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An Electrical System Odyssey

"M-Word 2001" (scary isn't it! Maybe I should rename the boat HAL!)

Copy Write10/14/2001©   Updated 12/9/2005

Disclaimer      Electrical Disclaimer     Special Note     E- Mail

DC Power                Solar Power

DC Power

Trying to get ready for a Memorial Day weekend trip I find some problems with a cabin light and both running lights. After messing with the cabin wiring I wonder if breaking my ground wires into two zones would make working on the boat any simpler. I have a spaghetti mix of wiring going into the main panel box. If I installed a grounding bus forward in the cabin for a common ground then only one main grounding wire going through the conduit. Might make tracing wires simpler.

I have learned cable ties aren't good for wire bundling they are a pain to cut off and you risk cutting into the wires if not very careful

Night Sailing requires protection of night vision. Red cabin lights seem to be the best way to achieve this. I have heard of other sailors installing a second set of red lighting from marine lights to automotive red running lights in the cabin. I want to keep wiring to a minimum and don't want to run separate lights for night sailing. My solution is to buy a roll of auto tail light lens cover tape. The stuff you stick on to a broken taillight before you can get the lens replaced. The boat came with an incandescent cabin light. Over the years the plastic diffuser has aged. The light given off is very yellow. I have a portable florescent light I usually use. The cabin light lens pops out easily. I cut the plastic bottom out of the lens leaving the sides to pop into the light fixture. Carefully I cut and place strips of red tape over the cover. If I need normal lighting I can pop the red cover out. Sailing at night it does a good job of illuminating the cabin with light spilling out into the cockpit if needed. I wasn't sure how much was needed, two small rolls cost $4 and my night lighting is complete.

October 14, 2001: After the work I did preparing for the Memorial Day weekend trip, I decided there should be a way to simplify the wiring. Moving the batteries forward also dictated some changes. Two 16' lengths of 10-gauge wire run from the switch box forward on the starboard side. The red wire goes thru a few holes and into the battery box in the v-berth. The ground wire goes forward to a buss bar. A 10 gauge grounding wire runs from the battery to the buss bar. The grounding wire for the forward running light, masthead light cabin light and a general outlet using cigarette adapters runs to the buss bar. So far I like this because there is only one main ground wire running the length of the boat. The hot wires still go to the switch box.

A marine battery was purchased as a dedicated battery. About a month later my pickup was totaled the marine battery I keep in the truck was still good so it seems I now have two dedicated batteries. I have heard all kinds of pros and cons of hooking several batteries parallel. At this time "Don't Ask" still has basic electrical needs. I have decided to keep each battery independent of the other. I may at a later time install a battery switch. For the short term I will just manually change the leads.


Solar Power

May 22, 2001: I have played with this and played with this idea for a while. With a week long trip scheduled for 10/2001, solar power will not be the ultimate answer to recharging the batteries while cruising but should help. For around $65 at most any auto parts store solar panels can be purchased to at least provide a trickle charge. Some panels will do a bit more. Mount 2 to 3 of them together and enough juice to not really recharge in 8-12 hours but at least help. One panel for long-term battery maintenance would work well. Over charging concerns need some looking into and there are plenty of doo dads to handle that. Looking at the West Marine web site I find some panels the exact same as the auto store stuff price and all. Then they have the big expensive panels, probably what I need for cruising but overkill for daily use plus a price that chokes my wallet.

May 24, 2001: I have decided to take the solar plunge whoopee more fun I bought two solar panels 350 mAMPS / 12 Volts / 5 Watts at an auto parts store. For the same money I could have purchased a bigger one at West Marine. I didn't do enough research to see if the West Marine panel for about $125 was complete. The panels I bought have the one-way diode to prevent reverse current at night. I was a bit paranoid about line drop but I don't think (there is that word again) line drop will be an issue. We have all kinds of ways to rationalize our decisions. Here is my thinking

Hurricanes are a fact of Florida life (even paradise has a price) the longest we have had hurricane related electricity loss so far has been a week. During that week I kept some very basic lighting and a fan running off my truck battery. The DC power hungry stuff on a boat sometimes can be used at home. After all a depth finder does real good at determining how deep the bathtub is. At most I would need a trickle charge during the week for the boat battery (by now you have guessed I will be installing some kind of on board battery system), KISS is slipping out the window!

