Installing a battery monitor , at least … trying to : simarine battery monitor review

Disclaimer : I am not sponsored or endorsed by Simarine , I ordered the system and paid for it with my own money because it looked fantastic and promised to do what I wanted it to do

When we purchased Blue Pearl, our new (to us) sailing yacht , she came with a myriad of different electric and electronic systems . We suddenly had solar panels (3 different groups and types) a wind generator , a diesel generator and shore power battery charger on the ‘supply side’ and the normal systems like fridge , freezer , navigation equipment , lights , radar etc on the ‘use side’

One thing I wanted to know was ‘how much energy do we generate on the supply side and how much energy do we use on the ‘use side’ . Sailing yachts can be power hungry beasts and knowing how much you use vs how much you generate can be the difference between having to to run your diesel generator daily or not, or buy a new battery bank each 12 months or each 5 to 8 years ! (take your battery bank below 70% daily really shortens the life span of your battery bank)

Another thing i would like to have is a live view of all the tanks we have (1 diesl tank  ,3  fresh water tanks  ,2  black water tanks etc)

So after a lot of searching I came across the Simarine Pico plus and on the looks of it it is a beautiful little display that could do and measure everything I wanted :
– power in,
– power out ,
– monitor on all supply
– monitor use sides etc ,

and after shooting an email to Simarine (on a sunday evening !!) asking which system would suit me best I got a reply within a few hours (still on a sunday !) that all my needs would  be fulfilled with the Pico plus Blue package .

btw the response time to emails and queries are fantastic so Simarine gets a 5 star for responses and service , more on that later !

So having received the email with the recommendation on which system to order I ordered the Pico blue system , and it arrived swiftly within a day or two to my home address , which is a few 1000 miles way from the boat,  I opened the various boxes (3) with the nice little display , the 107 controller and 300 amp shunt .

When I ordered the system I did get asked ‘will it be a panel mount or stand alone system ?’ to which I replied ‘It will be a stand alone system’ , so when I received the system I didnt give it much thought but after reading the manuals and looking at the contents of the boxes I realized I may have made a mistake ! I currently have a BEP battery monitor and I was planning on replacing that with the Pico display ! , but I had no idea how the BEP battery monitor was mounted ?  does it have a hole behind it ? , and how big is the hole ? .. I measured the Pico display and looked up the size of the BEP display and the PICO does seem to be bigger , so no issues there , but there were no panel brackets with the PICO ? ..

So a quick email to Simarine and a few days later 2 brackets show up by mail, (Thank you Simarine ! but can we please clearly specify online what the difference is between the various options ? what is and is not included in the panel vs. standalone vs other mounting options ? its probably on the website somewhere but I couldn’t find it or didn’t see it )

So off we go to Spain to our boat, 4 suitcases full of stuff incl 1 box with Simarine gear and after a few days , settled down in a nice Cala (bay), I found myself with a few spare hours and itching hands and out comes the Simarine gear everything spread out on the cabin table. The PICO display with some cables and what looks like a data splitter , the 300 A shunt and the 107 controller . After having looked through all parts and the very brief installation manual I realized I probably needed to go online and download the ‘full’ installation manual. Being away from the coast and not in your home country this can be a very difficult and costly excersize

After downloading the online manual and reading it it still didnt anser my questions ! , When looking at all the cables there were a few data cables supplied and the thing I wanted to know was “do I need to run cables in parralel , serial or daisy chain”  ? . As we all know installing a new monitoring system in an exsisting system is not easy and one of the hardest parts is running new (proprietary) cables through existing systems . After going through the manual and the drawings I came to the conclusion (rightly or wrongly) that I could probably get away with serial cabling (ie 1 data cable from one component to the next) and I started to run the cable from the navigation table to the place where all the batteries are and as Murphy’s law will have it , the 4 (or 5?) meter data cable is a (1 !!) meter too short .

