Re: lithium battery warning

Bill Kinney

People frequently describe insurance companies as "risk adverse," and while that's kind of true, what they really are is adverse to unknown or uncertain risks that they can't plug into their financial models.

In the absence of guidance (so far) from the ABYC on marine installations of lithium systems the underwriters do not know what a safe lithium system looks like.  Certainly if you go to any of the cruiser's forums you can read about people buying the cheapest possible, unbranded, Chinese made, lithium cells and pairing them with a home brew BMS. Given the amount of energy involved, I KNOW some of these system are very dangerous, but like the insurance underwriters, I don't know which ones.

It's not even a comment on the relative risk of Lithium vs Lead Acid.  Certainly there are loss risk associated with a standard FLA battery installation.  The difference is the marine industry KNOWS what a dangerous FLA battery install looks like, and every good surveyor can spot one.  The inherent risks of a lead-acid battery system are also well know from many decades of experience and are baked into the cost calculation for an insurance policy.  Right now, the lithium world is very much the wild west, and there is no way for the insurance underwriter to sort out the good, from the bad and the ugly.  At least for the foreseeable future, they can just say "No, Thank you."

There is also rational thinking behind making exceptions for systems installed by boat manufacturers, or professional installers using USA built parts.  If there is a latent defect in the product or installation that causes a loss, there is somebody else to share the financial pain with.  If that Chinese BMS installed by the boat owner causes a boat fire because of a basic design flaw nobody will never collect anything from them.

It sounds like at least some of these underwriters are waiting for a standard to issue from the ABYC so they can have a way of selecting safer installations, and avoiding those that none of us would want on our boat!

Bill Kinney
SM160, Harmonie
Annapolis, MD, USA

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