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In yesterday’s post I spoke of wanderlust, a strong urge to travel. Is spending time abroad 100% positive though? That depends. It may not be, if you ever have to come back! In a well-written post, our friend Behan describes the challenges that her family has faced returning to the USA after being away for several years, traveling the world by sailboat. Check it out: How cruising wrecks lives.

Problems closer to home

In problems closer to home (boat), we have been working on some battery charging issues, which is funny only because our dock neighbors at Port Louis were doing the same, albeit for a completely different reason. Our friends had been struggling with an old and tired battery that was drawing down their bank. Our issue was an engine alternator that refused to charge.

What’s the back story on the alternator? It began like this…

Our boat has a little light on the instrument panel which illuminates when the alternator is not charging. In the past, that light would go out once the engine was revved up a bit. Over time though, I noticed that it was becoming increasingly more difficult to get the light to turn off, indicating that the alternator was not putting out any current (as measured by our LinkLite battery monitor). As our solar and wind works pretty well to keep our batteries happy, and we have a generator to charge when the green solutions fall short, I wasn’t stressing about the alternator too much. It is nice to have redundant systems though, especially for something as important as charging the battery banks.

When we last had our overheating problems, I had the mechanic, Jason from Palm Tree, remove the suspect alternator and take it back to their shop to bench test it. The guys there found nothing significantly amiss, so they suggested that we have it sent up island to the alternator guru, Al Bernadine, to have it checked out. When he returned it with a clean bill of health, saying that it was working OK, I have to admit that I was a little concerned. I would have actually preferred to hear that there had been something significantly wrong with the unit, and that he had fixed it. That was not the case though.

Was the alternator fixed?

Hoping that perhaps the brushes were just dirty, and that he had just gone ahead and cleaned it up without mentioning it, we had the alternator reinstalled yesterday. Unfortunately, we did not immediately see any better results (significant charging). We thought it possible that the reason for this was that our batteries were too fully charged (we have been plugged in to shore power), so we spent the day yesterday intentionally trying to draw down the batteries. Believe me, that is a very weird thing to do on a boat!

What about today?

When I started the engine this morning to see if the alternator would charge the now partially-depleted battery bank, we again received no love. Luckily for us, our marine electrician friend Simon had told me that he was going to be at the marina, and he offered to come by and check it out. After testing everything, Simon said that his best guess was that the internal regulator on the alternator had failed. So, off came the alternator, and back up island it goes. Nothing on a boat is simple, but what would life be without a little struggle, right?


A clamp-on DC multimeter is perfect for troubleshooting jobs of this nature.


  1. You’d think that Al Bernadine would have checked the internal regulator, Mike. Now may be the time to invest in an external regulator. Our Balmar MC-614 had been driving our Balmar 190A alternator flawlessly since 2008… The only problem we’ve been having was when I had a machine shop in Grenada fabricate a smaller diameter pully in order to up the revs (and output) on the alternator. It turns out that the smaller diameter just barely exceeds the usable length of the alternator adjustment arm, causing the belts to slip a bit. I need to replace it with a longer arm.Such is the boat life!

  2. I’m glad Al Bernadine is working again. We tried to get him to look at a motor for our windlass last year and were told
    the day before he had his stroke. Everyone says what a nice man and competent repairman he is, so again this made me smile.

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