As I grumble at the lenght of the cable , going outside the 30+ celsius cabin to have a cold drink and cool off a little bit one thing popped in my mind … “why am i running a bloody cable from the 107 controller to the display ?  why is this is damn controller not wifi and/or blue tooth connected to the display ? ‘ etc etc etc . The PICO is a very sophisticated system with a lot of possibilities and connection abilities but for the life of me I could not understand why I needed to be there down below with my head down into an upside down position mostly running a bloody cable that ended up being 1 meter too short in a very hot enviroment and a very small space , when surely there are easier solutions to connect the 2 ? (blue-tooth connections please ?)

Ok , deep breath , diving back in and finding a new place for the 107 controller , fairly close to where the diesel tank is , I hook up the diesel tank sensor . Easy to do cut the impedance wires , splice new wires and hook them up to the 107 controller and hook the existing analog fuel gauge up again as well  .. done .pfew , at least I got one tank sensor hooked up !!

Now , As I am close to the starter battery , and not quite up to installing the 300 A shunt yet, I start looking at connecting the starter battery . As it so happens the 107 controller does have a connection for a battery as well , so I run 2 wires from the starter battery to the controller . 2 done

I am now fed up in the hot and hard to access engine / battery / tank compartments but I am quite ready to install the display , I am a bit of a gadget freak and I do get happy when I see nice LCD displays. So I open up the PICO display box , pull out the display , a data connection box some threads and copper things …

I take out the drill template , fix it in the place I want the display and start drilling the holes . That all goes well and I fix the copper threaded studs on the back of the display and push in the display , then reach behind the panel to screw on the copper ‘bolts’ .. guess what ? the threaded studs are too short ! .. I dont know why but the place I want to put my display is on an 25mm thick panel and the thread is a few mm short !!

Simarine , can we please have threads 30mm long (or longer ?) with thumb screws to mount the display ?

So now I have this very nice looking display mounted where I want it, I put the data cable into the ‘splitter’ .. btw there is no explanation anywhere what this splitter does or doesnt do , how many cables need to go in there, so I just assume the cable goes in there as the plug fits 🙂

And we turn the display on for the first time .. click click click .. back back back .. RTFM (very abbreviated manual) go through some settings it needs I guess

Ok .. set tank levels for the diesel tank .. need at least 2 variables .. huh ? (now I know I am a techy person so I know I have to have 2 ref points on a resistor based tank level , but can you please explain that in the manual somewhere ?) luckily I took some measurements previously as I didnt trust my current diesel tank gauge , but having to put in different resistance levels (in Ohm) is quite a surprise and i am sure many self installers will not have or know what the difference reference points are for full , half and empty points .

As I put in the reference points a few times (trial and error) I now have a working tank monitor … I thought . I looked at the Pico display .. says ‘tank level 0’ .. huh ? , looked again, went over the settings , re-entered my resistance reference points , still zero. Wtf ! .. then I remembered something , When I turn on the engine power the fuel gauge at the engine display starts working , it doesnt work with the key in the ‘off’ position but does work with the key in the ‘on’ position. I turn on the ignition key and voila , the tank sensor starts climbing from 0 to 100% . So thats done as well and I have a working tank monitor inside as back-up to the analog fuel gauge in the cockpit at the instrument panel. Or so I thought … more on that later (see below)

Next the shunts , the 300 Amp for the house battery bank and the 25Amps for the users and suppliers .. . I picked up the 300 Amp shunt and openend the engine bay where the battery bank is located. Now I currently have a BEP 600 battery monitor that also uses its own shunt and I would like to use the Simarine as a control / back-up system to my current system , better to have redundancy to an existing system , right ? Well, maybe not , the current installation is a typical haystack of wiring and the current shunt for the BEP 600 is installed in such a way that I can’t put another shunt in a serial connection . That made me think about my plan , am I even allowed to put 2 shunts in serie with each other ? will that affect the measured current in any way or will they interfere with each other ? I don’t know so I hopped on to the Internet only to find that I didn’t have an internet connection good enough to do some searching on google. So the ‘installing the main shunt to the house battery bank’ project is moved forward to a later date until I can figure out whether or not I am allowed to use 2 shunts in a serial connection and figure out how to connect it to the current installation.

