing, this issue is moot; if you are going to be single-handing, even occasionally, it can be extremely important or no big deal, depending on your agility and comfort level.

Nothing is more closely associated to personal comfort and preference than personal physical health and condition and that of others aboard (spouse, visitors) and any pets you may have aboard.  Imagine and carefully consider your physical access to the boat when faced with various boarding and docking situations.  Along the Great Loop, you will encounter widely variable tidal ranges and periods of vigorous winds and currents.  You will encounter these environmental conditions at floating docks, fixed docks, high steel and concrete walls, along-side ties, slips with short or very short finger piers, slips with no finger pier (Mediterranean, or “Med,” moor), shrimp boats, barges and occasionally, a mooring ball.  One particularly exciting activity is tying to a mooring ball in a crowded mooring field in 20kt gusting winds and drizzle.  These activities require physical agility and some stamina.  They also require boat handling skill (seamanship) and patience with one’s deck hands (spouse).  If your deck crew has any physical disability or limitations, this will – or should – affect your choice of boat.

Likewise, with the question of engines, there are pros and cons that often boil down to personal comfort and preference.  Some people feel that dual engines provide a margin of redundancy and safety, reasoning that its improbable both would fail at the same time.  Some people feel that a fast trawler or cruiser allows one to run fast over open expanses of water or away from approaching bad weather.  Yes, sudden and complete engine failures can occur.  I don’t know the statistics from Tow BoatUS or SeaTow, but most of the anecdotal lost engine stories I’ve heard over our several years of living aboard and cruising involve fuel issues that affected both engines.  Those who are truly committed to needing two engines for reasons of redundancy and safety are well advised to run them from different, fully independent fuel tanks and through different, fully independent sets of fuel filters.

The good news on fuel is that, on the Great Loop cruise, boats will turn fuel stores over 6 ~ 8 times, so the fuel aboard will generally be pretty fresh and clean once the cruise is under way.  With two engines, machinery maintenance tasks and machinery maintenance costs are doubled; physical access to the engine for maintenance tasks is often severely limited and problematic; and of course, even with two engines, if one does fail and requires emergency service, it will certainly bring a temporary stop to your travel itinerary while the issue is being resolved.

Single engine trawlers are generally fit with full keels and well-protected under-water running gear (prop shaft, struts, propeller, rudder, skeg). That is often not the case with twin engine boats.  There are lots of areas on the loop where the water is shallow and the bottom unforgiving.  Every looper knows of cases of encounters between props and rocks.  The maneuverability of single engine boats is greatly enhanced with the addition of bow and stern thrusters, or occasionally both.

For lots of reasons, I personally prefer a single engine configuration, but others will have different and equally valid opinions and preferences. Personal preferences and values will settle the choice for each buyer.  Following is a quick list of advantages of both:

Single engine:

  • lower purchase cost
  • lower operating costs
  • simplicity of maintenance
  • engine sits lower in the hull, takes up less space, easier access for maintenance
  • strut, prop and rudder better protected from flotsam by large full keel

Twin engines:

  • higher purchase and maintenance costs
  • marginally higher operating costs
  • Potential for greater reliability
  • potential for better low-speed maneuverability
  • engines ride higher in hull may allow for lesser overall draft

And on the general topic of diesel engines: overloading an engine is bad for the engine.  I think we can all grasp that concept.  All mechanical things wear.  However, one of the worst things we can do as boaters is to chronically UNDERLOAD the engine.  Running any diesel at 20% load is generally bad (not good) for the engine, and will impair service life.  DO NOT THINK THAT “BABYING” A DIESEL ENGINE IS GOOD FOR IT.  Diesel engines are made to work.  Internal combustion temperatures on a properly run diesel will get to 750 – 900 degrees, sometimes higher.  Running a diesel at 20% load will not achieve those temperatures, and lower temperatures promote carbonizing and cylinder glazing.  And, that’s what leads to a lot of low-hour major maintenance and rebuilds.

So, one thing to look for in any boat you plan to buy is, what size is the engine in hP compared to the boat in length at the waterline (LWL) and displacement.  Figure out what the boat needs to have run it through the water at “hull speed.”  Then see if the engine matches the power requirement in the middle of the torque curve for the engine.  Ford Lehmans have a great reputation in slow, heavy trawlers and cruisers.  Why?  Because they are in the 135hP range.  In a displacement hull or semi-displacement hull of 35 – 40 feet, it takes about 55hP to 60hP to run that boat through the water at its theoretical “hull speed.”  A 135hP to 150hP engine will operate in the mid-range of its torque curve in that application.  A Cummins 5.9L, 330 hP engine, in that same application may not load that engine to its optimal torque point.  Well, let’s say it this way: it would take greatly different transmission, gear box and prop to make that work well.  Possible, but not always done in practice.  Likewise with a 350hP Cat.  Yes, it feels “good” to be able to make that baby go 2 MPH faster to make a restricted bridge, but hours and hours of low loading is not good for the longevity of that engine.

