Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Outback Inverters - Not Anymore

 This earlier article about inverter power boost is background for this article.  As I mentioned, my power system design relies heavily on inverter power boost to help manage loads when they temporarily spike above the available shore power or generator capacity.  This almost completely eliminates the need to do manual load management on the boat, and was a mandatory feature in any inverter I was going to select for use on 6837.

When evaluating inverters, Victron was high on the list.  They have power boost, and I knew people who were actively using it, so I was confident that it worked.  But I found it incredibly frustrating and time consuming trying to find all the info I needed on Victron's products.  It's not that the info isn't available.  Quite the contrary.  They are the most open inverter vendor that I have encountered.  But it's a maddening treasure hunt to try to find it all.  Most vendors have a product web page with links to all the pertinent technical information.  Victron has that, but it only includes links to a superficial manual, and a few other scraps of info.  Everything else is scattered across three or four different web sites (Victron.com, Disqus, Victron Community, Victron Professional) with no organization whatsoever.  And some documents are PDFs, while others are just HTML web pages which makes assembling a document library very difficult.  In fact, it's something I shouldn't have to do at all.  The manufacturer should do all that for me to aid in selling their product.

I spent weeks pouring over manuals, web pages, searching, learning something, searching more, trying to figure out how to piece together a system that would meet my needs.  At the same time, I discovered that Outback Power had a new version of their inverters that now included the power boost function.  I had well over a decade of experience with outback products, including their inverters on N6062.  They have one of the most confused user interfaces that I have ever encountered, but once set up they just work, and work well.  I had previously rejected them because they didn't have power boost, but with this new revision they now met my requirements.  By this point, I was so fed up with trying to figure out Victron that I decided to switch my focus to Outback. 

Outback Features from 2017 Datasheet

Having been schnookered before over advertised features that I later find don't really work, I decided to check out Outback a little more closely.  I found a user forum, and was able to confirm that people were using the product and that this power boost feature was working for them.  Great, decision made.

Four Outback VFXR Inverters Powering N6837


Dial forward to commissioning of N6837, and I had a bunch of issues getting the Outback system working properly that in the end turned out to be software bugs.  No problem, that happens, and all seemed to be working OK after updates.  Well, not entirely, it turns out.

After taking delivery, we moved to BC and spent a few days out in the Gulf Islands.  During the second day at anchor, it was time to recharge the batteries, so I started up the generator.  The inverters connected to the generator, started charging, then disconnected a few minutes later.  Huh?  This had worked fine on shore power.  After a bunch of messing around, I found the only way to keep the inverters connected to the generator was to run them in "Generator Mode" rather than "Support" mode.  Generator Mode is more accepting of different generator wave forms, but as the mode names imply, it means that the Support feature isn't active.

I also discovered another problem which is that the voltage sensing in the Outbacks is very sloppy.  For starters, voltage settings are only in increments of 0.2V, and sensing doesn't appear to be more accurate  than +/- 0.2V.  There also is no remote sensing of battery voltage, so inverter load or charge current will induce further voltage inaccuracies.  With lead batteries this doesn't really matter, but with LFP it does.  I found that when charging off of shore power at a lower charger rate, the batteries would charge to full just fine.  But if I charged off the generator at a much higher rate, the outbacks would think the batteries were full well before they really were.  And if I adjusted the charge voltage for the higher charge rate, when I charged slower it would overcharge the batteries.  There was just no setting that worked well in both cases.

But wait, there's more.  The inverters claimed to put out 82A of charge current each.  With 4 inverters, that means 328A of charge current, assuming I have the requisite AC input power, which I do.  Well, I never saw more than 250A-260A of charging current out of those inverters, so that wasn't living up to specs either.

The charging issues were frustrating, but not having power boost mode was a killer.  After much back and fourth with Outback, their insistence that I had a crappy generator, they finally fessed up that the boost function didn't work with stacked inverters.  WTF?  OK, I can actually be patient, so I offered to work with them to get it fixed, told them that my boat was just a short distance from their headquarters and that I'd be happy to have them aboard to instrument and sort this out.  Nope, they said that engineering was in the middle of a new product and wouldn't spend any time on this.  I pointed out that this feature was prominently advertised and that I built this system on the presumption that they weren't just making that up.  Nope, they couldn't help me.  OK then, I said I wanted to return all the equipment for a full refund.

Outback Datasheet Continues to Advertise "Generator Assist" in 2022 Even Though They Admit it Doesn't Work.  This Datasheet is still on their web site as of today, Jan 23, 2024.

That started a 6 month cat and mouse game to get return approval, tear out all the Outback equipment (at my expense), convince them that I had returned the equipment, and actually get my money back.  Not once in the whole process did they do what they said they would do, respond when they said they would, or in most cases ever respond at all.  I uniformly had to hound them multiple times to get any response at all.  In the end I told them that the next email was going to their parent company CEO, with a CC to their legal department and the SEC.  I pointed out that they are a public company prominently advertising that they have an important competitive feature, when that feature doesn't work, and they know it doesn't work.  I'm no attorney, but that sounds like securities fraud if I've ever seen it.  A couple of weeks later I finally got a refund check.

Bye Bye Outback


Regardless, to this day they continue to claim they have this feature.  Here is what's on the web site today (Jan 23, 2024) for the VFXR products, still highlighting Generator Assist as a feature even though they know it doesn't work.

Web Site Still Highlights Generator Assist

Needless to say, I'm done with Outback products, and they have earned a well deserved place on the Wall of Shame.


  1. Excellent overview and analysis! Thank you for publishing.

  2. Thanks I was about to try them out, now I’m back to Victron and running the generator

  3. I built a VFXR 3500 into a commercial product and it was...fine. Once configured properly, it worked well but I also ran into the voltage sensing issue. In the end, I was forced to massively up-size the battery cables to minimize voltage drop.

