This series of articles will document some of the key aspects involved in a rewiring project, including best practices as recommended by the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC). Regardless of if you are just adding a new fish finder or doing a complete rewire of a large craft, hopefully there will be some useful tips and tricks that you will learn.
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First, a disclaimer. The information provided in this series of articles is intended to be accurate and complete to the best of its potential, but as it is hard to cover each and every potential unique situation which could occur, and since we are dealing with electricity here, use the information here as a guide, do some additional reading, and if you are not sure, ask a professional. That said, with a little caution you can take on some significant wiring projects on your boat safely and enjoy the fact that you did the work.
I will not try and cover all aspects of marine electrical systems. There are a number of very good text available on the market, and if you plan to get involved in any serious scale project, I strongly recommend that you go out and purchase one or more of these and read them cover to cover, twice. I'll include some references at the end of this article with text which I have found to be useful.
DC (Direct Current) Electrical systems are what we will primarily be dealing with, at least on the boats that we typically use on Smith Mountain Lake for striper fishing. Keep in mind that some boats have AC (Alternating Current) systems as well for "shore power" - typically your larger house boats or cruisers - but if you have a battery charger on-board, you technically have an AC electrical system on your boat. DC systems can also be classified by the voltage they supply. Again, for the typical Smith Mountain Lake fishing vessel, we are generally dealing with +12V systems, though again, some larger boats may have a +24V DC system. Keep in mind that your trolling motor may be a +24V or a +36V motor, and thus you may have at least one DC system that is not +12V. The message here is that it is important to understand the various electrical systems on your boat and know that you likely have more than one type of supply voltage running around in those wires below deck. This is very important to understand so that you do not inadvertently connect circuits from one type of system to another.
So, until next time, go dig out the paperwork that came with your boat to see if you have a valid wiring diagram, and if not spend a little time digging around in your console to map out the wiring connections of your boat. In the next installment we will cover details on how to size your wiring to safely carry the desired electrical loads without undesired voltage drops.
Below are several text references which I have found useful with respect to gaining a better grasp on the in's and out's of marine electrical systems.
The 12-Volt Bible for Boats by Miner Brotherton and Edwin Sherman (Oct 21, 2002)
Boatowner's Illustrated Electrical Handbook by Charlie Wing (Aug 26, 2011)
Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual: How to Maintain, Repair, and Improve Your Boat's Essential Systems... by Nigel Calder (May 31, 2005)