Victron charger installed in our trawler

We previously had poor interactions with Victron support, but we were tied up to a dock somewhere in the past. This time, not safely tied up at a dock, we were out cruising in the Ragged Islands and Jumentos when our new Victron charger started to cause issues. The population in that area of The Bahamas is less than 100 — no marine electricians. We reached out to Victron in an attempt to get some help, maybe guidance on the manual charger settings, but this is what we got in response:

Support email to and from Victron
This was the reply from Victron when we sent over the multimeter reading from the charger. More in the blog post below.
Support email to and from Victron

And this is what we got in reply to sending a picture of the readings on the multimeter itself.

We did reach out to the company that installed the charger and 12 big group 8D batteries a few months ago. They were great, but other than replacing the charger, and they weren’t able to help much. There are quite a few settings on the charger, including a manual configuration option, which might have helped us get by — and saved us a few thousand in fuel costs, marina stay, import duties, and shipping charges.

If you think that Victron is high quality and reliable, think again. This wasn’t our experience. If you think that Victron will be able to help troubleshoot, like many other marine companies, think again. That also wasn’t our experience.

Victron is definitely an outlier when it comes to supporting efforts, or the lack thereof. We’ve been in touch with many companies, asked questions, and we’ve always received some effort to help — sometimes more, sometimes less, but always some. Remote support from companies like Headhunter, Beetronics, Xantrax, YachtDevices, DigitalYacht, and Maretron has been really great and makes buying their products a fairly easy choice.

Background & Details

Storm in The Ragged Islands

We had the new Victron charger installed in February 2021, and up until April 2022, it worked fairly well. Since the installation, we’ve had issues with the amp display for output 3, which never worked. We decided to live with the defect since the charger was outputting a charge current on output 3, just not displaying it. Warranties in the marine world are fairly useless for the most part. Companies require hardware to be shipped in for analysis, leaving the boat without that piece of hardware, which is often essential.

The breaker for the charger tripped first while we were out cruising on April 28, 2022 in a remote part of The Bahamas. The issue got progressively worse, leaving less and less time before the breaker tripped. We were not able to leave right away due to bad weather.

History of amp consumption of our Skylia-i

This graph shows the historical input amps, averaging around 14 amps at 240 VAC before the issue started.

History of amp consumption of our Skylia-i

This graph shows the gradual increase in amps until tripping the breaker. Over the following two days, the time before the breaker tripped got shorter and shorter. We used the FLIR camera on our multimeter to monitor temperatures at the panel and the charger.

History of amp consumption of our Skylia-i
Our trusted $499 CM174 multimeter from FLIR taking amp readings directly from the charger. We were shocked to find out that the combined output was about the rated 100 amps of the charger. And yes, the meter was set to AC and DC current correctly.

The Temporary Workaround

Xantrax Inverter Charger

Without our 24-volt battery bank, we would be in serious trouble, as it provides power to the windlass, stabilizers, navigation lights, toilets, and other critical boat systems. We eventually were able to use the Xantrax inverter-charger to charge the inverter bank. And we quickly figured out that if we turned on the Victron Skylla-i after about an hour of the Xantrax charging, the Victron charger would go into “storage” mode, drawing MUCH less current and providing a 10-20 amp charge to the 24-volt house battery bank.

Graph showing the input amps of our Victron Skylla-i

This is what our workaround looks like on the network. It isn’t ideal because the Skylla-i still needs to run to charge our 24V house bank. Essentially the Victron charger believes the batteries are full and goes into storage mode, which pulls fewer amps and doesn’t trip the breaker.

Victron Warranty

Victron warranty screenshot
Victron advertises a 5 year limited warranty. This charger should fall into that warranty period, but since we paid for a new charger, we’re not sure what we would do with a replacement charger. Also, given the attitude and tone of the replies from Victron, we doubt that we’ll get our $1,900 USD back (or recover any of the associated costs).

The Vendor Model

While Victron does not sell directly, customers purchase their products from various sources. Sometimes through a seller on Amazon, where support essentially doesn’t exist. Sometimes a local marine services company has little understanding of the inner workings of the equipment or how to configure them outside of what the installation manual says. MasterVolt, a direct competitor, has a similar business model. Still, with some digging, we were able to find an email address at MasterVolt, and one of their engineers helped us reconfigure things on our catamaran (that was all MasterVolt). Support from the manufacturer is critical when you’re buying the equipment and having it installed and when you’re buying a used boat where the equipment vendor is unknown. Whenever you choose, choose a vendor who provides some level of support, especially when the product is necessary for your boat to work — like a battery charger.

Update: It was the Victron Skylla-i

Replacement Victron Charger
We were able to find a drop-in replacement charger in Florida and arrange for it to be flown into The Bahamas. Swapping out the charger took 30 minutes — and solved the problem. The conclusion to this unplanned adventure is: that our 14-month-old Victron Skylla-i started malfunctioning, and replacing it solved the issue. No support from Victron, in any way, just rudeness.
The before and after comparison of 240VAC amp draw.
This graph shows the input amps at 240V before and after replacing the Victron Skylla-i charger. The input amps are back down to what they used to be, around 14 amps at the full output of 99.9 amps (24VDC).