Installing a Second Battery on your Boat (rev 4)

Written by Bob Fuller

  Just to begin with, I am not an expert in boat electrics. The following is a compilation of the information I have gathered from a number of sources, and should be used as a general guide only. You need to do your own research to get the right solution for your circumstance. If you are still unsure, do not take chances, get professional help as batteries hold a big punch. Get it wrong, and it WILL hurt!

Most small boats will initially have just one battery fitted, which has the primary purpose of starting the outboard motor. This engine battery is specially designed to provide a large current for a short time (as when starting the engine), and is not necessarily good at providing a small current over a long period of time (as required from your instruments and lights). The problem is that we often use the engine battery to also power our FF, GPS, VHF, running lights, deck lights, sump pump, etc, etc, and, as a result, it is very easy to drain the battery, especially if you have all your equipment powered on for a few hours, like when night fishing. Then, when you try to start your motor, the battery is flat and you are stuck. The single battery fitted on my boat is only a 45Ah starter battery, which will not power aux equipment for long.

So, you need to consider the type of battery you will use for powering your auxiliary equipment. Avoid using the standard car battery because these do not like being discharged and recharged, and are poor at providing a small current over a long period of time. The best batteries to use are either the Leisure Batteries used for caravans, or the Marine Batteries which are designed both for starting motors and supplying your auxiliary supplies.

What size battery should you fit? Of course, this depends on the amount of equipment you want to run, but for our small boats I would recommend either a 90Ah or an 110Ah battery, depending on the room you have. Also, keep in mind the extra weight of an 110Ah battery.

How long will the battery supply current to you instruments? A battery that is rated at 90Ah means that it can theoretically supply 90amps of continuous current for 1 hour, or 9 amps for 10 hours. However, in practice, when the battery charge has dropped to 50% it is usually too flat to restart your outboard motor (though it will have enough power to continue supplying sufficient current to your instruments for a couple more hours). So, when trying to calculate how long a battery can last from one charge, use 50% of it's full value.

There are a number of different ways of fitting a second battery.

1 - Direct Connection
The easiest method is to just install a second battery completely separate from the outboard battery, and connect it directly to your auxiliary equipment (via a Battery Isolation Switch and a fused switch panel). The disadvantage is that you have to manually recharge the battery after each trip. This is fairy easily done if you fit quick-disconnect battery terminals (supplied at chandlers and caravan shops for about £7 a pair). The problem with this method is that you can only use the one battery for powering the aux equipment, and you are not taking advantage of the outboard alternator to recharge the battery whilst the engine is running.

2 - Battery Selection and Isolation Switch
The best method is to fit a" Battery Selection and Isolation Switch", which allows you to select battery 1, battery 2, or both batteries to supply the power to your aux equipment. There is also an OFF setting, which isolates both batteries, making it unnecessary to fit a separate Isolation switch.
Also, when the switch is in the "both" position, the alternator will be supplying charge to both batteries, thus keeping the charge topped up. The usual method of operation is to select "both" when starting the engine, and whilst steaming out to your mark. Then, when the outboard is switched off, turn the selection switch to "battery 2" to power the aux. This prevents you draining both batteries. Modern instruments like a Fish Finder can be set up to alarm when the battery voltage gets too low, but most people turn off the FF to save power.
See diagram 2 for the wiring. This is the set up I use on my boat, and the method I would recommend for using two batteries.

3 - Split-diode or Zero Volt Splitting System
Larger boats often have what's called a "split-diode" or "zero volt splitting system" which automatically switches the charge from the alternator to the battery that needs most charging. Sterling Power Products provide such devices, but their Tech Support department said these units were an expensive over-kill for a small boat.

4 - Relays
Another method that can be used on small boats is to use car relays, wired in such a way that they will automatically switch to battery 1 when starting the motor, then automatically switch to "both" when the motor is running, and then automatically switch to "battery 2" when the engine is turned off. This is a super method, and cheap to install (relays cost a couple of quid, compared to £30 for a decent rotary selection switch).

