Thursday, March 17, 2016

Finishing the Battery Install

Bet you thought I was done with this task back in Southport.  The batteries have been installed and functioning for a while now and everything seems good.  But there was one last thing I wanted to accomplish.  Making future maintenance a bit easier.

One nice thing about our old battery bank was it consisted of 3 sealed AGM batteries.  Basically they are the type of batteries once coined "maintenance free". As long as you kept them properly charged and didn't kill them or overcharge them, there was no real ongoing maintenance (although periodic inspection is probably still a good idea).  Switching to the golf cart battery bank, we went away from those convenient sealed batteries to ones that require periodic watering.  Already having far too much to do on a boat, adding this complex maintenance task was the down side of this approach.

Now, you may be asking yourself how checking the water on the batteries could be that complex...or wondering if I finally lost my marbles.  Here's the deal.  To check and add water to the batteries the way they are I would first have to dig all the stuff out of the locker above the battery compartment. Then I would have to remove the false floor to the locker that acts as the battery compartment lid to reveal the batteries.  In order to access the caps to the batteries, I would have to loosen all six of the hold down straps keeping the batteries from bouncing around while we are in motion.  Then, finally, I could check and, if needed, somehow manage to pour just the right amount of water into each cell siting deep inside that locker.  Once that was complete, I would have to replace all the caps, refasten all the hold downs, replace the battery compartment lid/locker floor, and finally put all the "stuff" back in the locker.  Doesn't sound quite so simple now, does it?

Fortunately some folks that make batteries for larger battery banks or battery accessories came up with a solution. There are battery watering systems out there that make the task a bit more manageable, particularly when batteries are not so easy to access. The down side is that some of these systems can get a bit pricey. You can find systems that are fully automatic where you just need to keep a reservoir full of distilled water and the system will fill cells as needed.  For a little more reasonable cost, there are systems that are semi-automatic where you use some sort of pump to periodically pump water into the system to fill any low cells.  After much scouring of the internet, I found a reasonably decent price on one of the latter and ordered it soon after arriving at Hammock Beach.

The system I found was the Flow-Rite Pro-Fill 6-Volt RV edition. The best price I found was at (a boat is just a floating RV, right?).  The 2-battery kit was $44.70 and the pump was $18.03 at the time of purchase.  This made the whole system for my 6 batteries come out to $152.13 (with free shipping). Well worth it if it can make the bi-monthly task of watering batteries go from the above description to a 2-minute fool-resistant job.

The battery watering system and pump
How the system works is pretty straight forward. You replace the caps on each cell of the battery with the special ones in the kit.  These caps have a connection for a water supply tube and are equipped with a float that hangs down into the battery cell.  You connect all the caps together using the water supply tubing. As water is supplied via the line, the cell fills up until the float closes a valve in the cap, stopping the water flow.  This is supposed to keep the water in each cell at the proper level without having to even look into the cell.

The kit arrived yesterday, and since I hadn't yet done any maintenance on the batteries, it seemed like a perfect chance to install and test the system.  Of course, to install the system, I had to perform all the steps I outlined above in order to remove the old battery caps.  I then installed the new watering system battery caps on the batteries and connected the water tube flexible manifolds to the caps (some of the old literature claimed there were both flexible and rigid manifolds, but the kits I received only came with the latter). I cut some of the tubing and connected each manifold together and attached the filling port to a central location in the system and ran it to an opening in the battery box lid. I finished by taking the supply of red rubber caps to plug all the unused manifold connectors.

The pump for the system is a simple squeeze bulb that you are supposed to dip into a jug of distilled water. The instructions say the jug should be below the top of the batteries to prevent siphoning.  I'm not sure if this is really necessary, but the water jug fits nicely into the locker besides the battery box which puts it at the same level as the batteries and makes a nice storage location for the jug of water right next to the filling port.  I hooked up the pump and dropped it into the jug and gave the system a try.  A few squeezes of the pump ball and water was flowing through the tubes.  When the ball could no longer be squeezed it indicates that all the cells are full and the valves in the caps closed to prevent overfilling of the cells.  I disconnected the pump and let the water drain back into the jug.  I then checked a couple of the cells and, although they were not that low to begin with, they do appear to be at proper levels.

Watering system installed.  Lots of black tubes and wires now.

Next time I need to water the batteries, all I need to do is open the locker, move one milk crate of stuff out of the way, hook up the pump, drop it into the jug and give it a few squeezes.  I like that.  I'm sure I will dig down to the batteries again after a few months just to confirm that everything is filling properly, but the system seems simple enough that I don't expect any problems.  I think it will be quite the time saver when watering the batteries and will help me keep them in top shape.

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