Boaters enjoy all the AC-powered conveniences that gen-sets allow aboard their craft. But not all gen-sets are alike. Following are a few guidelines to help ensure that a boater who goes shopping for a gen-set purchases the right unit for his needs.

First, calculate the total power required. Most appliances and equipment have their wattage or amperage demands printed on them. Add up the wattage of the items that might operate at the same time. Then, choose a gen-set that provides about this amount of continuous power. Note that most gen-sets have the ability to surge to higher power outputs for short periods, to handle the start-up requirements of electric motors.

Some other tips on power output: when only the amperage of the equipment is known, multiply amps by the line voltage to obtain wattage. Also, gen-sets operate best at 50% to 80% of their total output. Select an output that keeps the gen-set running in this "sweet spot".

A gen-set should also fit the available space and still provide room for servicing. There are several ultra-compact models on the market for especially tight areas or smaller boats. Weight and placement are also concerns, as each can affect boat performance.

Another consideration is operating speed. A high-speed gen-set is usually smaller and lighter, but produces more noise and has a shorter lifespan. A low-speed gen-set is generally larger and heavier, but more durable and trouble- free. High-quality, mid-speed gen-sets have recently been introduced that provide benefits of both types.

Fuel type is also important. Most boaters simply choose a gen-set that uses the same fuel as their main engines. However, recently there has been a trend toward using diesel gen-sets aboard gasoline -powered boats. In these cases, the diesel gen-set must be certified as having no components that could ignite gasoline fumes.

Diesel gen-sets offer advantages over gasoline models, including greater fuel- efficiency and longer service life. Diesel fuel is also less flammable and doesn't produce carbon monoxide when burned.

Another buying concern is availability of parts, especially for boaters who cruise long distances. Select a model that features popular, "off the shelf" parts, so they can be acquired easily in any location.

One of the final concerns is cost. There are many approaches to spending money on a gen-set. A boater can buy a top-priced, name-brand system, most of which are reliable. He can also purchase a less expensive unit that he thinks will perform well. A good way to get the best value is to buy from a smaller manufacturer who uses high-quality, "off the shelf" parts. This usually provides a good mix of dependability and affordability.

These are a few of the most important guidelines when shopping for a gen-set. Following them should make a boater's gen-set ownership experience more enjoyable and help ensure he gets the unit he needs.

By Gino Kennedy

Editor's Note: Gino Kennedy is president and owner of Next Generation Power Engineering Inc., 1732 St. Johns Bluff Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32246. Phone: 888-463- 9879 or 904-642-8555. The company produces a full line of marine and industrial gen- sets, including several ultra-compact models.

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