Devices, devices – everywhere. Installing USB power outlets.

I was at the helm not too long ago and noticed that with another family aboard, we had about 10 devices in use at all times. I’m not even going to comment on how cell phones are ruining polite society, but it got me thinking about this post I wanted to write. In the past few weeks, I’ve had a couple of conversations, 2 Facebook group discussions, and most recently a blog I follow [Sailbits] posted on the same thing. How do you keep up with charging all these devices, the easy solution is to add USB chargers all over the boat!

Everything seems to need USB power these days; from cell phones to tablets, to Kindles. That power consumption is compounded when the adults are all snapping away with their phone camera, and the teenagers are all Snap-chatting everything. Everyone wants to plug in their charger. The thing about those wall-wort chargers is that I need to fire up the inverter in order to convert battery power [12V] to AC [120V]. In that process of converting power I lose a bit, not to mention that just running the inverter takes up some battery juice. All this just to have those little chargers convert the AC power back to 5V USB power. All these conversions are just a waste. Luckily it’s easy to go right from the batteries to USB power outlets.

First the nav station

Blue Sea 1045
The nav station is centrally located in our boat, and is of course the hub for below decks sailing stuff. There is always at least one iPad down here running Transas iSailor as our back up navigation software, and voyage capture device. What many folks don’t realize is that an iPad running Nav software and updating it’s location constantly uses more power than a standard charger can provide. The usual iPad charger is 12W, which is great under almost any circumstance, just not navigating. Luckily one of the new gizmos that Blue Sea released this year is a 4.8A [24W] USB outlet. This provides enough power to keep the iPad fully charged whilst running the nav app.

The other thing you can see about our install from that photo is that at the nav station I am using a couple of the Blue Sea 4353 panels. These are great for a couple of reasons: 1 – They are switched so you can put an end to the parasitic draw that devices like these have. If unswitched the USB charger is constantly converting 12V to 5V, creating heat and using power, even if there is nothing plugged in. 2 – They come prewired and fused with a 15amp fuse, making installation a breeze. The bottom panel is the stock configuration which includes a switch, a cigarette lighter style outlet, and the standard 2.4A USB charger. In the top panel I’ve replaced the first outlet with the OLED mini voltmeter & the second with the high output 4.8A USB charger. The mini voltmeter is not quite as accurate as a meter at the battery, but it gives me a quick read of wether or not the batteries are charging.

I’ve added another 2.1A USB charger on the bottom of the chart cabinet that provides power to our Amazon Echo Dot.

In the saloon

In the Saloon I’ve added two of the standard Blue Sea 1016 USB chargers one each to port and starboard. These keep the kids happy, and make a great place to charge up Kindles. If we’re watching a movie or something on the iPad in the evening, a charger is always near by.

In the cabins

In the cabins I went back to the panels with the cigarette lighter outlets, because we’re more likely to also be charging our laptops in addition to iDevices. Keeping the Laptops on the DC [12V] instead of having to run off the inverter is just yet another way to conserve power. Most laptops are running higher than 12V, usually about 19V, but using existing “auto” chargers steps the 12V battery voltage up to 19V that the laptops can charge with.

Blue Seas make several different 12V to USB power outlets and we’ve found the perfect mix of chargers for us. I just read that they are coming out with a new couple of panel sets, one that even includes the mini voltmeter like we have at the nav station. I think if you have a look it’s pretty easy to get started with DC [12V] chargers aboard.

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