The next thing I am going to do is connect the solar panels to the Pico system and I started to rummage through the parts and installation manual to figure out how to connect them and to what . Reading the manual isn’t easy and after looking at the 107 manual it slowly dawned on me that I was missing something as the 107 does not have any 25amp shunts build in . I started looking at all the boxes (3) and realised I was missing the quadro 25 amp shunt module !! first I thought I was going nuts and I forgot it at home but then started look at the outer packaging and realised there never was a 25amp module sent to me, the outer packaging never contained 4 boxes only 3 ! it just wasn’t big enough for an extra box !.

So I dropped Simarine a quick email , explaining the situation , and they responded immediately (again on a sunday) and their director of sales apologised and offered to send the missing box out immediately to a location of my choice (marina, hotel anywhere) Great service of course but being on a sailboat in a somewhat deserted secluded bay without set plans for the next 3.5 – 4 weeks makes it difficult to give an address , I tell them to please hold it and send it to my home address when we return . Simarine later confirmed they sent me the wrong (smaller) package , apologised profusely and will send out the missing parts asap !

Now I am rather disappointed I can’t finish this part of the installation either , but stil being in installation mode I mull over in my head where to install that 25amp shunt module , the most logical place is near the house battery bank ? And when I started looking at the current installation my heart sank a little bit , because now I have to figure out which wire is what and why .. I need to find the wires from the wind generator , need to splice into the 3 solar MPPT controllers , need to find the wires for the fridge and freezer , the wires for the navigation equipment etc etc . It would make life so much easier to have single 25amp shunts that are blue tooth connected to the Pico display , I mean , go to the fridge , cut the wires , put the 25amp shunt into place and done , same for the freezer , the wind gen , the MPPT controllers , all single 25amp shunt connected through bluetooth !!

But Alas poor Yorick .. ermm … Alas poor Rene , no such thing as single 25amp shunt that are wireless connected to the display so I need to find a place for this 4 shunt module, missed chance in my opinion !

Ok , so the 300 Amp shunt .. not today , the 25 Amp shunt module , not today .. lets configure the rest of the Pico display !

When I open the installation leaflet I realise there’s very little info on the display configuration , still I go through it step by step and in part 7 I find the settings for the display

I start with 7.1.1. Screen settings , and whatever I do , nothing changes on the display ? slightly amused and annoyed by now I go through the rest , all the settings are listed like :

7.1.1.1. auto brightness
7.1.1.2 back light
7.1.1.3 min brightness

etc etc , but without any explanation as to what the function does , what the settings do and how changing the settings affect operation ? so I skip most of it as its not explained or simply doesnt seem to change anything ? Simple things like ‘Auto standby’ , a function that is normally quite self explanatory , doesnt seem to do anything as the display always lights at the same intensity and never seems to go into any standby mode ? , or maybe it does and I just don’t know how the standby mode looks ?

When I played with the display some more I came across the screen where I hooked up the starter battery and noticed ‘current not connected’ .. ermmm what ? the battery is connected isn’t it ? .. oh wait ! .. its voltage connected only to the 107 module , maybe it says that there is no shunt connected so it cannot measure the current itself but only measures the voltage ? back to the manual but sadly there are no drawings from the different screen possibilities and an explanation what the different screens and screen info means .

Ok, enough for today .. cold beer time and snorkelling with the kids time , its vacation !!

In the weeks following I used the battery monitor and the barograph quite frequently and they seem to work fine .. except that diesel tank monitor screen, it continues to state ‘100%’ full , and even when my analog fuel gauge starts to drop the diesel monitor screen still shows 100% full, this I find slightly annoying . When I start to think about it I come to the conclusion that somehow the existing analog fuel gauge influences the resistance of the tank that the 107 module measures so its keeps seeing a high resistance thinking its a full tank where the actual situation is quite different , I probably need to conduct another series of measurements but now with the analog fuel gauge in place and working , ignition key to ‘on’ and remeasure .. nice as we’re in a sailing yacht and burning diesel (235 liters) will take 70 hours , which sometimes takes months ! *sigh*

