Lithium (LiFePo4) batteries offer massive benefits for narrowboat life off-grid and a well-designed system transforms the way power is used and managed onboard. Lead-acid is delicate, weak & totally impractical in comparison.

My other work ties in with Lithium: Solar can potentially bring hot water & air conditioning options for the Summer. And ‘Alternator Controllers’ & Alternator Upgrades’ maximise engine charging to minimise engine running in the Winter.

I’m happy installing a complete system from scratch, working on a specific component or make improvements and additions to an existing setup (such as alternator/charging upgrade or battery monitoring and control). As a service I offer a complete custom system built with Winston Thundersky cells using a REC Active BMS. This setup works well with a Victron Cerbo GX & GX Touch display and the system has a full 3 year warranty for my customer’s complete piece of mind. It uses the very best raw components and is a great alternative to full Victron or Mastervolt setup. If you’re in the process of a new-build it’s a perfect time to consider Lithium – at this point careful consideration should be given to equipment and spec.

A key benefit of Lithium is ultra fast recharge ability. The majority of factory installed engine alternator setups are not capable of charging Lithium effectively. I’ve developed some awesome alternator upgrade kits for some of the most popular engines which fully realise the phenominal charging property:

  • Isuzu Canaline engines: complete kit using a Bosch 200 amp alternator with 6PK Poly V crank pulley conversion.
  • Barrus Shire 40 & 45: 200 amp Bosch upgrade kit with a 6PK poly V crank pulley conversion.
  • Beta 43, 50 & 1903: 12V 200 amp or 24V 120 amp Mahle (Iskra) with custom freewheeling pulley.
  • Beta 38: 200 amp Bosch upgrade replacing the factory 100A alternator.
  • For the 3.5 Travel Power there’s a 12V 200 Amp Bosch, or 24V 110 amp Mahle alternator conversion available.
  • For the latest Beta 43, Engine’s Plus & Barrus Shire engines fitted with a ‘poly-v’ setup I can add a Mastervolt or Wakespeed controller to get the very best out of the factory fitted alternator.
  • On a new-build it’s so important to pick the right engine even if there’s no plan to install lithium batteries at that stage. Some engines are far better suited than others. Long term it will make switching to Lithium far easier and cheaper. At this point it’s worth considering a 24 volt system.
  • I’m happy working with a customer and their boat builder installing and designing a complete system.

The incredible limitless re-charge property mean you have to ‘lithium-proof’ the alternator. People try to achieve this in different ways. I specialise in installing an alternator controller and (IME) this is by far the best approach – any other method is just clumsy and compromised in comparison. I stock the Mastervolt Alpha Pro and Wakespeed WS500 and along with an alternator upgrade kit supply and fit them as a complete package. You don’t need the expensive Balmar or Mastervolt alternator: When running a poly V setup, I’d advise against them due to inability to run a freewheel-clutch alternator pulley. This makes for a smoother power transfer reliably handling high loads and the smaller diameter makes for higher continous loads from better cooling. I can modify all alternators to work with Mastervolt, Wakespeed & Balmar controllers. If you already have a Beta 43, later Barrus, or Engines Plus Canaline engine with a poly V setup and 150A + alternator you’re a long way towards a great lithium proof setup.

Key points that alternator controllers offer in respect to charging lithium:

