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A quick search on our site will show that I have mentioned wind generators numerous times. One of the first was back in 2010 when I expressed some envy after watching the wind gennys on our marina neighbors’ boats spinning away, charging their battery banks in the process. In spite of that envy, and the numerous times that I have since then considered the devices, had our new boat not come with one already installed, I’m not sure that we’d have one. Now that we have though, and have had it running for some time, I think it’s worth sharing my thoughts on the devices.

Things to consider:

Noise

The number one complaint about wind generators seems to be the noise that they make. It is true that certain models do create a fairly loud whirring sound, but to tell the truth, even the noisiest of them never really bothered me. When the wind is up, which is the only time they are really noticeable, there is plenty of other noise around too. In our case, the older Aerogen 6 that we have is remarkably quiet. So much so that I often have to look up at it to see if it’s spinning.

Vibration

Some people complain that a wind generator creates a vibration in their boat. This is obviously a function of how it is installed, and where (arch, pole, mizzen mast). Our device does create a little bit of vibration, but it’s only noticeable in the aft cabin when it’s really spinning quickly. Again, when the wind is blowing that hard, there is typically a lot of other movement going on as well. To us, it’s a non issue.

Effectiveness

When I looked at the wind forecast for this week, I knew that our batteries were going to be happy. I woke up this morning and found that our batteries were over 98% charged, and yesterday I woke to find a similar battery monitor reading. Were there no wind overnight the batteries would have been considerably less charged. Of course, in order to get this kind of result, the wind needs to really be blowing. Certainly, during the winter months here, when the wind is consistently higher, we get better results. It’s worth noting that some wind generators start producing when the wind is less, but from what I understand, are not quite as effective at the top end. Others work the opposite.

Cost

This is something I can’t comment on directly as we didn’t install the device. In speaking with friends though, I can say that the proper installation of a wind generator can easily equal, or surpass the cost of the unit itself.

Maintenance

As wind generators are obviously mechanical devices, they can break down. We had the bearings in our wind generator replaced during one of our trips to Trinidad, which brought the device back to its near-silent operation. Since we brought the device online, that is all we have had to do to the unit itself.

Of course, effectiveness, cost, and maintenance are seldom ever considered in isolation. More often than not they are compared to other charging sources, most commonly solar. Each boat owner will have to consider their vessel, their cruising grounds, and their budget to determine where to best invest their money. In my mind, if you can deal with the noise/vibration issues, or lack thereof, having both solar and wind is the ideal scenario.

21 Comments

  1. I am in the park service and I have been taking the wind generators off of our ranger stations and fire towers and installing solar panels. I always get called out there when the wind generator has broken a blade or is rattling. The solar panels seem to be the solution.

    • You’re probably right, but boats and houses are kind of an apples and oranges comparison. Boats don’t have large flat rooftops to install a bunch of panels. On monohulls especially the real estate to install solar panels is limited.

      The question I’d be asking is what keeps breaking the blades?

  2. As always you’ve put together an excellent informative article. I’m going to miss your insightful marine analysis when you’ve gone biking.

    Years ago I had a 37 monohull with ~ 250 watts of solar and big bladed Fourwinds wind generator that together would provide for all my electric needs, to include a 12V Dan Foss refrigerator. When it was sunny and calm and I’d get juice from the solar and when it was overcast it seemed that the wind was usually blowing.

    Now I’m trying to decide how to move forward with power for an 11 year old Maine Cat 41 that I recently purchased. It currently has 750 watts of solar but I’m considering adding a Spectra watermaker which (combined with the 12V fridge and freezer) may require more power than the panels can provide. I may be able to find room to squeeze in one more 100 watt panel that would give me 850 watts total. Although I loved the solar/wind combo I’m reluctant to have to add a wind generator for exactly the reasons you cite, cost of the unit and installation being primary.

  3. It has a single cylinder raw water cooled 110V diesel generator & old generic 110V water maker – both untested. I only recently got this boat and it’s currently sitting under a plastic wrap in Maine awaiting the May thaw when I’ll begin the process of bringing her south for refit.
    My strong preference is to avoid having a dual 110V and 12V boat. I much prefer to be 12V only by ditching the 145 pound generator & generic water maker in lieu of a new 12V Spectra – especially if I can run the boat with the solar alone (w/ the occasional boost from the 80 amp alternators on the twin Yanmars).

