It has been a while since I could venture into the wilderness with all the electricity I needed supplied by a single battery for my headlamp. Now on my overnight boating trips I need to power cameras, a cell phone, a GPS, a VHF, running lights, weather radio, and often a small laptop. Some devices, such as my handheld depthsounder, get by with a single battery for the duration of a cruise, but devices used more frequently—running lights, smart phone, or cameras—require either backup batteries or recharging.
In recent years I’ve carried a 12-volt deep-cycle battery wired to a cigarette-lighter socket. It worked well for recharging devices that had car chargers, but it weighed a cumbersome 50 lbs and was so often in the way that I made a foam-and-canvas cover for it to blunt the impact of my toes. When I stumbled across Jackery’s portable power stations, I quickly turned my back on my deep-cycle and bought the Jackery Explorer 160, the company’s smallest unit. Its bank of lithium-ion cells is rated to supply 167 watt hours, which is, if my calculations are correct, a 30 percent improvement over my deep-cycle battery. The Explorer 160 delivers that capacity in a 7.5″ x 4.75″ x 6.9″ package that weighs just under 4 lbs. The face of the unit has two ports for 12-volt power, one for charging the Explorer 160 with the included AC adapter or an optional solar panel, the other to supply power to electronic devices using the included cigarette-lighter socket and cord.
There are three USB ports, one USB-C and two USB-A. A backlit LCD screen in the middle shows input and output in watts, a graphic of a battery showing the level of charge, and the percent charge remaining. With each device being charged, the display screen shows how many watts are being drawn. When multiple devices are being charged, the display shows the total output. There’s an AC outlet at one end of the Explorer 160 and a built-in flashlight at the other. The outlets, display screen, and flashlight all have switches. The flashlight’s switch, if pressed and held, will make the light a flashing Morse SOS signal.
The Jackery power station isn’t waterproof, so it would need to be protected by a dry bag if carried in an open boat. It’s not meant to survive being dropped, so treat it as you would the electronics you charge with it.
For my first trial with the Explorer 160 I charged my electronics for a weekend outing. Starting with 100 percent capacity, it charged a fully dead laptop battery, a dead VHF radio, four GoPro batteries (three 1,050 mAh, one 3,400 mAh), two DSLR batteries, a Bluetooth keyboard, a flashlight/power bank, a trailer back-up camera, and my phone, and still had 22 percent of its capacity remaining. The instructions advise recharging the Explorer 160 when it reaches 20 percent. If I head out with everything topped off, the Explorer 160 can keep me going for a three-day cruise, taking a lot of photos and video and spending evenings writing on the laptop.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly.
The Explorer 160 is available from Jackery for $159.99. I bought mine on Amazon using a $40-off coupon that appeared on the listing there. Jackery offers two larger power stations, Explorers 240 and 500, as well as two sizes of solar panels for recharging.
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