If I had it my way, I would eliminate our AC shorepower system all together. Alas, with the gadgets and conveniences we’ve come to appreciate dockside…it’s a necessary evil we’d rather not sacrifice. The trouble is, like everything else on nearly 40 year old sailboat, the vintage shorepower set-up was sub-par by modern standards. More to the point, the more I inspected the original system in place, it became shockingly clear (pun intended) that it was “iffy” to begin with.
Enter exhibit A – the panel box pictured above that houses our residential grade circuit breakers. The only thing remotely marine-grade on it – the battleship grey paint color. Naively, we never really questioned it as our surveyor checked it off with little hesitation before running to the bank with his check. But if I had a dime for everything our surveyor missed…..
The scariest thing – the AC circuits were grounded to the panel itself. I know, I know. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT?!!! So, for the better part of 3 years, we’ve been living on a boat with an energized panel inches away from human contact. Without question, a MUST FIX! …And we should go buy a lotto ticket.
Also in need of an upgrade was the terrestrial style romex cable connecting the panel and outlets – deemed inadequate for the rigors of a marine application by ABYC standards. The first obvious difference is the wire composition; marine-grade being stranded and residential being solid cored. The second distinction being price, and you can take a guess at which is more expensive. Additionally all the terminals were simply looped/wrapped and tightened instead of being properly secured with spade terminals of appropriate gauge. That, we shall have to remedy too.
Of course in the spirit of doing something right the first time, (read re-doing something right the second time) we figured it was time for new moisture resistant outlets (15 AMP) a new, more efficient battery charger (ProMariner/ProNautic 1220P)and a galvanic isolator(ProMariner FailSafe30) to keep all our metal bits under the waterline from corroding so quickly. Hot Damn! The planned improvements would bring us out of the 19th century equipment-wise and more importantly, make the AC system as safe as possible from accidental shock and fire.
Now, my electrical expertise was somewhere on the scale between programming a VCR and engineering an interstellar robot…leaning left. I figured it best to become learn-ed in the tasks ahead of me to minimize all the horrible outcomes of faulty wiring. It suffices to say, I found several varying opinions on the subject; confusing my endeavor greatly in the beginning. In the end, I took all the rational advice and culled all the unorthodox principles to plan out the new schematic. Surely, my insurance company will be pleased.
While I awaited the arrival of all the new electrical goodies I ran all the new 12/3 AWG wire and installed the new 15 AMP outlets and GFCIs. Initially, I had planned to install 20 AMP outlets, thus the 12 AWG, however without a dishwasher, washing machine or hefty appliance aboard it seemed overkill to have t-blades on all the outlets. We certainly won’t have to worry about voltage drop. To port, there are two GFCIs on the circuit – one in the galley and one in the head. The starboard circuit has a single GFCI outlet starting the daisy chain up to the v-berth. I also took the time to secure the wire with cable clamps along its new path.
With the circuits in place it was time to replace the garage box panel with a proper marine AC panel. When I saw the Blue Sea(8043) panel with analog voltmeter I fell in deep, deep nerd love. It reminded me of the old “Smoking Spaceman Robot” toy.
In addition to the nostalgia, the 3 breakers and main switch were perfect for our needs – SOLD! A bit of smart shopping got us a deal well under the laughable MSRP. The only bummer was the panel came stock with three 15AMP breakers…which we had to pony up for two 20 AMP breakers to install for the new outlet circuits and one 10 AMP breaker for the battery charger…but again, smart shopping saves beer money.
The Blue Sea installation instructions were straight forward. I had it in and wired up in no time at all. The only bummer was the backlight for the voltmeter was not lighting up…so I may have to return the panel for one with a working backlight.
Once the panel was in place I installed the new 20 AMP/3 bank battery charger and all the corresponding wires and cables. By this point, the sun was going down so I made the decision to delay the installation of the galvanic isolator until first light. I crossed my fingers and plugged in the shorepower…no smoke, no fire. Success!
Ah. But there was one minor problem…the panel was indicating Reverse Polarity on the main breaker. I checked to make sure the source hot neutral and ground were hooked up correctly…yep. Then I remembered removing the shorpower receptacle a while back and checked to make sure it was wired correctly…nope! All it took to fix was switch the hot and common wires and we were golden, just like the sun setting upon a long, but productive day. Jackie was thrilled to have working outlets again!
I placed a call to Blue Sea Systems a few days later and informed them of the faulty voltmeter light. There tech asked a few questions to verify that I had installed everything correctly. Then, without hassle or proof of defect they sent out a new AC voltmeter free o’ charge and it arrived in just a few days. I took 8 minutes to swap with the in-op meter and when I turned the juice back on I witnessed the full splendor of all the lights illuminated as intended. I was grateful I didn’t have to remove the panel for exchange and the quickness of Blue Sea Systems customer service will ensure more purchases from your truly in the near future…possibly a DC panel.