Once a dedicated battery is installed one panel can be left up and running to keep the battery fresh. The other in storage and used for extended trips. My thought here was two smaller panels would be better than one larger one. The larger one would actually be great for cruising needs but then you have to buy regulators to prevent overcharging at the dock.

Back home with the new toys, wire nuts were used to connect a panel to the plug. During summer months I keep a fan in the truck. Once outside and the panel propped to catch the sun I plugged in the fan. The blades would turn but nothing useful. With both panels the fan would blow not at full speed but more than enough to move some air. I use this same fan on the boat for extended trips. If I don't need the battery charged during the day I can run the fan off the two panels.

The quickest place to mount the solar panels is the sliding pop top. At this time the mounting is a temp quick fix, a piece of plywood. Not elegant but it will get me thru my annual October cruise. I have some ideas to modify the pop-top hatch but that is another idea for another time. Wiring was installed inside the PVC pipe used as a wire conduit for the hot side of each panel. The ground wires where connected to a grounding pigtail and installed to the grounding wires inside the switch box. It will be interesting to see how the dual batteries with solar panels hold up over a week of cruising

October 24 2001: The annual trip using the solar panels went very well. Due to weather concerns the trip was three days and nights. Usage was about the same as with my October 2000 trip. I did bring a small AC plug in CD player run off a converter. The cell phone was not plugged into the DC to AC converter much. After the trip was over the battery charger showed a 50% charge remaining. I used one battery for the duration and had one solar panel hooked to it. Battery usage was close to last year where I had a 25% reading. Another trip I will try both panels connected to the active battery.

Mounting the solar panels on the sliding pop top was a compromise. Under sail the solar panel was often in the shadow of the boom and main sail. I am of the delusion a solar panel mounted to my bimini would catch more sunlight.


Special Note

I hang out on occasion at the Trailer Sailor Message Board ,they are a pretty good bunch of folks
In the course of a conversation some fellow sailors who seem to know what they are talking about expressed reservations about my single ground wire idea. One of the concerns related to the risk of the main ground being compromised causing the failure of multiple appliances hooked to the master ground. Even with my limited expertise I can agree with that assessment.
Their recommendation was to use individual grounds going back to the switch box. By using individual grounds most that would happen would be the failure of the particular appliance rather than all the appliances attached to the ground.
Sail boating seems to be about balancing compromises. So far I have been very happy with the current set up and haven't experienced any problems. The big compromise here seems to me about another point for corrosion to enter over reduced numbers of wires running all over the place.
My current configuration does not bury the wiring or the grounding buss bar in some out of the way place impossible to access. If you chose to consider something along the same lines as my set up, do your self a favor.
Design your system for easy access!
If you are out at night and have electrical problems, can you access everything easy!
Also remember I am not an electrician


The information on this page is not intended as a "definitive" guide to sailing .
Rather it is a collection of things that work for me also ideas I have learned from other sources.
The information is specific to my 22' swing keel South Coast Seacraft Eclipse.
The sailing area is local bays and ICW
Use at your own risk
Any good sailing resource book should provide a comprehensive review of sailing theory.

Electrical Disclaimer

I am not a qualified electrician and make no representation to being such.
This is my personal experience only and not intended to advise anyone on how to set up marine electrical systems.
If you choose to use my experiences as a guide keep in mind you do so at your own risk.
I am not responsible for any damage you may incur using this information.
The standard advise is to find someone who knows what they are doing and is qualified to do it.

I am neither!


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