Recommended Tools and
These are some of the tools and equipment I have found useful and would be ideal for off-grid life in campervans and caravans as well as boats
Over the last 3 years living off-grid, we've had to do a lot of adapting to make life comfortable. Getting just the right products meant a lot of research, planning, and even trial and error in some instances.
The products below are in use daily or as needed by my wife and me and have made off-grid living a lot more comfortable than we would have thought.
In the interests of full disclosure, if you purchase any of these products, please be aware that we may receive an affiliate commission payment from Amazon or the other affiliate partners.
A reliable inverter generator is just what we need to keep our laptops, phones, and lights running when the clouds roll in and the weather turns bleak and sunless.
This is a product that I could have spent a wad of cash on buying the go-to brand name. Instead, I opted for a 1000W generator made by Hyundai.
This has run for 4 or more hours four or five days a week for 6 months now and has been ideal.
I've been really happy with how lightweight it is to carry, how little petrol it uses, and how quiet it runs.
The biggest drawback for me, the lack of alternative charge points - it only has the one UK standard plug socket and a 12V DC plug. The other drawback is the pull cord. Very early on, this began to fray. When it looked close to snapping, I struggled to find a generic cord as thin as the original. Taking apart the generator to replace the cord involved a lot of careful juggling and fiddling. It's doable though and I only needed a screwdriver and socket spanner.
In retrospect, a larger 2200W inverter such as the Briggs & Stratton PowerSmart P2200 would be longer lasting considering our power requirements especially in winter.
Fitting solar panels was not as difficult as I had thought it might be. I have two panels now; a 100W and a 150W panel, connected in parallel to a bank of two leisure batteries.
I fitted the 100W panel in 2019 and found that while it was okay for trickle charging the batteries in summer, it could not supply enough power in winter or cloudy summer days.
I bought a 150W panel in 2020 and using MC4 branch connectors, I quickly coupled the panels together and it's made a big difference. Not surprising since I've more than doubled my solar capacity.
You can get the Eco-Worthy solar panels with cables and charge controllers, but the charge controller never really inspired me with confidence.
How to build an adjustable solar panel frame
I've seen some weird and complicated solar panel frames on boats and campervans and my first frame was built with decking boards, so no judgment from me. Since winter is the season when my power consumption rockets, I really wanted a solar panel frame that I could quickly and easily adjust to track the sun.
I followed the instructions in the video below to build these adjustable metal frames for solar panels. First, I measured up the width of my two panels and then calculated the total length of slotted angle and flat restraint strap I'd need. After cutting the metal to the right lengths, I filed down the sawed edges, which were razor sharp.
Since my panels are on my boat's cabin roof, I kept the uprights short so that they don't stick up higher than the edge of the solar panel and gouge out my eye or snag a mooring line. The material is all galvanised so it won't rust except where I sawed it. I used a quick dab of Hammerite metal paint on these edges and this will protect them for years.
I make sure to keep an eye on the wind when the panels are angled upright and if it gets up over 25knots, I lower them so that they don't get wrecked. When there are severe gales predicted, I'll even tie them down. Better safe than sorry!
Materials and tools needed:
I opted to buy a solar panel kit complete with solar cables and a charge controller, which I duly installed. The charge controller was very 'plasticky'. I am one of those people that think that if it weighs more, it's built better. What really concerned me about the charge controller was how exposed the connections to the cables were.
So, I went looking and I found this nice solid 20A charge controller from Photonic Universe that is rated IP66 from water, moisture, and dust.
As in the left image, it comes with cables already fixed in place and the connections covered by the outer case. It was exactly what I wanted. I connected the solar and battery cables to the fixed cables using MC4 connectors.
It doesn't have USB ports or an LCD screen, but I am happy to forego these in exchange for greater security.
One of the first things I bought for boatlife was a power bank. Wyebourne had just the old 12V wiring that looked like it dated back to the 70s and we had no way to recharge our phones or any other device for that matter.
After doing some research, which included checking the reviews, I settled on a 200Watt 42000mAh power bank.
It's got 4 USB ports and a 3-prong socket for a standard UK plug. I could run my laptop from it and recharge our mobile phones at the same time.
