12 Volt Electrics on a Canal Boat - justanidiotaboard interview

8 September 2021  |  Paul

Today we sat down with Claudia who hosts the Instagram account Justanidiotaboard. We've loved seeing her content and thought it would be nice to get to know her more & discuss her experience with 12 volt electrics on a canal boat

Sumo Before

Sumo After


12 Volt Planet : Hi Claudia. Thanks for taking part in this interview. Can you please tell us a little about yourself?

Claudia: I’m Claudia and I live aboard Sumo with my pal Chico. Chico is a small but mighty Chihuahua, crossed we think with a sausage dog, but it’s anybody’s guess really! He is very little help with mooring and locks, but incredibly effective at guarding against swans, dragonflies and wild swimmers.

Sumo is a 36-year-old, trad stern narrowboat, who at 44 foot long is the perfect size for me to be able to manage single-handedly. I’ve owned Sumo for just over a year now and although there have been some surprises along the way, I now feel like I know her inside out! I’m very lucky to have a job that allows me to work totally remotely (as long as I can find some internet) so I get to spend almost all of my time aboard.

12 Volt Planet: So what made you decide to take up life on a canal boat?

Claudia: Before buying Sumo, I was living in Brighton and renting a flat above my shop. Whilst I loved having the shop and getting to spend the day creating bespoke knitwear for my wonderful customers, it was incredibly difficult to make ends meet. As anyone who’s lived in Brighton will know, the rent is sky high. I’d been saving up to put a deposit on a flat for a long time, but thanks to my rubbish income, ridiculous house prices, and the extra hoops self-employed people need to jump through to secure a mortgage, buying a home in Brighton wasn’t on the cards.

During the pandemic my dream of living closer to nature grew and I finally had time to explore it. My YouTube history consisted of hours upon hours of log cabins in the woods, van journeys across America, and a slower pace of life on the water. The narrowboat videos always captured my imagination and I knew that, if I was willing to put some work in, I could afford to do it myself. I scoured the internet for boats that were in my budget, made a spreadsheet of all the necessary information. Despite my best intentions, I committed the cardinal sin of buying the first boat you see, without a survey, whilst horribly hungover. Predictably we’ve had some interesting discoveries along the way, but I haven’t regretted buying Sumo for a second.

12 Volt Planet: So what is your current electrical set up?

Claudia: Right now I have a bank of 3 x 110Ah gel batteries, which give me enough power for everything I need. They’re charged by solar panels, the engine and, when I’m in a marina, shoreline hookup. As I’m currently continuously cruising on the river, I have to move more or less every 48 hours, so my engine helps a lot, I’ll always charge the laptop if we’re going on an adventure. I have a couple of solar panels that came with the boat and they do a great job of keeping the fridge freezer running, my phone charged, water pumps going and on sunny days my laptop too. I’m very tempted to add another panel to the roof so that I can go wild with device charging, but that’s towards the bottom of the project list.

12 Volt Planet: So when you started, what surprised you most about the electrical side?

Claudia: Everything?! But seriously, I was a complete novice when it came to boats in general, let alone 12 volt electrics! Sumo already had an electrical system that, more or less, worked. However, she’d been used as a hire boat previously, so there were a few things that needed tweaking so that I could live aboard more comfortably.

The first thing that needed addressing was how to charge my gadgets. Like many other millennials I probably rely a little too much on my mobile phone and charging it using the inverter seemed silly. I’m very lucky to have parents who help me with all of the ridiculous projects that I take on, so I got to learn how to change my old 5 amp plug sockets for new USB ones. That little blue light coming on was such a satisfying feeling! My next project is to make an in-car laptop charger work with a 5amp plug so that I can charge my laptop on the 12 volt system too. I’ve got just the one 5amp socket left and it seems a shame to waste it. Of course, living on a boat there is an endless list of projects, so it could be a couple of weeks before the laptop charger happens.

12 Volt Planet: What's the one piece of advice you would have for anyone tackling 12 volt electrics?

Claudia: Ask the people around you! I can only speak for the boating community but they’re, without exception, incredibly helpful and eager to share their knowledge. I could have saved myself so much stress by asking people when I hit a bump in the road, instead of pressing on by myself. If there’s nobody physically around then the internet is a brilliant help too. I’ve met so many helpful people on Instagram, 12 Volt Planet included, that have been a great help when I’ve got stuck with something.

12 Volt Planet: What was the worst part of your electrical build?

Claudia: I had a couple of beginner’s mistakes, which really threw me off for almost the whole of the first winter. The first seems incredibly obvious now, but if you don’t know, then you don’t know! I didn’t realise that you needed a battery charger in order to charge your batteries using shoreline power. I had just assumed that you plugged in the shoreline and the batteries magically charged. I couldn’t understand what was going on and assumed that all my batteries were done for. Thankfully, I asked my neighbour at the marina who took one look and realised the problem. I had a battery charger installed and winter nights of watching television were back on once more.

The other hiccup I had was that my alternator wasn’t working. I’d not taken the boat out a great deal at the time, but my water is heated by the engine, so I’d run it a lot for that and the batteries weren’t charging. I couldn’t understand what was going on and got one of the engineers from the marina I was staying at to take a look (thank you Fox Narrow Boats!). The alternator was replaced and now I really have no excuse for flat batteries.

12 Volt Planet:  Final question now, Where has been your favourite place to visit?

Claudia: So far my adventure has been entirely on the Middle Levels and the River Nene. I’ve still yet to experience boating on a canal, but I hope to get onto the Grand Union this summer. I’m answering these question from Fotheringhay, where I’ve spent far longer than planned as it really is just so beautiful. There’s lots of space for wild swimming and the water is incredibly clear. 

For anyone who’s considering boating on the River Nene then I couldn’t recommend joining The Friends of the River Nene group enough. Finding a mooring on the Nene can be tricky as they really are few and far between. However, It’s £12 for a whole year’s membership to FotRN and with that you can moor at any of their spots, of which there are many. Pear Tree Farm is a lovely secluded mooring spot of theirs, where an inlet of the river creates almost an island for boats to moor around. There’s a small copse of trees and a barbecue and the water is lovely for swimming on warm days. As with almost all of the moorings on the Nene you can only stay for 48 hours, but if I could I’d gladly spend the rest of my life there.

We would like to thank Claudia  for taking the time out to answer our questions. To see more of Claudia's & Chico's adventures on Sumo follow them on 

Instagram : @justanidiotaboard

Facebook: @justanidiotaboard

Or keep an eye out on the water for them!


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