Rant: Boat Electrics

Boats and electrics don't seem to be a good mix: here is my experience of failures:

I have had "cabin cruisers" with an enclosed wheelhouse since 1989. Items exposed to the exterior are often short-lived; but even items mounted in the wheelhouse don't last long. I am fairly confident about electrics, so try to mend things that go wrong.

Exterior items

Horns Most probably cheaper electrical horns are automobile specified and so don't last on the cabin roof. I have had 3 "shorty" electrical horns fail, each after about 3 years. One I replaced with an air horn [electrical air pump inside cabin and only air pipe and plastic horn outside]. Another I replaced with a "nautical" long electrical horn which has lasted better.

BMW outdrive leg position sender. This was mounted at the side of the outdrive leg and failed. I attempted to repair it but not reliably. The failure was costly in that I started the motor with the leg up - damaging the bellows.

VHF Aerial. Mounted above the cabin roof, I have had two fail. I now fit a spare aerial as well to cope with such a loss.

Navigation Lights. The traditional sort has special bayonet bulbs and the contact can fail. This can be cleaned and repaired. The green navigation light had a "disappearing" green layer inside -- so that it showed white. After a repair using green marker pen [short - lived], I had to replace the light completely.

Radar. See Furuno below.

Engine Compartment

This is not exposed directly to sea spray but does live in a salty environment (salt-laden air enters, bilge is salt-water)

Bilge Pumps. Electrical bilge pumps located in the sump below the engine can fail. I have had two fail. One float switch also failed. Another 2 (self priming so located higher up) also failed.

Exhaust Alarm This lives on the exhaust tube (big corrugated rubber pipe) and sounds/flashes in the wheelhouse if the temperature is too high. The first one had brass contacts which snapped off; the second gave erratic false alarms because of a build-up of salt on the terminals.

Smoke Alarm I fitted a battery-operated optical smoke alarm in the engine compartment. This worked OK for a few years and then began to give false alarms.

Relay Engine start relay (located near starter motor to provide current to solenoid) failed. You can start it in an emergency by bridging the terminals with a metal spanner.

Alternator After problems with the alternator, I now carry a spare alternator so that I can swap it in should problems recur.

Engine electrics. My current engine (Perkins-Sabre M215C) will run with NO electrics -- provided you can get it started. If there is no electric power, the stop solenoid won't work; so you have to move a lever to stop it. And, of course, the diagnostics (revs, temperature and oil pressure) won't work. The engine is said to continue running as sea-water rises around it until the air inlet is below water level!

Fuel tank level sender. Failed - giving spurious readings. Repaired.

Interior items

Engine display console
  Voltmeter (VDO) mis-read after 1 year from new: annually replaced under warranty several times until I got fed up and fixed it myself. It had been modified for 24 v use by adding a parallel resistor with a variable option. This variable resistor had its contacts get corroded after about 1 year and went open circuit: causing the voltmeter to read high. I replaced it with a suitable fixed resistor soldered in: problem sorted.
  the hour-meter lost its LCD display (a known problem again caused by contacts corroded). I fixed this with a new separate hour-meter.
  The rev meter is also erratic.

some failures:
24 volt kettle; replaced
Fluorescent cabin light died
solar panel (1 of two); repaired
fridge motor replaced
24 v to 12 v dropper [resistance type] died; repaired
24 v to 12 v dropper [switch mode] died; replaced; died; replaced.
diesel heater motor failed; repaired by dealer
wheelhouse VHF erratic (dual watch not working properly)
Hand-held VHF died
Electric motor of autopilot hydraulic pump failed (after 19 years service)

Furuno This company has a reputation for "bullet-proof" kit and mine have indeed lasted well. My GPS (GP35) failed after 13 years when the contrast of the LCD screen became unreadable. My radar (1622) failed after 16 years when the scanner unit electrics gave up. [I had also had to reseat the drive belt in the scanner a few times during its life].

Dead on arrival:
I have ordered various new equipment that has been not OK on arrival. In each case it was replaced under warranty - but it would have been better to avoid that hassle. Note a common theme (since Apelco was linked to Raytheon that span off Raymarine...)
  I bought an Apelco GPS in the USA long ago and tested it there. When I used it in the UK; it decided my location was 99° South. This was hilarious: a location that is not just wrong but cannot exist. Apparently the US model couldn't cope with longitude near zero!
  The Raymarine ST5000+ autopilot came with a non-functioning relay that drove the electric hydraulic pump.
  The Raymarine RC435 chart plotter had defective NMEA output.

  On the plus side, once working, this autopilot and chart plotter have both lasted well.

Electro-mechanical items on board


so much to go wrong these days...

Motors (18)
windscreen wipers (2)
windscreen washer (1)
searchlight movers (2)
radar scanner (1)
fridge fan (1)
hydraulic steering pump (1)
bilge pumps (3)
diesel heater (fuel and air)(2)
engine starter motor (1)
capstan (1)
electric drill (1)
vacuum cleaner (1)
engine hourmeter (1)

Solenoids/relays
Engine stop (1)
Main Starter motor engager (1)
starter and earth relays (2)

Moving coil meters
Engine console (4)

Buzzers/Loudspeakers/Transducers
Sonar transducers (4)
warning buzzers/beepers (8)
radio speakers (3)
fog horn (1)

Motion senders
rudder angle (1)
fluxgate compass (1)
microphones (2)

Alternator (1)

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