Adding a 6kw Northern Lights Genset to Red Rover

During the week of the Great Seattle Boat Show in January, Alison and I attended Lugger Bob’s Northern Lights owners class. During the first day of classes, we learned that Northern Lights was having a sale on their generators during the month of February. Ok, interesting. The second day we had the opportunity to work on a 6kw genset as part of the class. That really got our brains rolling on different opportunities. As we’ve been planning/prepping Red Rover for our upcoming adventures, we hadn’t fully flushed out a solution for some of our “wants”… After going thru pros/cons/calculations, we decided to purchase and install a Northern Lights 6kw generator. The NL 6kw genset was decided on based on our experience on how/what we use (power-wise) over the past three years as well as it fit nicely behind the wing engine. Although rated at 6kw, we were told that the unit can easily output 7kw or more (which we’ve already seen during testing).

Below are a few ways that we anticipate using our new baby generator. Much of it surrounds the ability to choose which generator is best to achieve proper loading based on our situation/needs at any given time.

  • Power generation for when we don’t need the 20kw genset. It is MUCH easier to properly load the 6kw genset. Previously, we would turn on many unneeded items on the boat to get the power load up to the minimum 50% load. In the PNW, this is much of the time.
  • Underway, we can run one or two 240v items vs turning everything on. Examples: heat/AC in the pilothouse, watermaker, oven, clothes dryer, etc
  • At night, we will be able to run heat/AC in the master stateroom if needed.
  • Backup to our existing Northern Lights 20kw. Previously, if we had a failure of the existing genset, we would not be able to generate 240v power. If we were cruising in a remote area, not having 240v power means no watermaker, battery charging by the main engine alternator only, no HVAC, etc. While not an immediate emergency, losing our only generator would mean that we would change plans immediately to focus on that repair. A second genset provides another layer of redundancy to a vessel with many layers of backup.
  • Ordering the equipment with the newer available Northern Lights TSC controllers would allow us to setup the generator with autostart. Inspiration for this came from a story written by Clark Haley on Nordhavn N47 Roam – click here. This will allow protection from loss of shorepower as well as provide some freedom to travel away from the boat for longer than 12 hrs if no shorepower is available (moored or anchored).

Once the decision was made to add the second generator to Red Rover, we placed the order with Emerald Harbor Marine. Lead time was roughly 3 weeks. That gave me time to finish some other boat projects as well as prep for the upcoming install. I pulled both the controller cable as well as the 8 gauge AC wire from the engine room to the pilothouse. A 2×4 skid was also built and laid in place in the lazerette that would help us slide the genset into place. I was able to make arrangements with our marina to use a dock mounted crane to drop the genset from the upper level dock down to the lower dock.  Red Rover was one of two Nordhavns that ordered NL generators during the sale.  The second Nordhavn, N60 EbbNFlow, arrived at Shilshole Bay Marina a few days before the scheduled loading day.  In talking with them, they decided to load up the genset the same way.


Borrowed forklift runs the genset from the van to the crane.

Brad displaying some of the hardware we used to crane the gensets on to the boats.

Delivery day came and EbbNFlow settled in first to receive their genset.  With their longer cockpit and standard boat deck length, the crane was able to drop the genset right into the boat.  Red Rover was next.  After tying up the boat, the genset was dropped to the dock just beside where we could reach with the boat crane.  We were then able to pick the generator up with the crane and set it on the upper boat deck which allowed us to move Red Rover back to her slip.  Sam Landsman volunteered to help we with boat maneuvering and manhandling the genset into place.

Our baby genset being born…
One of the fixed mounted dock crane was used to set the genset down to the lower dock.

Back in the slip, we used the crane again to lower the genset down into the cockpit.  During this process, we removed the pallet that was bolted to the base.  Of course, nothing is easy, one of the bolts were bent from a forklift and added an extra 20 minutes to remove.

The boat crane lowered the genset down to remove the pallet…
Pallet removed!  Sam was a big help with genset loading/positioning.
The new baby genset in the cockpit… it was time for a lunch break!

With the genset in the cockpit, we broke for lunch.  We came back and removed the laz hatch, allowing unrestricted access to lower the genset down.  A tow strap was used to extend the length of the cable.  It was also easy on the fiberglass!  I controlled the crane (and camera) while Sam guided the genset on to the skid.  We kept the strap connected while we slid the genset down to the engine room door.

Laz hatch removed…
A tow strap was used to get additional reach from the crane as well as it protected the fiberglass from the cable.
Sam finessed the genset in to place while I operated the crane.
The genset was set onto a 2×4 skid and “slid” down thru the ER door.

Once the genset was thru the door and into the engine room and next to where it was going to live, the come-a-long was attached to a couple of 2x4s above.  This allowed us to lift and rotate the genset 90 degrees and start to move it.  We set it down a few times to move the 2x4s starboard, essentially walking the equipment into place.

