The days are getting longer. The snow is finally giving away to warmer temperatures. And that unquenchable desire to go boating has reached its off-season peak. With spring comes a desire to get your pontoons or deck boats back out on the water after what feels like a longer than usual winter hibernation.
For many seasonal boaters, the spring thaw means reviving or replacing a battery that has lost considerable charge simply because it has just sat untouched and unused for several months.
Batteries, often out-of-mind until your boat won't start, should have been part of your winter prep checklist. Realistically, a simple and inexpensive maintenance program would have provided a reliable battery start this season and more to come, but we're not here to point fingers.
For those boaters who simply forgot to bring their boats in out of the cold weather, the brutal winter temperatures are very hard on batteries. Those who stored their boats but left batteries unattended for weeks on end will soon discover batteries that don't receive routine maintenance can't be counted on come spring.
Ever wonder why a battery dies? The interaction of sulfuric acid with the surface area of the lead plates is at the heart of a battery's ability to create, store and release energy. Basically, a battery is able to store and supply energy if enough of the active plate material is available to allow an energy transfer to occur naturally. In theory, batteries should last many years, but they usually don't because of a series of detrimental problems caused by "excessive sulfation buildup" related to the natural and necessary formation of sulfate crystals that can, if left unattended, crystallize and harden, forming a coating on the surface of the lead battery plate that can lead to premature battery failure.
Here are some simple checklist suggestions when "thawing out batteries" to ensure lead-acid battery peak condition performance.
1. Give the battery case a quick clean to remove any dirt from the outside case.
2. Clean the terminal posts and make sure they are free of any corrosion. If corrosion is significant, clean the terminal posts with a small wire brush to remove sulfate deposits and use dialectic grease or corrosion inhibiting spray to minimize corrosion developing on the terminals in the future.
3. Make sure the electrolyte levels are high enough. If levels are below the maximum line, add distilled water (not tap water) up to the line. Keep in mind that not all batteries have a visible maximum fill line. If that's the case with your battery, simply fill to an eighth below the ring of plastic that extends into the cell. And remember, never overfill the battery.
4. Use a battery tester to ensure the battery has a minimum charge of 12.6 volts. If the charge is below this level you will need to charge the battery in a well-ventilated area. To ensure best performance use a smart charger, such as the Xtreme Charge from PulseTech Products, for a week or more to dissolve the capacity-robbing sulfates so the battery can be fully charged and retain full capacity.
Long Term Success
For those looking to avoid future problems, the real answer is routine maintenance, which should not only include the regular cleaning and tightening of cable ends and battery terminals as well as checking battery acid levels (if the system allows), but most importantly the routine use of an intuitive smart charger. For years, PDB magazine has used the Xtreme Charge on our batteries after testing this product in our PDB Tested section of our magazine (earned a 96 out of 100 rating in our May 2010 issue). This product, which can be applied to any 12-volt battery, uses a state-of-the-art design coupled with a proprietary technology to enable the user to easily and routinely maintain his battery's internal state of health by automatically providing patented pulse conditioning and the optimum charge it needs to enable peak performance. A proprietary algorithm also protects the battery from damage due to overcharging so it cannot be overcharged.
How It Works
The technology for the Xtreme Charge is unique and effective as it utilizes a distinct pulse waveform. This waveform created through years of research, initially for the U.S. Military, has a strictly controlled rise time, pulse-width, frequency and amplitude of current and voltage pulse. No other known battery charging or maintenance system has these specific characteristics. Pulse Technology is used as a "tool" designed specifically to remove and prevent the buildup of damaging lead-sulfate deposits on battery plates in a non-harmful way, so a battery can accept, store and release maximum power all the time.
The answer for battery performance (whether on the water or on land) is to employ a simple, technology-enabled, year-round maintenance program to keep batteries operating at optimal performance.
For those looking for a quality charger, PDB magazine recommends the Xtreme Charge from PulseTech Products. For those needing a new battery this spring, try contacting one of the battery manufacturers listed below.
Trojan Battery Company
Marine Battery Types
Flooded lead-acid batteries are the most widely used batteries both in automotive and marine applications. Lead-acid batteries are usually less expensive than either the Gel or AGM batteries, but do not provide the same cycle life and convenience. Most flooded batteries require maintenance. Electrolyte levels must be maintained above the cell's plates.
SVR Gel Batteries
Sealed, Valve-Regulated (SVR) Gelled-electrolyte batteries offer many significant advantages over conventional "flooded" batteries. Gel batteries are spill proof and leak proof, and resist over-discharges that can shorten the life of the battery. Gel batteries have a self-discharge rate of less than 1 percent per month (at 68 degree). They provide ample cranking amperage for quick, sure starts, and deliver longer trolling time than comparable flooded models. The SVR design minimizes gassing, making them safe to install around people and sensitive electronic equipment. Gel batteries offer a viable alternative when you can only choose one battery. Gel batteries are maintenance-free.
SVR AGM Batteries
Sealed, Valve-Regulated (SVR) Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries use special absorbed electrolyte technology that is superior to flooded lead-acid batteries. Fine, highly porous microfiber glass separators absorb the electrolyte, increasing efficiency by lowering internal resistance and boosting capacity. Lower internal resistance also means that the batteries can be recharged faster than conventional batteries, allowing the user to put them back into operation sooner. The completely sealed, valve-regulated AGM battery eliminates gas emissions and acid leakage for longer and safer battery operation. AGM batteries are also completely maintenance-free.