Let's upgrade my Boat's AC panel
So you have decided to remove the unsightly 30-year-old, fire hazard, constantly blowing fuses, might catch my vessel on fire, AC panel. That is a great idea! If your boat is anything like the ones we see, your panel is a disaster waiting to happen. With 20 to 40 years of modifying and adding electrical components you find your AC looks like Spiderman attempted to wire your panel blindfolded. My 3-year-old’s Barbie braiding attempts look better than your panel. It’s time to upgrade but where do you begin? Here are some considerations to keep in mind when taking on this project.
First and foremost is Safety. Working with electricity is no joke. With out the proper knowledge and safety precautions you can cause serious injury or worse. So do not attempt this project unless you know what you are doing. One common problem we see a lot in the marine electrical industry is exposed conductors. This is a potential fire or short circuit hazard. If the wire vibrates loose and make contact with another bare wire it will arch, and short out or create a fire. most boats are going to have vibration so make sure the wires are tied down and tight. Another problem related to this is improper wire size. If the load amperage exceeds the wire capacity it will create heat potentially resulting in burned up shorted wiring. To avoid this risk make sure the component you are connecting to your panel has the appropriate wire and breaker. Make sure your cable is flame retardant and moisture resistant both are standard for quality marine grade cable.
It is important to protect your panel from shore power overload. Overload occurs when too much current is running to the component, in this case the panel ,and thus potentially your whole ship. There are a couple of easy safeguards to ensure this doesn’t happen. Your vessel should have an AC polarity indicator. This device lets you know if shore power is coming into the boat backward. If the polarity is incorrect it can damage your system. Another simple safeguard is transformer insulation. This will insure that your boat isn’t grounding out at any ship to shore connections such as, shore power, telephone lines, cable, etc. If you are grounded at these locations it can cause electrical shock and galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion is an electrochemical reaction that takes place when water and electricity come into contact through metal. This breaks down the metal resulting in damage to your hole. To avoid this damage make sure you have proper grounding on the vessel.
Lastly consider location of your panel and future additions. Make sure your panel has enough space to prevent overheating and stress on the wiring. If you have a compact area to work with and the wires compressed to much they will weaken and short out. Remember you are on a boat surrounded by water, make sure your panel is not going to get wet. You also want to leave room in the panel for additional breakers for any future installations. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a call to install a device that requires its own breaker and not having an open spot in the panel. 2-4 extra breakers is a safe bet to avoid a big headache in the future.
Upgrading your boat's AC panel is a project that when finished will bring peace of mind and value to your vessel. It is not a task for the faint of heart. Make sure you have done your research and know exactly what you are getting into. If you are unsure I recommend letting a professional install it. At the very least consult one before proceeding down the path of “do it yourself.” Make sure you use the proper size wire and install the appropriate transformers. Additionally ensure you have proper grounding on your vessel. If you need specific guidelines on components, amperage, voltage, size, etc consult www.abycinc.org you should be able to find the article you need to help with your project. Let us know if you need help with this project 253-224-0084