Michael is quite used to these beasts on a boat. I’m not. He told me stories of living in the Caribbean where you would see generators operating inside dinghies and shore power running from them to the boat instead of using the boat’s own motor. It may have been the lack of motor. It wasn’t until the summer of 2014 that I even considered purchasing one. It often is a chain of events which changes your mind regarding purchases. We always used our small inboard Yanmar as a generator. The low pitch of a diesel motor is almost soothing. It’s probably just a louder white noise than I am used to in an office setting, after awhile I barely notice it running. The Yanmar looks after all our electrical needs. Perfect. Until our first trip that summer.
We were off to Lunenburg’s Second Peninsula to visit friends. Usually, a 6-7 hour trip for us. We anchored for the night. I started the motor in the evening for a few hours to run the fridge. The next morning, Michael tried to start it. Nothing. He determined it was the starter. We called ashore to find that one of our hosts on land was in Halifax with his son. We called our marina who are a Yanmar dealer and they had a starter on hand. We arranged for our friends to pick it up and were exited to have such wonderful (but expensive at round $700) luck. Michael quickly installed it and soon discovered yet another problem. The batteries were not charging. What are the chances the starter and alternator would break at the exact same time? It really scared me. What else could go wrong and what were we to do now? Our friends had plans for the day. It appeared not to be a good time for our visit at all! We called another friend who came over with his testing equipment. Yes, the alternator was toast. It was time to call in some more favours. Called yet another boat friend who brought over his Honda 1000 watt generator! It fixed our problem for the remainder of the trip. I fell in love! But these little machines come with a hefty price. At that point I found them on sale at $800 but soon later they were listed at $1000. We had already spent $700 on the starter and still had to replace the alternator. Another large purchase that summer was definitely not in our budget. Replacing the alternator ended up being a bargain at around $145 and we returned the generator to its owner. My rule of boat ownership is that I borrow something once and if I need it again, I should buy it!
We still wanted a generator and thought we might buy one at Christmas. In the meantime we were looking for less expensive alternatives than the Honda. Inexpensive, “portable” ones weighed between 50 and 80 lbs. I needed something lighter. In August, Walmart started selling a “Power IT” brand which I didn’t know until I saw it in a January flyer the following year for $188. Now that is affordable! I couldn’t find any specs on it. There were only five reviews on the generator on the Walmart site, four were good and one was bad. Each of them complained it was hard to start the first time. The one reviewer who gave it a bad ranking, tinkered with it enough that no wonder it wouldn’t start. One person couldn’t find the primer button. We also wanted a generator to run our furnace at home, just in case we had a power outage in the winter. Only twice in 22 years, I have experienced a cold weather outage, where we could have used one. A rare occurrence, indeed. But we had a plug installed on the furnace just in case.
We discussed the pros and cons about buying a Chinese built item, and we ended up at Walmart to have a look. The purchase ended up being an easy decision once we saw it. The Power IT 1000 watt generator/inverter was $188. It appears to be a little powerhouse. The first start was indeed difficult. The primer button is hidden underneath, near the fuel tubing even though there is a label with an arrow indicating where it is, it is still difficult to find. It is smaller than the Honda in size. It comes in a 11″x 13″ x 14″ cardboard box with 1″ Styrofoam packing. It comes with a short piggy (generator end is male and 3-prong female end to use with an extension cord). We will use that to connect to our shore boat piggy on the boat. It also comes with a plug so that you can make a long extension cord and a spark plug/phillips screw driver tool. It has a 2-stroke motor which requires mixed gas. The Honda uses straight gas. Our dinghy outboard uses mixed gas. This way, we only need to carry one gas container on the boat to service both items. We ran the generator for the first 20 minutes and it stalled out. On the second start we ran it at a higher speed for an hour. It ran the furnace (300 watts) and the furnace’s hot water circulator (90 watts) with an audible minimal load difference. The box indicates it is 1000 maximum watts, 800 running watts with inverter technology at 1.5 HP. Company name appears to be Intertek and imported into Canada by Walmart. It has a one-year warranty. Walmart offers an additional one year warranty for $20 which I didn’t take, as my credit card gives me the same additional warranty. Honda has a 3-year warranty. I understand that Honda and other major Asian companies sell their plans for their older motors to manufactures in China. This could be an older Honda. I also understand Chinese metal quality isn’t as good as what Honda uses. We figure a Honda may have lasted us 15 years, so if we can get into a fourth year with this generator, we are financially ahead. If we don’t get two years, at least we can get a warranty replacement! It is a gamble.
Generator and Alternator Update: We made it through two seasons with the generator and it is still working fine. We have never had to use it, but at the beginning of each season, Michael runs and tests it and as of January, it is sitting there ready to use for any emergency power outages in the winter at home. The replacement alternator was toast a year later. A genuine replacement part from Yanmar was not a Yanmar part at all and didn’t carry their normal warranty. Michael took both the new one and the old one to Diesel And Auto Electric Limited in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. They fixed both for a nominal fee. We haven’t had a problem since and we now have a spare. We discovered last summer that charging 2 tablets, 2 smart phones and running the refrigerator at the same time will cause the alternator to stop charging the batteries. More power being drawn out than what the alternator can make. Our 1GM cannot handle a larger alternator and we can’t afford a new engine. We now carry a lithium recharging unit, NOCO Genuis Booster GB30 that will jump-start the engine, if our batteries die. We have been quite cautious of late and use the booster to recharge the devices first. We purchased the GB30 on sale at Canadian Tire for about $115. It no longer seems to be sold there. They do have the GB20 and a GB40 instead. (Update 8 Jan 2017)