When looking at a previously owned boat, some key information will not show up in a maintenance log.  Ask a potential seller what speed over ground was averaged over the time of his ownership.  From that and from the mechanical specs of engine, tranny, gear and prop, calculate the engine loading.  You want that number to determine where on the engine’s torque curve the loading has been throughout its life.

There are many choices of dinghy, and many alternatives for storing a dinghy aboard.  Towing a dinghy that is tethered to the “mother ship” is practical in limited cases, but is not wise in open bodies of water or in lock systems or narrow canals.  The tether is always a hazard to fouling the mother ship’s propeller(s) and rudder(s).  In some lock systems, towing a dinghy is not permitted.  In others, it may be permitted, but additional fees will be collected.  In all cases, it is selfish and discourteous to others locking through with you.  So, spend some time considering how you will store your dinghy aboard, and how you will deploy and stow it.  And particularly, think about how quickly it could be deployed or stowed in an emergency.

Dinghies suspended from aft davit systems are relatively easy to deploy and stow, but can fill with rainwater and become very heavy.  Aft davits also add to the overall length of the vessel, and thus to locking and docking costs.  Dinghies stowed on upper decks can be very cumbersome – even dangerous – to deploy and stow.  Filled with rainwater, dinghies on upper decks can affect the roll-stability of the mother ship.  Dinghies are heavy, and can present dangerous weight and leverage issues to the unsuspecting or unprepared owner.  Carefully think through how you will be able to manage these factors when considering your purchase decision.

If thunderstorms or other severe weather is likely and probable, expecting to outrun it is very risky.  These cells develop in air masses that are geographically very large.  An air mass can go from “stable” to “unstable” in a matter of minutes.  The passage of the outflow boundary of a thunderstorm cell can produce hurricane force gusts and very high sea states.  There are only two things that really, really scare me about boating: fire aboard and lightening!  No small plastic yacht is made to take a lightening hit without serious consequence and damage, and there is plenty of open water on the loop.  To me, it’s much better to have good forecasting tools, anticipate thunderstorm weather, and stay in port while it passes.  My personal preference is, it’s better to hide, and live to run another – better, more comfortable – day.

There are, of course, a few very unique boat designs that overcome some of the above generalities.  Great Harbor and Florida Bay Coaster designs are shallow draft, multi-engine, protected keel boats with great living space.  They do so with very unique and non-traditional styling that some feel compromises stability, comfort and sea-keeping ability in moderate to high sea states.  Powered kulfi-hulls (Catamarans) also offer great living space in a boat that can achieve high speed at great economy.  However, steering ability with only one operational engine may be degraded, and the beam of these boats limits availability for dockage in sone areas.  So once again, we are faced with many pros and cons having to do with personal preferences.

I would ass/u/me no one would consider buying a gasoline-fueled boat.  Gasoline flashes explosively at standard atmospheric temperature and pressure (STP), so the boat is a large, floating bomb.  On a gasoline fueled boat, ALL electrical and plumbing equipment must be of UL-Marine certified spark-suppressive design.  Diesel fuel is far safer.  That said, though, every boat owner must give some thought to fire suppression; both fire suppression equipment and emergency response to an actual fire scenario.

The question of tankage for fuel, potable water and black water waste stores will vary from boat-to-boat and power configuration-to-power configuration.  Most displacement and deep-vee, semi-displacement hulled plastic (FRP) trawlers in the 40′ range will carry around 300 gallons of fuel.  If you get 2.5 – 3 StM/Gal, then you’ll have a range of 600 – 700 miles.  With that range, you can plan fuel purchases for optimal commodity pricing.  Heavy genset use can affect that range slightly.  Most knowledgeable boaters say an 8kW genset will use 0.5 – 0.75 gallons/hr.  So, 300 gallons of diesel is plenty of onboard capacity to do the loop or visit the Bahamas.  The longest distance between fuel stops on the great loop route is on the Mississippi/Ohio River, from just below St. Louis to Kentucky Lake.  That’s around 240 StM.

All captains should have a good idea of their boat’s characteristic “hull speed.”  While this is not actually a physical limit, it is a point where small additional speeds cost dramatically more in engine power needed and in fuel consumed.  For displacement and semi-displacement hulls, best fuel economy is around 80% to 85% of hull speed.  If fuel economy and excursion range is important, slow slightly from hull speed.

Sanctuary carries 140 gallons of potable water, which I think is on the high side for trawlers in our size class.  That lasts 2 adults about 6 to 10 days for drinking and cooking; the largest driver of water use is dish washing, personal hygiene and showers.  Learn to take GI showers.  As a personal preference decision, we do not have a washer/dryer aboard.   Some folks consider them essential.  If you do – of if your spouse does – you will consume aHr of electric capacity and gallons of water to feed it.  We do US Coastal, near-Coastal and Inland River cruising, so we do not see a need for the expense or maintenance overhead of an onboard watermaker.  Even for the Bahamas, positive ROI for a watermaker is measured in years, not months.

