Project Boat

Deferred maintenance has accumulated to the point where several vital systems have become unreliable. Electrical, fresh water, and engine issues all require attention. I decided to tackle electrical first because it is central to all the others.

Electrical issues include:

  • Faulty shore power connection that was not originally designed for N. America
  • Worn out AC and DC circuit breakers
  • Batteries that are poorly located and nearly dead
  • Numerous short circuits and wire terminations without proper crimps or heat shrink

On the bright side, there are plenty of serviceable components including VHF radio, instrumentation, radar, chart plotter, pumps, solar panel, and DC refrigeration. All of these require battery power and the batteries are unmaintainable without steady AC power to the battery charger. The critical path starts with safe, reliable AC shore power that can remain connected while the boat is unattended. This will pave the way for new batteries and proper battery maintenance along with an AC heater to keep the cabin dry during the winter.

After a lot of technical study, information and advice from experienced boaters and service people, and endless review of product brochures, I have a plan for refitting the AC electrical system.

The new system will begin with a SmartPlug shore power inlet. SmartPlug’s combination of features are a vast improvement over the current shore power standard. Better electrical contact, superior weatherproofing, a shape that is easier to connect, and thermal shutoff built into the inlet all contribute to a safer and more convenient shore power connection. It’s a vast improvement over the the current round plugs that have been in use for over 70 years. SmartPlug’s ”dual configuration” cordsets will connect the new inlet to standard shore power terminals found in marinas. We’ll carry both 25′ and 50′ cordsets for choice in size and redundancy.

The inlet will connect by a short run to a 30 amp ELCI cirbuit breaker. This device is literally a life saver and as of 4 months ago is a standard requirement on new boats. Here’s an article that explains why every boat with AC shore power should be equipped with a residual current circuit breaker: A Preventable Dockside Tragedy by Kevin Ritz. Just in case you don’t read Kevin’s article, a word to the wise… never get in the water in a marina or swim near any boat that may be connected to shore power.

The ELCI breaker will be part of a custom panel from Blue Sea Systems. Blue Sea offers a flexible, modular panel system that allows one to select the size of panel and exact components to include. Mine will be a 1 x 3 panel containing the 30 amp ELCI main breaker, a four position distribution module, and a vessel systems monitor.

The ELCI will feed the four position distribution module with separate circuits for battery charger, water heater, and two outlets. Volts, amps, and cycles will be monitored by the Blue Sea Vessel Systems Monitor. This device is capable of further monitoring multiple battery banks, tanks, and bilge pump activity and triggering an alarm if any value exceeds its nominal range.

While I had wanted to include an isolation transformer for added safety, flexibility and power conditioning, ultimately I left it out of the plan for two reasons. First, it would be difficult to meet the space requirements, especially for air cooling clearance surrounding the unit. Second, the transformer would make an audible hum which would be annoying. Instead I’ll include a galvanic isolator.

Step one is installing the SmartPlug inlet, which will require cutting a hole in the boat and adding a backing plate for reinforcement and a good seal. I don’t relish the idea of cutting a hole in the boat and have no way of making a backing plate myself so will need some help.

Main information resources:

  • Nigel Calder: Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual
  • Charlie Wing: Boatowner’s Illustrated Electrical Handbook
  • Online product brochures
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