Marine electrical systems made simple

Marine electrical systems can be complex or better still simple.  The complexity of a marine electrical system and installation varies by boat type, boat size and often how big the actual budget allows it to become.  In the end, the basic underlying principles are much the same regardless of which boat type you buy.  Problems always arise when boat and marine electrics systems are not cared for, badly maintained, or have undocumented changes done by the boat owner before you.  Most boats have a 12 volt system. And over a period of many years we have had 24 volt systems32 volt systems, 36 volt systems and then nearly 42 volt systems and we are rapidly adopting 48 volt systems and this will impact boat electrical designs, from battery technology and charging to powering different voltage devices and equipment 

The average cruising yacht, fishing boat, motorboat and sailboat is now very high technology, with almost everything having electronic control circuits and  monitoring imbedded into the circuits.  The electronics and computer technology age has taken over with many boats now having boat electrics systems that include smart battery chargers, smart alternator regulators and smart battery switches, smart marine electronics transducers  and systems that have smart phone connectivity. Then we have touchpad electronic switch panels and microprocessor controlled inverters along with electronic LED lighting, smart instrument networks, multi-function terminals. Of course, they need to have a boat and marine electrics system and a reliable boat wiring system to support it all.

The 4th Edition of the Marine Electrical Electronics Bible Get your copy and start becoming self sufficient and save money on expensive technician callouts.

About Marine Electrical Systems

If you want to know more about your systems invest in a copy of the Marine Electrical and Electronics Bible. Click on the link to see the contents of the latest edition. Now in its 4th Edition. Whether you have a new boat or are buying a used boat, adding a boat accessory to your fishing boat or sailing yacht, the basic marine electrical systems rules remain the same. The electrical power system required to supply equipment is usually a misunderstood subject, and it is the foundation for reliable equipment operations and is covered elsewhere.

I want to change the dangerous illusion that boat electrics and vehicle systems are similar. As we all know, there are no 24 hour road services offshore, and safety is the prime factor, and this depends on good systems design and installation. Whether it is in France, England, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the United States, the same boat electrics problems are found, and the forums show that clearly. 

What Marine Electrical Systems Standards are there?

Small boat marine electrics systems should be installed as far as practicable to comply with one of the principal standards or recommendations in use, and most standards are similar or overlap although some may ask for higher standards on particular systems than others.  You should consider any of the standards as the minimum level required for marine electrical installations. These include American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC).  Standards and Recommended Practices for Small Craft.  The United States Coast Guard. The European Recreational Craft Directive (UK and Europe).   I am sure there a few others as well, and the trend by some to treat small boat electrics as auto systems finished long ago. Great information on the up-to-date Boat Wiring Regulations.  Rules and regulations have to cover a wide variety of boat types, construction and materials, so there is no neat and precise fit and when looking at each particular boat installation context is everything.  Many boats have legacy electrical systems, with remnants of older installations that can be decades of additions and modifications. Sometimes it is easier and more practical to rip the old system out and start again which is what I am doing on my own boat. Even that is a challenge for me as well.

Boat and Marine Electrics Systems

Marine electrical systems include the following primary elements.  First there is the actual boat wiring or the loom, which connects all the devices and equipment to the switch panel. The boat switch panels incorporate all the circuit breakers, fuses and control switches along with meters such as the voltmeter and ammeter. Then we have boat lighting and boat navigation lights which have a range of requirements for consideration. While these are all DC boat electrics systems, we also have the issue of shore power, along with other AC power systems that include boat inverters, generators and so on.  Underlying all of that is the actual installation of the wires and cables, and how to install them so as to remain reliable and maintain the mechanical integrity required. The acronym to observe with any boat wiring is the KISS principle. It is astounding and hard to understand why people with absolutely no knowledge of electrical systems experiment with the wiring on their boats. It usually violates most rules and recommendations, accepted work practices and is grossly over complicated.

Boat Electrics Forum

This boat electrics forum is for boat owners to post boat and marine electrical systems problems that they can’t solve or that require input from other boat owners and myself. Where possible I will try and answer them, or someone else might do that once posted. So visit the boat and marine electrical systems forum, post your problem or look at previous posts as you may find the answer.  More on boat electrics.