It takes a good 5 hours to fully charge up, but it is worth it. I can recharge my laptop twice from it or keep my mobile phone charged for approximately a week (depending on use).
I've dropped mine twice and apart from landing like a brick, it has not shown any damage. Then again, I did drop it on the boat deck and that absorbs a lot of the impact. I know, I've slammed my head on the deck too! Don't ask.
I broke the original one finally when I tried recharging it with faulty wiring. Hands up, it was user error. We now have two of them onboard and they are brilliant for keeping beside our beds, going away on trips, and working remotely.
All the solar panels in the world are no good to me if I don't have reliable storage for the power.
Now, while I'd love to be able to buy a set of lithium-ion batteries, I just bring myself to fork out that kind of money. Instead, I use a reliable old lead-acid battery with dual terminals.
For added safety, I fit my leisure batteries in purpose-made plastic battery boxes and ensure they have adequate ventilation to disperse any hydrogen gas build-up.
I have been through 4 inverters and now use the two most inexpensive inverters the most.
I have a 300W Bestek inverter that runs 24/7 for my WiFi and which I use to charge devices using its USB ports.
It is wired with a standard DC plug to connect to my battery bank or to the DC outlet socket in the car.
Product Specification :
Rated Power: 300W Rated, 360W Max, 700W Peak
Input Voltage: 12V DC, Output voltage: 220V~240V
Dual USB Port Output: DC 5V, 4.2A rated, 4.8A Max. Auto 0~2.4A*2
Indicator: Green-operation, Red-shutdown
Over Voltage Shutdown: DC 15V-16V, Low Voltage Shutdown: DC 10V-11V
I also use a 400W Bestek inverter to run my laptop when I'm working late at night on the stern deck. This one has a fan that runs constantly when I use the 230 AC outlet socket. It also has 4 USB ports.
It comes with crocodile clips and a DC plug, which I find quite handy as I can clip it to my spare leisure battery to run or charge extra devices.
Rated Power: 400W, 500W Max, 1000W Peak
Input Voltage: 12V DC, Output Voltage: 230V
USB Port Output : DC 5V 4.2A (5.2A Max). Two 2.4A ports, one 1A port, and one automatic 0~2.4A port
Indicator: Dual color LED (Green-Operation, Red-Shutdown)
Fuse: Two 30A fuses
Technically, it is called a forced-air diesel heater. This is my go-to heating for the boat for 3 very good reasons.
It is cost-efficient
It warms the entire boat
It dries condensation
In Off-Grid Boaters, I talk about how late in the year I left it to plan our heating system. The boat had been used as a summer leisure cruiser so there was no heating system onboard to upgrade or adapt.
We had hoped to install a small 3KW solid fuel burner, but after discovering the HETAS regulations governing fitting a burner, it seemed impractical. In my naivety, I thought we could run a fan heater from a generator, and I went down this route. This proved a waste of time and finally, I turned to a diesel heater. There are the German makes and then there are the Chinese brands. The difference in price is staggering. I paid less than £200 for a model that had good reviews and was featured on YouTube videos.
It arrived just before Christmas and I quickly unboxed and assembled it. This was dead easy to do with just a screwdriver and socket set. Connecting it to a fully charged battery, I turned it on and after a couple of restarts to prime the fuel line, it began to chug out hot air, and for the first time that winter, we were warm.
I use ducting to channel the air from the stern deck all the way to the front cabin, the coldest part of the boat. The air circulation is tremendous and the fast-moving hot, dry air quickly warms the boat and dispels condensation.
The heater has a remote control and an LCD control unit, and I can set it to run on a timer or thermostat which I never do. I just turn it on and dial it up to 5kW or down to 3KW, depending on how cold it is and how long I want to run it.
The diesel consumption is minimal, and I use about 3 litres a week in the middle of winter. The heater uses a lot of power initially to heat the single glow plug. After about 3 minutes, it is hot enough to run without the glow plug and then the electricity consumption falls off to just over 1amh. I can start the heater up four times off a fully charged 100amh leisure battery before its charge drops to below 12.2V.