The problem is that you have to have the right type of signals available from your outboard to allow this to work. Unfortunately, most modern outboards seem to no longer have these signals available. This method also has the disadvantage that you do not have the flexibility to use the second battery to start the engine, or to use the starter battery to run the aux instruments. But below I have shown the method if you wish to try it. [My advise is to keep things simple and flexible, and so use the method shown in Diagram 2, using a battery selection switch].

Basically, using replays it connects the Auxillary (Leisure) battery to the outboard alternator only when the engine is running.You can do the job using 2 standard automotive relays wired as follows:-
NOTE - If your two batteries are wired in parallel (direct positive to positive, negative to negative) then adding a split charge relay would be a complete waste of time.

Diagram 1

How it works:-
When the ignition is turned on the oil pressure light come on. A feed from this turns on relay 2 which will cut the feed to relay 1. When the engine starts the oil pressure light goes out turning off relay 2. This then energises relay 1 which in turn connects the leisure battery to the charge system.

The cable from the original battery MUST be rated at a minimum of 30A and fused at 30A.

NOTE: If you do not use the relay connections above, be careful if the Auxillary battery is connected direct to the engine battery. If the charge of the Aux battery is higher than the engine battery when you start the engine the Aux battery will try to supply the full current to start the engine. If the Aux battery is not connected with high current capacity wires, of at least 300A, the wires WILL overheat and could set fire to your boat! With the relay connections above, the Leisure (Aux) battery is not connected until after the engine has started, and so is never "asked" to start the engine.

5 - Zig Unit
If you want a solution for charging the batteries in situ, you could install a special battery charger called a "zig unit". But at over £150, it's an expensive option. Another idea if you only want to have one battery is to carry a battery booster pack to jump-start your battery if it goes flat. They cost £30-£40.

Installing a Battery Selector Switch
Diagram 2 is a simplified wiring diagram showing how the Battery Selector Switch should be connected. There is no need to fit a separate Isolation switch because the Battery Selector switch has an "OFF" position which isolates both batteries. You might ask "what happens to the -ve connections on the switch?" Quite simply, nothing. There is no negative connection to the changeover switch whatsoever. Most brands of switch do mark one of the terminals as "common". This does NOT refer to negative connection!

Diagram 2 - fitting a second battery using a Battery Selector Switch

Note: Battery 1 will have the -ve main heavy duty wire coming from your outboard motor, the +ve wire is connected to the Common terminal on the Battery Selector Switch. These wires provide the power from the battery(s) to start the motor, and then whilst the motor is running they allow a charge current to flow from the motor alternator, which charges battery 1, 2 or both batteries depending on the battery switch position.

All cables which connect directly to the battery in the diagram above should be rated to meet the starting current of your engine, including the black earth wires. 300A is typical for medium sized outboards.
One tip when you're installing the wiring; put a small downwards loop in the wire just before the terminal connection. In this way, if moisture forms on the wire it will drip off the bottom of the loop rather than going into the connector.

Materials needed:

* Leisure or Marine Battery
* Battery box and securing strap with fixing brackets
* Set of quick disconnect battery terminals (from chandler or caravan shop)
* Lengths of battery cable (red and black) for direct connections to the battery terminals. Typically rated at 300A for medium sized outboards.
* Length of battery feed cable (red and black) of suitable current rating (from Battery to Instrument panel). Needs to be capable of handling a current greater than the sum of all your auxiliary equipment, plus any future needs. Consult the manual for each of your pieces of equipment to find the current they use. Don't forget all the lights. Add these all up, and then for safety, double the figure. This will then give you the current rating of the wire you should use.
* Battery Selection and Isolation Switch (one complete unit). Shop around to see the various different switches that are on the market. Try to avoid buying really cheap switches because you will end up having to replace them each year because of problems with the electrical contacts.
* Fused and switched instrument panel
* Crimp spade connections for connecting wires to instrument panel terminals
* Various fuses
* Earth bus bar
* Tie wraps

Steps:
Make sure you disconnect the negative and positive leads that come from your outboard motor to your battery.
Always remove the negative (black) connection first, to avoid the risk of shorting the Battery.
All cables should of the appropriate current rating as mentioned earlier, unless otherwise stated.