A come a long way used to lift/turn the genset off of the skid and place in to it’s new home.
Almost home!
Genset lag bolted down. It was nice that the factory mounting holes lined up with the two stringers that support the wing engine.

After fastening the genset down, I went to work hooking up all the required systems.  Start battery, raw water supply for cooling, fuel supply/return/filter and exhaust.  The start battery was installed, with a shut off switch, in the battery cabinets in the lazerette.  Cables were a short 6 foot or less pull.  Red Rover has a sea chest that had a spare valve of the correct size.  So pulling the raw water hose for cooling was a straight forward task.  As the genset sits below the waterline, a vented loop was utilized to break any possible siphoning of water when not in operation.

Raw water cooling hoses temporarily in place.

For fuel, I first installed the Racor filter in the desired location.  Hose lengths were then measured and ordered along with the required hardware for all the connections.  Three lengths were needed, one from the main supply tank to the Racor, second from the racor to the genset and the third went from the genset to the fuel return manifold.  Fortunately there as an extra unused valve on the return manifold.

The bottom of the supply tank had two unused ports. We would end up using one for the fuel supply line to the new genset and added a valve to the second for future use (to supply a diesel furnace).
New Racor filter was added for the 6kw genset.  Chafe protection was added later where the hoses traveled thru newly cut holes.
New fuel line from the supply tank plus second new valve.

The exhaust, although not difficult, was the least straight forward part of the install.  The wet lift muffler sits just next to the genset, so an easy hose run to that piece.  The gen-sep muffler’s required install location (in vertical relationship to the genset, wet lift muffler, waterline and outlet heights) limited it’s location to one spot, inside the air intake chamber on the starboard aft corner of house.  The outlet of the wet lift muffler runs to the inlet on the base of the gen-sep.  The gen-sep separates the water from the air, sending each out their own individual outlets (also on the base of the part).  The exhaust air exits out an above the waterline thru hull on the starboard side of the boat.  The water is supposed to exit out a below the waterline thru hull.  This eliminates the splashing water noise that one would hear otherwise.  As we did not have a haul out scheduled this spring, I took the story heard at Lugger Bob’s class about using the dinghy levered out with the crane to lean the boat enough to drill and install your thru hull.  I tried this to see if I would get enough heel.  As I wanted a larger margin of error, I added about 15 gallons of water to the dinghy, which gained another couple of inches out of the water.  Fortunately, our neighbors are great friends and didn’t mind our dinghy hanging over their boat!


Zoe keeps an eye on the dinghy – it was used to lever the port side down and starboard size up…

Better view of the boat heeling…

I measured once, twice and probably ten times to calculate where the waterline “should” be.  I drilled a pilot hole where I knew it would be safe.  Pulling the drill out of the pilot hole, light spilled through vs any saltwater!  Now having a accurate point to measure from, I knew I could lower the hole a few more inches.

Drilling the hole – you will notice the “test” hole above where I finally decided to drill…
Happy it was a calm day to do this work!
The solid fiberglass plug.

Once the hole was drilled, I ground down the fiberglass to be a bit more of a flat surface.  I mixed up two part epoxy (with a thickening filler) to fill my pilot hole as well as to slather a layer of bedding before adding a backer plate.  The thru hole received a liberal amount of 3M 5200 before installation.

After grinding the area a bit smoother, epoxy with a filler was applied before the backer plate went on.
The backer plate applied in to the epoxy.
The thru hull installed and ready for hose (and bonding wire).
Exterior view of the finished product. This thru hull is the “below the waterline” water outlet coming from the gen-sep water/exhaust separator.

I was ready to run hoses from the wet lift muffler to the gen-sep and the two thru holes.  The gensep was installed on to a sheet of marine plywood so that it could be dropped low enough to comply with the installation requirements.

The gen-sep water/exhaust separator being test fit.
Another view of the gen-sep.

Once all the systems were attached and double checked, I bled the fuel line to the genset.  I also added some dialectic grease to the impeller for its maiden voyage.  The start battery was connected and it was time to crank it up!  Pressing the run button on the control box activated the 10 seconds glow plug warm up and then she cranked to life.  What a great sound!  Oh, go outside and make sure there is water coming out!

The water lift muffler in the foreground and it’s outlet hose runs to the gen-sep. The new control box is sitting on the wing for the initial test run.
The newer optional TSC control box provides many programmable options for the end user.

After I knew the genset was in good operational condition, I scheduled Emerald Harbor Marine’s electrician to come by and assist me with the AC connections and the auto start related parts.  This included a new power selector switch as well as an automatic transfer switch.  The existing selector switch was a three position; off, shorepower and generator (the 20kw).  The fourth position on the new switch that we installed allows the introduction of the 6kw genset.  This position is fed by the automatic transfer switch.  This auto transfer switch looks for either shorepower or power from the genset.  We will have the selector switch in the forth position when we want to run the 6kw genset, docked with shorepower and want the 6kw in auto start programming as backup to shorepower or when we are somewhere without shorepower (anchored or docked) and want the 6kw genset in auto start to maintain the charge on the house batteries.