  4. I have no problem with finding the info on Victron, and all emails are returned quickly with the information

  5. I have the same experience with Victron as you, they have so much info but so difficult to find it. Anytime I have an issue, it's never in the manual and their tech support is horrible to the end user. I have never been able to get the boost feature to work with my quattros either, I think that whole idea is vaporware. VE also has a problem talking to a N2K network without causing errors, I finally had to disconnect all VE gear from my N2K network. I am currently having a problem where if there is an overload, the inverters shut down, but upon reset, they won't charge the batteries any more. i have to go into the programming of the quattros and reload the parameter file to get them charging again. Annoying while on charter.

  6. I completely disagree with the statements about Victron. They are a very reputable company with good quality products. Their website (victronenergy.com) is well organised. You can find the manual in PDF for nearly every product at the Products page or the Downloads page. At that page you will also find examples of System schematics, Technical information such as their The Energy Unlimited Book with extensive explanations about batteries, power boost, etc. The few documents that are in HTML offer on their page the possibility to export the text to PDF. The Discus site is their old site for community support. At the new site (https://community.victronenergy.com/index.html) you will find a large support community (including Victron staff) that offer users with questions or problems, many practical solutions. At the Victron Professional site there are many videos, list of events, a blog and you can follow many online courses and webinars. With their communication GX products Victron has really nailed it. The GX acts as a central brain to a Victron system and controls all connected equipment. With the GX and an onboard internet connection you can through the VRM website monitor remotely your full electrical system on board and even remotely update the firmware or remotely change the configuration setting. The GX also has a NMEA2000 connection and some NMEA2000 data (voltages/amps/SoC of all connected equipment, temperature, tanklevels is forwarded to the VRM portal. At my 55ft motoryacht I have a full Victron system, including DC distribution box, 8000 W Quattro inverter/charger, Venus GX, MPPT solar charge controller and I use the VRM portal for remote monitoring. I installed the complete system myself and found all necessary information at the Victron website or in their manuals. A few times I was greatly assisted by the Victron community. I also did follow the necessary online courses at the Victron professional website. More information about the electricity on board MY Xanthiona, you can find at www.xanthiona.com.

    1. This is MVTangelwood replying. For some reason Blogger doesn't think I'm logged in for comments, even though I'm logged in and can change stuff. Sigh.

      Anyway, I agree that there is a wealth of info available from Victron, and there is now a lot more pertinent info linked to the product page than there was in the past. About 3-4 years ago I brought this up with one of the Victron guys at METS and he showed me how to search on my phone. Don't worry, I actually know how to do that, but what if you don't know what you are searching for, and just want a run through of what the product can do. In my mind, I'll pretend our discussion helped motivate them to link more to the product page.

      I'll also say that when I recently decided to upgrade the inverter system in my house, I went with Victron inverters, solar charge controllers, etc.

      That said, I stand by the down sides that I listed, both in terms of product and support.

  7. @Jurjen: if you are located in Europe, that might explain the difference in service that you received. Can you confirm the dealership you went through? In the boating world, there is such a wide variety of perspectives on Victron—in our case, in Australia, and going through Outback Marine here (not the same company as Peter went through) we also got excellent service. Many others have not.

    A more important point, to me, is what Peter reported here about the inverter boost feature not working as advertised seems unambiguous. Does that feature work for you?

    1. @Kit: I bought most of the Victron equipment from the Stroomwinkel in Bodegraven, the Netherlands. I installed everything myself. What I did not mention above is that my system also includes 2 Victron Smartshunts, which are also connected to the Venus GX. One is for monitoring the amps from my 150 Amps alternator and the other is for monitoring the voltage and amps from the wind generator. Everything visible by remote monitoring at the VRM portal or app.

      The boost function (PowerAssist as Victron calls it) of the Quattro works fine when connected to shore power, I have only seen it kick in a few times when switching on too many appliances. According to the Victron manual it also works when using the generator, I can't verify this as the Xanthiona has no generator. I rely on my batteries and my 150 Amps alternator. I can ask a fellow boater who has a similar yacht with generator. I know he only has a light Quattro, so he runs his generator quite often. I'll get back to you.

      I specifically installed a Quattro inverter/charger because it has a special feature that if there is no shore power connected to AC in 2, or no generator power connected to AC in 1, then AC out 2 will be disconnected. This is a special feature to save the batteries when on the way on the water. So I split my electrical system in light and heavy duty users, light users (lights, electrical toilets, 2 stove induction cooker, all electrical sockets) are connected to AC out 1 and heavy duty users (oven, microwave, dishwasher and washing machine) to AC out 2. That way when cruising, I cannot deplete the batteries by accident. Only when back in the harbour with shore power connected or at anchor if I would have a generator (future wish) can I run the heavy duty users.

    2. Kit here. That two-mode (light and heavy) sounds perfect, and is similar to what we do (12V house loads fed with two simple golf-card 6V 225Ah batteries which one small solar panel tops up) and 240 loads (like yours, microwave, ceramic cooktop, and occasional heavy loads like a heat gun, and the battery charger) for which we run the generator, never more than a couple of hours.
      But we intend to install a larger solar system, and my partner has indicated that next summer, she wants AC! So we will have to put in a serious system, and that's why I am so interested in your and Tanglewood's systems. Do please let me know of your friend's Quattro works as advertised.

  8. Just to be clear, the Power Assist/Boost feature doesn't work in teh Outback VFXR products. In the Victron Quattro (and presumably other Victron inverters), it works great.

  9. The newer off-grid folks are making amazing inroads. I look forward to the day when stories like this are a distant joke about how the industry changed and moved past the old guard players with stagnant technology.


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