Get value from your deep-cycle battery

The first split gets all the attention, but the second and third splits of the dove season are when the fireworks really fly.

I confess; I hate messing with batteries. Cleaning and watering them is messy work that can put holes in your clothes, but swapping them out is worse — it can actually hurt you.

Replacing batteries sometimes requires moving more weight than OSHA says one person should lift, and doing it while twisting into unusual positions can call for an immediate trip to the chiropractor. The only thing that will be easier to lift afterwards is your wallet, and the skyrocketing prices of lead and motor fuel show no signs of easing.

So I have developed a three-step system to make batteries last as long as possible.

First, buy good batteries. Top-quality batteries are built with better materials and proven construction methods, so they last longer and perform better throughout their service life.

Too expensive? I have a set of three deep-cycle Rolls batteries that are on their second boat and in their ninth year of service. They retailed for about $200 new, so they have cost me about $22 a year to own. That’s less than half the cost of a $50 discount-center battery you have to replace every season. Better yet, that’s eight battery replacements I didn’t have to make.

Second, buying bigger batteries than you actually need can give them extra years of service. The deeper a deep-cycle battery gets discharged during each discharge/recharge cycle, the fewer total cycles it will last.

A battery designed to live 200 cycles when discharged 100 percent each time might last 650 cycles if it is only discharged 50 percent, 1,500 cycles if discharged only 25 percent and 3,500 cycles if discharged only 10 percent. The more reserve capacity a battery has, the lower the percentage of discharge a given load causes and the longer the battery will last.

Installing a battery charger that uses your boat engine’s charging system to recharge your deep-cycle batteries while underway can also lessen the batteries’ depth of discharge each fishing or cruising day.

Third, take proper care of your batteries. Keep the battery tops clean and your terminal connections clean and tight. Flooded-cell, full-maintenance batteries must be watered regularly. Letting the electrolyte level fall well below the top of the plates in one cell just one time can cause the plates to warp and ruin an otherwise perfect battery.

Battery charging is a critical part of good maintenance. Flooded deep-cycle batteries should be recharged immediately after each use. Leaving them discharged until the night before your next outing can slash years off their lives.

Simply put, these batteries produce power as the acid in their electrolyte combines with the lead in their plates with the help of an active paste on the plates. A sort of gooey substance forms on the plates as this takes place. Recharging the battery breaks up this goo and puts the acid back into the electrolyte. The longer the gooey stuff is allowed to remain on the plates, the harder it gets and the more difficult it becomes to break it down during the recharging process.

Over time, a lack of prompt recharging results in this goo forming a spreading layer of scab-like growth (called plate sulfation) that permanently insulates the plate area beneath it from the electrolyte, and gradually reduces the battery’s storage capacity below an acceptable level. Most flooded batteries are killed by sulfation long before their components wear out.

The secret formula for long battery life is to buy quality, go big and properly maintain your investment — even if it puts holes in your shirts.

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