The First Sealed Marine Battery

Notice the 'Absolyte Technology' mention on the batteries.

Notice the ‘Absolyte Technology’ mention on the batteries.

What’s the most important item on your bass boat? Trolling motor? Electronics? Big engine? Livewells? How about your batteries, because without battery power, none of the previously mentioned items work, and you’re pretty much not going fishing.

While it’s fun to focus on the tourneys, lures and personalities of the sport when discussing bass fishing’s history, there are other interesting stories about how the sport got where it is today. This is one such case – the story of the first sealed marine battery. Chances are you’ve used them quite a bit over the years in your own boat, but never really thought much about it. Here’s the scoop.

While the story of the sealed automotive battery goes back to the early 70s, those batteries were all designed for very short term power needs – starting, lighting and ignition. None could handle the deep cycle applications needed to power all the things on a bass boat for hours on end, and be able to be recharged and ready to do the same thing over again the following day. That all changed in the early 80s.

The company that revolutionized the marine battery industry was called GNB Technologies. Previous to that it was called Gould, but more details on its interesting history comes later. According to a U.S. Dept of Energy (DOE) report, in the late 1970s, the DOE began working with Gould/GNB to try and lower the costs and reduce the maintenance of sealed lead-acid batteries. This was a joint effort involving both Sandia National Laboratories and Argonne National Laboratory. While initial efforts were geared toward the electric utility and electric vehicle markets, the boating market also turned out to be a beneficiary of the research.

GNB's popular non-sealed batteries at the time.

GNB’s popular non-sealed batteries at the time.

So in 1983, GNB introduced the first large capacity, sealed valve regulated lead-acid (VLRA) battery to the industrial market called ‘Absolyte.’ The marine battery featuring that technology was named the ‘STOWAWAY’. Compared to the traditional open-cell batteries in use on fishing boats at the time, a sealed battery is basically maintenance-free. No water to add every month during summer use. No removing the vent caps and risking boil-over from overcharging. Nothing to worry about if the battery gets tipped over on a very rough boat ride. In a sealed battery system, no water is consumed during use, and no explosive hydrogen gas is created. It becomes a boat owners dream – just charge it up after a day’s use and forget about it. They also claim 15% greater energy output, can’t be damaged by freezing conditions if well charged, and virtually leak free. Plus the lead used is 97% recyclable.

That first GNB STOWAWAY was a group 27 battery, similar in size to the then-traditional 105 amp-hour (A.h.) battery. They would later come out with a smaller Group 24 version, but based on their non-sealed battery sales, the larger 105 A.h. batteries were outselling their smaller 80 A.h. brethren 2:1, so there was no immediate rush. GNB already had a pretty popular line of non-sealed batteries out at the time being used by bass anglers called ‘Action Pack’ (deep-cycle) and ‘Super Crank’ (starting). There’s a good chance that you probably ran one of their batteries in your boat, either the sealed or the non-sealed version.

In May 1986, they again expanded their lineup of sealed batteries. Here’s a snippet from a press release at the time;

“GNB (Global Networked Business) Technologies is expanding its popular marine battery line with a new Stowaway™ Group 31 dual-purpose battery with added starting power and staying power. GNB is launching the Stowaway Tournament™ battery, the most powerful combination of deep cycle and cranking power on the market today.

The Stowaway Tournament, with 900 marine cranking amps and 205 minutes of reserve capacity, supplements the Stowaway 850 and 675 introduced in the early 1980s. GNB developed the dual-purpose Stowaway Tournament™ to match the sales of small to mid-size fishing boats. Sales of these boats, with limited interior space, have increased by 10% over the last several years.”

A GNB add circa 1990 featuring their sponsored pros.

A GNB add circa 1990 featuring their sponsored pros.

Of course, no bass fishing story would be complete without the marketing campaign to go with it. GNB had a stable of very well known pros featured in their battery ads that were in major fishing mags at the time, including Bill Dance, Larry Nixon, Burma Thomas, and Paul Elias.

As for the company history, it’s an interesting story in itself.

  • In the early 1980s, Gould, a publicly-held conglomerate, undertook a general corporate restructuring that involved selling off three primary divisions (an automotive battery, an industrial battery, and a metals division) of its battery business.  In order to facilitate the sale of its battery business, Gould formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, GNB Batteries, Inc. (“GNB Batteries”), to which it then transferred the business and assets of its battery business. The transfer was accomplished through a Bill of Sale and Assignment, effective January 1, 1983.
  • In 1987, an Australian company called Pacific Dunlop aquired GNB Batteries.
  • In 1994, Pacific Dunlop Batteries changed their name to GNB Technologies.
  • In 2000, Exide Technologies USA acquired the battery division of Pacific Dunlop (GNB Tech.), where the Stowaway brand still resides to this day.
  • Bill M

    Watching the ’78 Classic on Bassmaster site.. they show some good shots of the tech crews working on the boats and loading the Gould StowAways onboard.