Which Generator for a Narrowboat? [TOP TIPS]

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For anyone that has ever tried to live on a narrowboat for any period of time (especially continuous cruising in Winter!!) , you will know that power is king! Meaning there are plenty of times that your leisure batteries run dry and need topping up! If the sun is shining and you have solar, you’re good! But a lot of times in Winter this is not the case and you will need to fire up a generator. Today I want to spell out the different types of generators available to us canal cruisers to help your buying decision.

What Generators are Available for Canal Cruisers and Narrowboat Owners?

The Suitcase Generator

As the name suggests, this generator comes in a plastic enclosure that looks rather like a suitcase! These compact generators are becoming increasingly popular among boat owners. This type of generator is compact in size, meaning that it can be easily carried around. It is also designed to be very durable. In terms of performance, it is able to provide you with the power that you need to run your appliances on your boat. It has a relatively low cost, which is a big plus. There are many different models available on the market.

The benefit of suitcase generators is not only that they are compact, very often they are pretty quiet when compared to other options. This is because the ‘suitcase’ cover they have includes some kind of sound deadening material.

The problem with a suitcase generator is the fact that the quality is not always that great (depending on which one you buy) and ends up being almost throwaway in nature. A lot of canal boaters I talk to tell me that their suitcase generators have only lasted a year or two before packing up.

And, as these suitcase generators are so compact, they often have bespoke parts and are harder to fix once they give up the ghost.

If you would ask me to recommend a suitcase generator, I would go for a P1 variety. It is very highly rated on Amazon and won’t break the bank. Although you probably have never heard of the brand, they use Hyundai technology within the generator. You can check it out on Amazon yourself by clicking the image below.

If you find that the 1000 watt power of the above suitcase generator isn’t enough for your needs, I would go with the Sealey variety, which is double the size at 2000 watt. It still looks surprisingly compact for its power rating, which will make it manageable to lug around on a canal boat! Again, click the image to view this generator over at Amazon.

The Frame Generator

Next up we have the frame generator. As you might have guessed, these types of generators come looking like engines attached to a steel frame. As these are simpler in nature than a suitcase generator, you can often buy bigger wattage generators at a lower cost.

The big downside of frame generators is the fact that they are more open to the elements. As you know, the UK can be a pretty wet and muddy place in Winter (when you will need a generator most). Once your frame generator gets rained on or splashed with water, it may start to affect its running performance.

The other big downside to a frame generator is the fact that they are often quite noisy, as they don’t come with any kind of sound deadening outer case.

A good example of a frame generator would be this Bohmer-AG variety I found over at Amazon. Its rated at 2500 watts and cheaper than both of the suitcase generators above. Click the image to be taken over to Amazon to see for yourself and get the latest pricing.

The In-Built Generator

The final generator option is by far the best one, but it also the most expensive. This is the only generator that I would recommend to have onboard your narrowboat, as it will have been properly and permanently fitted inside your boat with things like exhaust fumes properly piped out of your boat.

Often, these are referred to as Marine generators and will come with a soundproof case to make them as quiet as possible whilst in operation. Most people fit these inside their engine bay (so they are usually diesel generators to match your engine’s fuel type), although it is possible to locate in other places when fitted appropriately.

To get an idea about these types of generators and how much they cost, you can see a current EBay listing about a Paguro marine generator. Click the image below to see for yourself….

General Generator Tips for Narrowboats

  • Always turn off your generator by 8pm at night (unless you have one that is in a soundproofed cacoon and is literally silent).
  • When using an external/ portable generator, it is easiest to get one that runs at 230 volts and can simply be plugged into your boat the same way as a shoreline power connector in a marina.
  • Always position an external generator on the towpath, never on your boat. When refilling with fuel, you could spill some leading to a multitude of problems. Exhaust fumes might be coming into your boat cabin without your knowledge, potentially very dangerous.
  • If you have petrol on your canal boat for generator use, store it carefully. Read more over at the Boat Safety Scheme website.
  • Portable generators are pretty easy to steal when sat on the towpath. You could think about making some kind of cover or lock and chain to stop people walking away with it (it does happen).
  • Converting a generator to LPG will make it quieter.

Thats All Folks!

Hopefully, you have a better idea about the generator options you have available as a canal or narrowboater. If you have any of your own tips or advice on the subject, please leave them in the comments section below. As I always say, I am just an enthusiast about narrowboats not an expert as such!!

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