Updated July 2021
I get many enquiries about stay alive decoders, many people want to improve the performance of their dcc fitted locomotives by upgrading the decoder to the category which has been defined by the dcc industry as “stay alive”.
The principal is relatively sound, the idea being that because dcc control is much more sensitive to pickup performance than the older analogue systems, some form of independent power storage which will release power to the locomotives motor when pickup contact is interrupted will smooth loco performance on awkward sections of track.
To benefit from the advantages of dcc control you need to have locomotives with good pickup performance regardless of the gauge you model. A minimum of 6 pickup points is the advice I have given for nearly 10 years and despite the advances that have occurred in the last few years on the control side I would not change this advice. Model pickup performance is no better now than it was 10 years ago. The secret to good dcc running is good and numerous pickups, clean locomotive wheels, and clean tracks with minimal undulations. Sticking to these rules will provide all the performance you need even on the smallest n gauge shunters(most have 6 pickups) and insulfrog points.
I have seen many locomotives fitted with “stay alive” decoders which ran poorly, all have responded to pickup management, equally I have never seen a locomotive which ran poorly respond to the upgrade of a “stay alive” decoder, but they will all respond to pickup management
There are however a few scenarios I have found where the principal of “stay alive” will make a difference to a locomotives performance.
The first is where where you are using a decoder with the appropriate onboard circutry to accept a capacitor of sufficient size. Zimo offer the super capacitor, ESU offer the powerpack and both of these make a difference offering up to 6000μF and this applies in any gauge.
The second is by using a an energy storage kit like the ones supplied by Zimo and the similar Lifelink kits offered by YouChoos. These can have the addition of up to 3 extra tantalum capacitors and when used in conjunction with Zimo decoders can be effective. Essentially the model will run on for a second or two when power is switched off proving the system to be effective. It doesn’t work in all cases and tends to work more effectively with Zimo decoders that ESU for example. The kits can be fitted to most Zimo decoders so it is worth asking if you are looking for a sound fitting using Zimo. If there is room to fit a kit it is probably worth the extra expense depending on the model chassis configuration.
If you have questions on adding stay alive to conversions you would like to do please ask