1. Locate a suitable position for the second battery.
2. Install battery box and fit the securing strap brackets. Put the Battery in the box.
3. Install the battery selection and isolation switch in a position not subjected to direct water contact (for example, the transom is a popular and convenient position). Ensure the switch is set to the OFF position.
4. Install the Switched Instrument panel, if not already installed (the side wall of your console is a common place)
5. Install the earth bus bar, if not already installed. This is optional but is much easier than using the small bus bars fitted in the instrument panels, which are difficult to get to and have only one connection. I located my bus bar next to the Switch panel.
6. Connect a cable (black) from the negative terminal of Battery 1 to the negative terminal of Battery 2, and then connect a cable (black) from the negative terminal of Battery 1 or Battery 2 to the negative bus bar.
7. Run a cable (red) from the "Battery 1" terminal on the Battery Selector switch to the positive terminal of Battery 1. Don't make the connection to the battery, yet.
8. Run a cable (red) from the "Battery 2" terminal on the Battery Selector switch to the positive terminal of Battery 2. Don't make the connection to the battery, yet.
9. Connect a cable (red) from the Common terminal of the Battery selector switch to the positive bus bar of the Switched Instrument panel.
10. If not already installed, connect the negative wires from each of your aux equipment to the earth bus bar. A smaller diameter cable can be used, as per the current rating of the individual piece of equipment.
11. If not already installed, connect the positive wires from each of your aux equipment to the individual separate positive terminals on the Instrument Panel. A smaller diameter cable can be used, as per the current rating of the individual piece of equipment. Each positive Instrument panel terminal is switched and fused. Certain pieces of aux equipment can be grouped on one terminal (for example all your nav lights can be connected to one terminal).
12. Install individual fuses in the Instrument Panel, each fuse rating appropriate to the aux equipment that is connected to that terminal.
13. Ensure all Instrument Panel switches are in the off position.
14. Ensure the Battery Selector Switch is in the OFF position.
15. Make the final connections from the Battery Selector switch to the positive terminal of each battery.
16. Reconnect the positive lead from the outboard motor to the positive terminal of Battery 1.
17. Reconnect the negative cable from the outboard motor to the negative terminal of battery 1.

Testing:
1. Ensure the Battery Selector Switch is in the OFF position.
2. Ensure all Instrument Panel switches are in the OFF position.
3. Turn the Battery Selector Switch to the Battery 1 position.
4. If you have one, use a voltmeter to check that the voltage on the positive bus bar of the instrument panel is 12v. If you do not have a voltmeter, carry on to step 5.
5. I suggest you try testing your setup by using the nav lights or deck light first (least expensive if something is wired wrong!), so turn on the appropriate Instrument panel switch and check that the light comes on.
6. Turn on each piece of equipment one at a time and check each operates ok, then turn on all equipment together and check for proper operation. Check for any hot cables or terminals. Most Fish Finders can display the battery voltage, so make sure this is reading approx 12v.
7. Repeat steps 1 to 6, but this time setting the Battery Selector switch to Battery 2.
8. Repeat steps 1 to 6, but this time setting the Battery Selector switch to BOTH.
9. Start your outboard to make sure it still starts ok. With the outboard running and the Battery selector switch set to BOTH, use a voltmeter to check the voltage across each battery. It should read approx 13-15 volts showing that the batteries are being charged by the outboard.
NOTE! Do not switch the battery selector switch to another position whilst the outboard is running. Always turn off the outboard motor first.