We have a 40 gallon black water waste holding tank.  For us, we find that capacity lasts two adults for 6 – 8 days.  So going back to the earlier discussion, the social aspects of doing the great loop brought us into marinas – on the average – around 4 nights out of 7, average.  Fuel, water and pumpout are all easily available within those parameters.  Even if one chooses not to use marinas, “drive-up” facilities are widely available all along the main route.  Not so much on the Lower Mississippi River, below the Ohio River, but that is not the main route for the Great Loop cruise.  And, not at all in the Bahamas.

Sanctuary is fit with a single battery bank that powers all house loads and also starts our 150 hP, 4-cyl, Cummins diesel engine.  A single battery bank vs. separate house and start banks is a personal preference choice.  A single battery bank greatly simplifies the electrical system and battery charging components.  We are very comfortable with our configuration, while others could be less comfortable.  Our genset has it’s own, separate start battery. We feel the most efficient way to charge Sanctuary’s battery bank is by utilizing the main engine when the boat is otherwise under way for the day’s travel.

In the summer months, we consume about 150 aHr of DC power during the overnight period for refrigeration, space and nav lighting, computer and TV/DVR use.  We consume between 200 to 250 aHr of DC power overnight in months with longer hours-of-darkness.  We are not especially conservative about our DC electric power consumption, and can use less if conditions warrant.  We have 6 x 230 aHr, 6V flooded wet cells that make up a 690 aHr, 12V house bank. We methodically adhere to the “50% discharge rule” for lead acid (flooded, Gel, AGM, spiral-wound TPPL) batteries.  We power our AC electric loads with a Magnum MS2012 2KW inverter/charger. We also use a Magnum companion battery monitor to keep track of our battery bank’s state-of-charge (SOC).  I consider the battery monitor to be an absolutely essential piece of safety equipment.  (Does that sound like a personal preference?)

We think crock pots are great for cooking, especially in cooler weather!  With our AC  inverter, we can run a crock pot all day at a net zero consumption of DC aHr capacity, and upon arrival, we’ll have a hot stew for dinner.  Likewise, low wattage electric blankets, electric mattress pads, and electric throws are great for fall and spring cool mornings and nights.  Because of Peukert’s Law and the impact of inverter efficiency (inefficiency), high battery discharge loads like microwaves, electric cook-top elements, hair dryers and ceramic space heaters drop the 20-hour capacity of a battery bank by as much as 20~25%. High discharge rates also accelerate natural battery deterioration, contributing to sulfation and plate surface etching/erosion.   It’s a good practice to avoid even transient high discharge loads; or at least, allow them for the shortest possible duration.  Run the genset if you need significant AC power for cooking and/or space heating.  It’s much easier on the batteries.

I do not recommend or support the use of gasoline-powered portable generators on, near, or for the purpose of powering, AC electrical equipment on boats.  Gensets used on boats should be UL-Marine certified, and “built in” to the electrical system.  Gensets should be designed and installed to fully comply with all ABYC electrical and exhaust system safety recommendations.  Portable, gasoline powered generators are generally not designed to be compatible with residential or vessel electrical systems, and often do not meet even the basic electrical safety and compatibility codes.   When portable generators are placed ashore and long extension cords are run to the boat, life-threatening electrical hazards are potentially created.  Differences in the internal design of portable generators make a big difference in safe use in any application, but can be very difficult for lay buyers and users to assess and accommodate.  Carrying and handling gasoline to fuel portable gensets is hazardous.  The exhaust of engines powered with gasoline has many times higher concentrations of Carbon Monoxide (CO) than diesel exhaust.  I strongly discourage the use of portable generators on boats.

Sanctuary is fit with a 20# LP gas cylinder (propane) for our stove and oven.  We have a Xintex (FireBoy) propane gas detector installed.  We get a full year from a single 20# LPG cylinder.  When convenient, it’s better to re-fill a propane tank than buy an exchange tank, because the exchange tanks are only filled to 17#, not the full 20#.

As mentioned above, one final personal preference thought that will affect your planning and travel is whether or not you have pets aboard.  Cats are easier, but if you travel with a dog, particularly a larger dog, you’ll probably use marinas more frequently than we did, simply as a matter of convenience for toileting the dog.  There are a couple of regions along the loop route where it’s inevitable that the dog will need to be transported ashore in your dinghy, but mostly, that can be avoided.  Vets are available in many communities along the loop.  Some animals do get sea sick, just as some people do.  Plan for pet meds just as you would for people meds.  Check with Canadian and Bahamian authorities for pet health clearance requirements.