As mentioned earlier, the TSC controller allows for a variety of programmable functions, auto start being one possibility.  All of the settings needed to properly implement auto start functionality have a wide range of time/marks/etc.  As we’ve just recently completed the project, our current settings are in test mode to see how we like them.  We have the TSC set to start based on the house battery voltage, but only if that low voltage is sensed for a continuous amount of time (we are starting with 20 minutes).  When it receives the signal to start, it initiates the start sequence.  This includes 10 seconds of glow plug preheat before it cranks over to start.  There are options on how many times to attempt to start if there is a starting issue.  After starting, it will delay adding a load to the genset for two minutes.  We currently have it programmed to run for two hours before it will initiate the shutdown sequence.  This includes unloading the genset for two minutes to allow for  cool down and then shuts down to wait and watch for low voltage again.

Auto start functionality often brings up discussions of pros/cons of the system.  I’ve outlined many benefits above.  Drawbacks can include having an engine start itself and run while you are not at your boat (and the associated issues that could arise without someone on board).  Great precaution is needed around a genset that has auto start.  First off, it should be well labeled so the operator or an unknowing technician knows/remembers to deactivate autostart.  One does not want the getset to start while service is being conducted.  Before all haul outs is another time when the operator will want to remember to deactivate the system.  Having a generator with auto start can provide many benefits but also requires a heightened sense of awareness.

We look forward to using our new Northern Lights 6kw genset in our upcoming cruising!

“Almost” finished install. I have a switch cover to install and a little more tidying up to do.

19 thoughts on “Adding a 6kw Northern Lights Genset to Red Rover

    1. We will be heading north from Seattle thru the inside passage up to the Broughtons this summer. A good 2 month opportunity to test it out. We are excited to do so!

  1. Great write up! I especially appreciate projects that involve a little “shade-tree” ingenuity.

  2. Great use of that little ledge behind the wing. Any need/room for for a sound box around the gen set? Dave S. N55-40

    1. Hi David! It “may” fit but would be absolutely tight. I spoke to another N55 owner with the 6kw and no sound shield and he said it’s sound level was similar to the 20kw running with the sound shield. Now that it is in, I would agree with him. The ER is insulated pretty well!

  3. Great article. really appreciate the many photos to help with the detailed processes. Regarding the auto start, what type of signage or documentation are you doing to ensure technicians and yards know about the auto start?

    1. Chuck, I’ve not fully planned this out yet as it is on my to do list sometime over the next couple of weeks. But I will have a sign at the pilothouse control panel noting that the genset has auto start functionality. At the equipment itself, I am thinking of making small red signs at all the typical service points (dip stick, raw water pump, etc) and a larger sign on the bulkhead above it. I have also been thinking of adding some sort of an LED strobe light (and buzzer?) that activates when the the glow plug preheat is triggered. This would give anyone around it (working on it or not) 10 seconds of warning prior to it trying to start. If anyone missed the warning signs, when a light/buzzer goes off, the shut off switch can be pushed in a matter of moments…

  4. A small genset aboard a traveling Nordhavn is a true no-brainer! Masterful documentation of your well-conceived and beautifully executed install, Kevin. We’ve had a factory-installed 6kW NL aboard our N47 Bluewater since she was delivered to us in 2005, and it’s been a terrific workhorse–a perfect complement to our 12kW NL. The 6kW has more than twice as many hours as the 12. Quiet (with no sound shield), reliable, economical with a fuel burn of about 0.5 GPH, and altogether a great shipmate. One question: when ours was installed, Alaska diesel made no 24-volt models, so ours is a 12V model. We added a big rotary switch and paralleled it the start battery (adjacent to the genset) with the electronics battery in the pilothouse, and both are charged by a dedicated 12V charger. If your new 6kW is a 12V model, did you do something similar?

    1. Milt – we’ve heard nothing but good things from other owners about the 6kw model! We opted for the 12v version mainly for lower electrical related parts cost. I read your note recently about paralleling the start with the communications battery, which is a great idea. I’ve already headed down a path of a 24v to 12v converter (from a string on the NOG last fall) so decided not to rework that! The 12v start battery has a dedicated 120v to 12v charger.

  5. Fantastic post, Kevin!
    Love your audacity that makes you drill a hole in your home below the waterline….
    I‘m still in a stage where that would frighten me to death 😬
    Very educating and entertaining write up!!
    Thanks for sharing!


      1. Regards back from Petra. Only comment when she learned about your decision to move: “HOW COOL IS THAT!!!“

  6. Tilting the boat with the dinghy, then drilling through, you have nerves of steel! Great article. Nice references too. There is a wealth of information here.
    Safe travels.

  7. After having our boat for a year, I so wish my smaller gen was a 6kw. Perfect for charging batteries and a couple of loads, as you say. Very nice installation, Kevin.

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