Monday, October 13, 2008

Remote generator start

Remote generator startFriday night, at 8.19 according to the log, I finally managed to start the generator by clicking a button on my PC.

More importantly, it shut down correctly afterwards - And I could repeat the cycle.

Now, when the voltage hits a certain point, the generator can automatically kick in, run for a specified time, then shut off again.

Here's an extract from the logfile (UK date format):

12/10/2008 12:59:26 Voltage is at 24.40 initiating auto start of the generator
12/10/2008 12:59:26 Starting generator
12/10/2008 12:59:26 Fuel pump on
12/10/2008 12:59:27 Starter motor on
12/10/2008 12:59:27 *****Oil light is Off
12/10/2008 12:59:28 Starter motor off
12/10/2008 12:59:28 Generator started
12/10/2008 13:29:27 Stopping generator
12/10/2008 13:29:27 Generator stopped

The process checks the oil light is on after turning the fuel pump on, then checks it is off after the starter motor has run for a specified time. If not, there is obviously something wrong.

In the end it was surprisingly easy to do, a bit of a steep learning curve though.

I used a Phidget 888 interface card and their Precision Voltage Sensor, a few small relays (electronic switches), one big relay for the starter and a bit of programming to pull the whole thing together.

It all looks a bit temporary at the moment, that's because it is. The white board you see is a breadboard, where you can push wires and components into a board, rather than using solder.

I discovered quite quickly that it was a mistake to solder (sodder for you guys in the US) everything in place while learning about the various relays and wiring configurations. I killed a few small relays in the process, and also bought a few that were too tough for the interface kit to switch with it's 5V, low current, output.

Next will be to install a kind of master relay, mostly because of the way I've wired the oil and fuel warning lights, finish off the programming, do more testing, solder everything onto a proper board then mount the lot into a robust container. Oh, and I also need to plumb in and label the control cable and house the generator in a weatherproof place.

When the concept of starting the generator remotely, based on low battery voltage, was first mooted, it just seemed like such an impossible task. Now, it's a reality.

With the automatic generator startup, along with the automatic switch Andy installed, that generator simply becomes an extension of my battery bank for all the boat's power requirements.


  1. Wow Tim! I am impressed, Ive used maintenence programs for motoring large ocean going ship engines etc but for a virtual domestic use thats brilliant, well done, Iv`e often thought of using a PIC for tracing the resonance of the water molecule when at critical collapse but have absolutely no idea where to start. Nice Job!

  2. Hi Tim , I have to admit, I dont understand all the technical jargon about the power situation on your boat. Are you hooked up to shore power, or are you using a generator for all your needs. If so,how long does it run each day, is it noisy, can you run all your stuff from it? I have a fridge,microwave,,toaster oven,tv, computer, battery charger,lots of lights ect.Just wondering what my options are if I ever have to moor offshore, Thanks

  3. Hi Rob

    Thanks for that.

    It's the first time I've tried anything like that, but the PC-real world connection is something I've been interested in for a while.

  4. Hi Cyberangel

    I've no shore power at all, and have not had shore power for well over four years.

    I have a big battery bank, mostly kept topped up by wind power. This battery bank gives me my domestic power - lights, telly, central heating (diesel fired) - I get mains voltage through an inverter, which converts the battery power to mains.

    I have two work generators - a small Honda which is very quiet and provides most of the power I need for working, and helps keep the batteries charged as a by product.

    Often, if there is a reasonable amount of wind about, I don't have to run a generator at all. Obviously if I'm using loads of power tools or something, then the generator needs to run.

    The big (more noisy) generator, which I can now auto-start, provides big power for things like welding etc.

    I hope that helps.

  5. Thanks for the info Tim,Im amazed that wind can provide so much of your power. I had no idea it was that effecient.Is your wind turbine? very large. Could I put something like that on my boat? How many batteries do you need to provide the power you require? Sorry for all the questions but your the first person ive met that is living on their own power and Im interested to find out if its possible in my situation.

  6. I guess that the large generator was the best way to try the first link up? as I don`t expect you would need to remote start a welding set or power tools etc? more likely the heating and lighting or battery chargers? am I wrong or will you eventually link it all to include alarms etc? everything is open to you know well done Tim. I have just had a vision of you sitting in a restaurant with lovely company and a nice meal being placed in front of you when an alarm goes off on your phone to say that a bilge pump is working and the proximity alarm shows an intruder (the cat has found the sensor) Tee Heee

  7. Hi Cyberangel

    The issue of power consumption and power necessary is a fairly lengthy topic, though not complicated if you can get your head around the basics.

    I am very energy concious on the boat, which is the key here, using gas to cook and diesel to heat washing water and the living spaces. Never leaving low energy lights etc. on if I don't need them... you get the picture.

    The wind generator, in effect, delivers a steady trickle of power, dependant on the wind speed, which is stored in the battery. I can then call on that stored power in peak times.

    Kind of like a thin hosepipe to fill a tank all day and a fat hosepipe to quickly fill a bath from that tank when I need it.

    Devices, fridges, drills, toasters..., are normally rated in watts (look at the rating on your microwave), while power is calculated as the number of watts used in a particular period of time (say per hour). Look at your electric bill with that in mind.

    My wind generator produces a maximum of 400W, but probably averages at about 100W continuous power production.

    Think in terms of light bulbs to give yourself an idea of how much power that is. One 100W light bulb burning continuously.

    Your toaster is likely to use say about 1000W - the equivalent of
    10 light bulbs for however long your toast takes to burn.

    In my case if the toaster is on for 15 minutes, that's the equivalent of 2.5 hours of wind generated power (expensive piece of toast power wise).

    I hope that helps.



  8. Hi Rob

    Actually, the large generator is the only one which has an electric start.

    Small generators seem not to have them.

    I tried buying a 'sacrificial' electric start generator on eBay a few times, but it was all looking a bit expensive.



  9. Hi Tim a friend of mine bought a small diesel generator (chinese ) at a boat show ( Beauleigh) it was about £350-00 it was 5/6kva I think, it had electric start. Mine (on my boat) runs at 12 kva, also diesel and electric start. but about £9000. I just read your programming manual for the "remote watsits" Boy did you have a learning curve! :o))

  10. Hi Rob

    The learning was fun, with a really useful result.

    I'll be interested in hearing how your friend gets on with his generator.

    If it looks like this he may be in for a disappointment.

    I discovered you very much get what you pay for with generators.

  11. My mates one is an open framed "red" diesel with an attached starter key panel on which he has extended the cables to become a remote (by using the whole panel and setting it into a joinery panel adjacent to the steering position) it isn`t silenced but in his insulated engine room its not too bad

  12. Hi Rob

    Yup, more than one way to skin a cat.

    I was more interested in the auto start capability so with the voltage low, the generator would automatically kick in, provide mains power and simultaneously charge the battery bank.

    I'm still fiddling with the voltage/generator runtime parameters to see what works best.

  13. Thanks for the sharing the updated information. I think that the large generator was the best way to try the first link up. I don`t have exact idea that you would need to remote start a power tools etc.