Ok , so my recap for now :

– Customer service is 5 stars ! very quick responses and follow up on queries and issues are immediate
– connections are not quite as straight forward as I hoped them to be
– single 25 amp shunt modules and bluetooth / wireless connections everywhere would be a winner for existing installations
– I am sure that when installed in a new system it works flawless but in an existing situation as a back up or 2nd system its not quite that easy
– please make the supplied or at least the online manual as comprehensive as possible with all functions and screens explained
– an installation section on existing situations might be very helpful , I think most of these packages will be installed in existing (older) yachts with existing electronics but installing will be harder as well

Now waiting for the 25Amp shunt module to arrive and I still need to search google to see if I can put 2 shunts in series so I can continue to use the BEP and use the Pico at the same time .. also I need to have a cable made for the shunt , work work work 🙂 I will be back on Blue Pearl the 1st week of September , hopefully I can continue the installation then

to be continued ……..

Continue : January 2018

Its been awhile since we’ve been at the boat, and I never got around doing anything in September , so when we had a few days in January I tackled part of the install

The large 500A shunt has been installed between the existing shunt and the battery bank. After confirming with several people that this would not pose any problems it was installed without an issue.

The second piece that was tackled was the tank sender, as described above I never got it working right and after a lot of reading I figured out my tank sender was not a resistance type but a voltage type ! So I changed the connection on the ST107 from resistance to voltage and now it seems to work fine . It probably needs some fine tuning and some more data points for full, half and empty but I can do that over the next few months when we sail.

I also connected the fridge and freezer through the SQ25 25A shunt module and those immediately show on the display (Hurray !)

That leaves the solar panels and wind generator which I havent gotten around to .

The Solar panels will be replaced soon by 2x 335Wp panels, a total of 670 Wp . Thats almost double the watts and amps that we have now ! this poses one issue though and that is the max Amps through the SQ25 . That box can handle 25A per channel and I expect somewhere between 30 and 40 Amps from the solar panels which means I will have to use 2 of the channels on the SQ25 shunt . According to Simarine this is absolutely no problem and the display just add’s the 2 channels and shows the total. But with all the other connections already made I dont have enough shunts left ! So another order from Simarine for an extra SCQ25T , a shunt module with again tank and sensor connectors.

While browsing the Simarine website I also stumbled across external temperature sensors  for 5 euro each. I am not sure if this is cheap or expensive but I ordered 4 . I am thinking about using these to monitor the freezer temp. the fridge temp. ambient temp and engine temp. but maybe I wont ever get around doing that !

When installing the hardware I also noticed that a new firmware was available , the install went quite easy and from what I can see many issues I ran into earlier have been addressed . The display now goes to sleep and it doesn’t reset like before

except….  look at what happened to my Barometer graph

it goes below the line and starts again at the top ? Simarine ?, can we address this please ?

So what is done :

  • fuel sender reconnected
  • 500A shunt connected
  • fridge connected
  • freezer connected
  • starter battery voltage connected

What needs to be connected

  • Solar panels
  • Wind generator
  • temp sensors

How the battery monitor itself works ? I have no clue yet ! but I will update this in a few months so I can compare the BEP600 and the Simarine . There’s also an interesting thread on cruisersforum.com about this battery monitor if you would like to read more .

Continue : June 2018

As of a few weeks ago we also connected the new solar panels , as these are 335Wp panels they exceed the 25A , so I had to use 2 shunts to not overload the shunt . I also noticed that Simarine has now included a good comprehensive user and settings manual , so I can finally play with the settings and understand what they do

The wind generator is also connected and so are a pair of small flexible solar panels on the ‘supply’ side and I also put the 12volt watermaker on a shunt

The battery monitor works fine , I suppose that is what is expected but I see little difference between the BEP monitor and the Simarine . I will keep monitoring to see which is better

All in all I am quite happy with the system as it does what I wanted it to do , monitor the power generators (wind & solar) and keep an eye on the ‘power users’ (fridge / freezer / watermaker etc)

 

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