Drop-in for smart voltage regulation


When you think of advances in marine technology, it’s likely that most voyagers think of flashy items such as radar or multifunction displays or autopilots. Just last year we saw two Doppler radar products, the DRS4D-NXT UHD Doppler radar from Furuno and the Fantom Doppler radar from Garmin — both of which, by the way, were finalists for ON’s Chuck Husick Marine Technology Award.

Not all tech advances are out in the open with flashy screens and cool graphics. Some are less immediately obvious. A case in point is the Smart Ready Internal Regulator from Balmar. This is a drop-in replacement for the voltage regulator found on the 125-amp/12-volt Valeo alternators that come as standard equipment on Yanmar marine diesels.

Since the alternator’s original voltage regulator could be new or only slightly used, why replace it? The answer lies in the move toward higher-output alternators. Years ago the output capacity of the stock alternator on a marine diesel, such as a Yanmar, was in the realm of 35 amps; later the stock alternator outputs increased to 55 amps and then 80 amps. As voyagers required an ever-larger amount of electrical power to run various onboard devices, many found the standard alternator that came with their diesel wasn’t big enough to do the job. So companies such as Balmar sold plenty of high-output alternators to use as a replacement for, or as an augmentation to, the stock alternator.

Then manufacturers like Yanmar started equipping some of their engines with higher-output units. That was a good development for voyagers who wanted more power from their alternators to charge ever-larger battery banks. At the same time, companies such as Balmar were making advances in smart voltage regulation. They were using advanced digital techniques and special software to get an increasingly accurate picture of battery state of charge. These smart regulators wouldn’t work to their full potential, however, by using just the stock internal regulator unit that ships with the alternator. As Tim Bock, owner of Balmar, explained in an email, “The stock internal regulator directs the alternator to regulate or send a fixed voltage output — which is not specific to the battery’s charging needs.”

Thus, Balmar had the idea to make a drop-in replacement unit that would fit in the same space as the stock unit on the alternator but provide more data to allow more effective regulation. “The Smart Ready regulator adds a circuit to sense the output voltage,” Bock wrote, “and adjust it as needed (with the help of our external regulator) to optimize battery charging.”

The Smart Ready replacement unit can be installed by removing an outer cover; then, after loosening three screws, the stock internal regulator can be slipped off and the new Smart Ready unit slipped on. After the screws are tightened again and the cover is replaced, an electrical lead is connected to an external smart regulator unit. In addition to better and more efficient charging, a side benefit to the Smart Ready internal unit is that, should the external regulator fail, the Smart Ready internal regulator can be used independently for “get home” capability.

Though it doesn’t have a colorful graphic display, the Smart Ready Internal Regulator is still a great bit of marine technology in a small package.

By Ocean Navigator