  4. Good tip on the Rainman system. I now remember reading about this in your blog but, not having a need at that time, had forgotten about it.

    • Although you didn’t ask for my opinion, I’m going to throw it out there anyway…

      DC watermakers don’t produce anywhere near the volume of fresh water that AC systems do. While it’s true that they can be run off solar, they run best when the battery voltage is high, which limits them to being run in the middle of the day as they put a big draw on the batteries (that’s what I found, at least). My experience on ZTC was that if we didn’t run the watermaker, our solar could keep up with our energy needs. On the days that we did run the watermaker, we’d have to use the Honda 2000 to top up the bank. So, knowing that, if you’re going to have to run a gen set to top up the batteries, why not get a high-volume watermaker designed to be powered off a Honda, like one of the CruiseRO systems, or one like the Rainman? Something to consider while you’re waiting for the thaw. 🙂

  5. The Cruise RO can be run of a 2000 watt inverter, so if your solar has your batteries floating early in the day, no reason not to burn some extra solar power by running the AC water maker through your inverter.

  6. No, but it draws less than a 110v water heater that I’ve run of an inverter before. The owner of the company also gave his blessings and said it would work.

  7. Mike –
    Thanks for your well informed opinion . . . and YES I’m appreciative to have it!

    I’m in the beginning of a long data collection phase because whatever I do won’t occur for at least six months. Spectra claims that their 12V 200t model will produce ~ 8 gallons/hour on 10 amps. I think that running this two hours every 2 ~ 3 days would provide an abundance of water. My current hope is that this could be accomplished with ~ 750 watts of solar but that’s the big question because my panels will be partially shaded . However, on a sunny day with half the array diminished by shade they ‘should’ still put out at least ~ 25 amps/hour for a few hours per day. If necessary, on the day I run the water maker I could shut off the fridge & freezer to keep the voltage up while the Specta is running.

    The appeal for me of this over the 110V option is that I’d be free of another engine to manage with all that goes with it. As an added bonus I wouldn’t have to listen to an engine running every time I wanted to make water. Also, if the panels would on occasion fail to get the job done then I could fall back on the two main alternators so I’d have built in redundancy whereas if the generator had problems then there wouldn’t be an alternative backup plan.

    The big “IF” is whether 750 watts (partially shaded) is a sufficient source for the total electrics of the boat + water maker every 2 ~ 3 days. ?

    • I’m sure you’ll figure it all out. Maybe the trick is to monitor the battery status for a while before you invest in the watermaker, taking note of the voltage and SOC over a period of time to give you a baseline. You can also then start to calculate your energy budget, how many AH you consume on a daily basis (refrigeration, lights, electronics, etc.).

  8. Excellent suggestion! Thanks. Yes, why rely on theory when I could get real life data.

  9. Excellent informative article. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thanks for the post. I put off installing wind this year and wish I hadn’t. Solar is only good if you have sun in the right spot, right time of year. I am definitely going with wind with a careful eye on vibration dampening when I do the install. We are sitting her in the Exuma’s with 30 gusting to 35 mph east winds. I visited a boat today with wind and was amazed that the output exceeded what the batteries could take. Very cool. I also like your “travel” plans. What an adventure that will be! All the best.

    • Here is a first hand report… our batteries have not been below 95% all week!!!

      It has been mostly sunny during the day, but that’s normal. The difference is the wind.

      I actually tied off the wind genny (turbine) today to stop it from turning becuase I don’t think the regulator is very smart, and we had too much power!

  11. I have switched to LiFePo batteries which run at a slightly higher voltage. My old wind turbine freewheels unless the batteries are low in charge and there is a good load to pull the volts down. It thinks the batteries are fully charged. I have adjusted it to the maximum output and it is as good as it will ever get.
    Next time I’ll get one that can have its output voltage adjusted to 14.5v nominal.

    • I’m pretty sure ours isn’t working exactly as it should, but with a bit of manual intervention, it’s doing fine. Without that I found the battery voltage was getting too high.

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