Battery Cable Size

(As a Function of Current and Length)
System Voltage Amps <5ft 5-10ft 10-15ft 15-20ft 20-25ft 25-30ft
12 volt 0-60 8 WAG 4 AWG 2 AWG 2 AWG 1 AWG 0 AWG
12 Volt 60-100 6 AWG 4 AWG 1 AWG 0 AWG 0 AWG 2/0 AWG
12 Volt 100-150 4 AWG 2 AWG 0 AWG 2/0 AWG 2/0 AWG 3/0 AWG
12 Volt 150-190 4 AWG 1 AWG 2/0 AWG 3/0 AWG 4/0 AWG 4/0 AWG
12 Volt 190-250 2 AWG 0 AWG 2/0 AWG 4/0 AWG 4/0 AWG 4/0 AWG
12 Volt 250-300 0 AWG 2/0 AWG 3/0 AWG 4/0 AWG 4/0 AWG 4/0 AWG
24 Volt 0-30 14 AWG 14 AWG 10 AWG 8 AWG 8 AWG 6 AWG
24 Volt 30-50 12 AWG 10 AWG 8 AWG 6 AWG 6 AWG 4 AWG
24 Volt 50-75 10 AWG 8 AWG 6 AWG 4 AWG 4 AWG 2 AWG
24 Volt 75-100 6 AWG 6 AWG 4 AWG 4 AWG 2 AWG 1 AWG
24 Volt 100-125 4 AWG 4 AWG 4 AWG 2 AWG 2 AWG 1 AWG
24 Volt 125-150 2 AWG 2 AWG 1 AWG 1 AWG 0 AWG 0 AWG
Notes:
1. Cable length must include both positive and negative cables.
2. Maximum acceptable voltage drop = 0.5 volts in a 12 volt system or 1.0 volts in a 24 volt system with ambient temperature surrounding cables is 1500F or less

Cables sizes are in American AWG sizes. For a cable size calculator please use this link: http://www.radiomods.co.nz/powercablecalc.html

Cable Sizes and Uses


Connector Size mm Approx Strand Dia mm Nominal Cross Section Area Resistance per meter @ 20c ohms Capacity Amps Suggested Usage(Guide only)
16/0.20 1.9 0.5mm≤ 0.0371 11.00 -
32/0.20 2.3 1.0mm≤ 0.0185 16.50 -
30/0.25 2.6 1.5mm≤ 0.0127 21.00 -
14/0.30 1.3 1.0mm≤ 0.0188 8.75 Interior lights/ Nav lights, etc
28/0.30 1.9 2.0mm≤ 0.0094 17.50 Search lamps/interior lamps, etc
44/0.30 2.3 3.0mm≤ 0.0060 27.50 Battery feed/general long runs
56/0.30 2.6 4.0mm≤ 0.00471 32.00 Battery feed/general long runs
65/0.30 2.8 4.5mm≤ 0.0041 35.00 Dynamo/Ammeter/Relay
84/0.30 3.6 6.0mm≤ 0.0031 42.00 Dynamo/Ammeter/Relay/DC Earth
97/0.30 3.9 7.0mm≤ 0.0027 50.00 Alternator/Generator/Relay/ DC Earth
120/0.30 4.3 8.5mm≤ 0.0022 60.00 Alternator/Generator/Relay/ DC Earth
37/0.90 * 6.3 25.0mm≤ 0.000762 170.00 Battery/Starter Light to medium duty
61/0.90 * 8.1 40.0mm≤ 0.000462 300.00 Battery/Starter/Winch Medium to heavy duty
61/1.13 * 10.2 60.0mm≤ 0.000293 415.00 Battery/Starter/Winch Extra heavy duty
196/0.40** 6.4 25.0mm≤ 0.000762 170.00 Battery/Starter Light to medium duty
315/0.40** 8.2 40.0mm≤ 0.000462 300.00 Battery/Starter/Winch Medium to heavy duty
475/0.40** 10.3 60.0mm≤ 0.000293 415.00 Battery/Starter/Winch Extra heavy duty

* conventional battery cable with large strands - can be rigid on awkward installations.
** flexible - multi-strand core makes this very flexible.
Same electrical properties as *.

A good source of the above cables sizes is www.asap-supplies.com