  • Alternator temperature sensing: Damage caused by the alternator overheating is a real risk without any temp sensing. This is an important point as engine bay air temperatures can become incredibly high particularly in warmer weather and limiting current alone isn’t always enough.
  • They enable an alternator to be easily shut down – either with an engine panel mounted switch, or automatically with a lithium BMS (including Victron BMS’s) or a Victron BMV Battery Monitor. This means you are not disconnecting the output load which risks destroying the alternator. Doing this safely is complicated in itself requiring a dump load.
  • Absorption voltage can be adjusted to a safe, conservative level – so you generally don’t need to rely on a Battery Monitor or BMS completely disconnecting and disabling charging as is done with other methods. This is particularly important with drop in batteries where the BMS/disconnect is built in.
  • They can de-rate the alternator to suit maximum recharge current rating (C rating) of the battery.
  • Some controllers have a ‘small engine’ feature where output is throttled back at low engine speeds to improve engine driveability but at a selected engine speed full power (or an adjustable percentage of full output) is unleashed. This is an awesome feature and fully enables the fast recharge ability of Lithium while protecting the engine and alternator.
  • Small engine mode is so useful for the 35-45hp engines typically seen in narrowboats where large alternator loads can cause serious engine running problems at low engine speeds particularly in-gear tickover. Having to raise tickover is a bad way to deal with it.
  • For Beta 43 & Beta 50 engines this small engine feature limits alternator loads below 1200 rpm and minimise the risk of the crank pulley issues associated with these engines.

For narrowboats already with a 3.5 Travel Power and a Victron 12/3000/120 Multiplus it’s possible to build a simple setup. The Multicontrol AC current control is used to adjust Travel Power alternator load. For the Beta 43/50 in particular it’s important to have a sensible limit on crank load at low engine speeds – other high alternator loads have to be carefully managed or disabled while using the Travel Power.

I have the equipment to program and setup all of the Victron and Mastervolt equipment and systems.

Any queries or if you need this type of work doing, please call Ed 07922 163072.

Example of a 400AH Winston Thundersky Lithium install.

Live-a-board customer was fed-up with the deteriating 330AH 12-month-old lead acid bank. I build a 400AH Winston Thundersky + 123BMS neatly installed inside the cabin. Mastervolt Alpha Pro + alternator upgrade to look after engine charging. The Dutch made 123\SmartBMS controls the other kit: Victron BMV712, Mastervolt Alpha Pro, Victron Multiplus, Victron Smartsolar, Victron Battery Protect etc..

Awesome power & capacity and beautifully simple setup. The quality of the cells and BMS can’t be beaten. In the Summer options for immersion heater hot water, air conditioning, induction hob, microwave, toaster, kettle etc.. In the depths of Winter power will last for ~5 days between running the engine with a full recharge in less than 2.5 hours with optimised alternator charging. I offer this system at a fixed price with a proper 3 year callout warranty for my customer’s piece of mind – which I personally cover.

Simple Victron/Mastervolt install on a Traditional boat.

This beautiful Dave Harris narrowboat is as traditional and simple as you get. No solar. Paloma hot water. No TV. Paraffin lighting. No 240. 12V fridge. Lithium still suits it perfectly though.

Even though the boat’s moored in a marina there’s never been a landline connection. It’s possibly why the 30+ year old hull is still like new. My customer’s looking for the strong/rugged properties Lithium offers: The ability to be left partially charged and a battery monitor that actually works. We fit a simple system – 200AH of Victron batteries with Smart BMS12/200. Victron BMV700 monitor. A Mastervolt Alpha Pro looks after a modest 90 amp alternator upgrade + custom 65mm pulley on the Lister JP3.

Example of a Winston Thundersky + Victron install.

My live-aboard customer wants to moor up for as long as possible and really doesn’t like running the engine, totally offgrid and always on the towpath. I fit 12V 400AH Winston cells + 123SmartBMS. New Victron Multiplus 3000/120 with simple powerful 120A engine charging from Vetus fitted Dometic 3.5 Travel Power + Victron Multicontrol input current limiting to keep the travel power and a Honda EU2200i unstrained. If there’s ever an issue with the Travel Power there’s a 200A Bosch swapout for even faster charging. I also add 1000 watt of solar with a Victron Smartsolar controller to an already installed 650W system.

The solar allows for automatic free hot water & electric cooking in the Summer and there’s plans to install a small aircon unit in the bedroom. The new lithium battery works so well with the other Victron equipment and Travel Power. My customer is delighted with the new setup and it’s transformed life on-onboard.