I'm trying to find an electrical panel for my boat. I want to upgrade to a 50-amp service, and I have limited space. I probably need a panel that is custom-made, approximately 9-1/2 inches x 15-1/2 inches, the distribution panel has 13, 12-volt breakers and four, 120-volt breakers. This includes a main breaker, a 12-volt and a 120-volt meter. My battery switch is located on the bulkhead, not the panel—I would greatly appreciate any suggestions you might have.
Tom Wood responds:
With such specific size and breaker requirements, you have limited maneuvering room in selecting a new panel. I could find no stock, off-the-shelf panel that exactly matches your needs. But here are some alternatives:
Many companies, notably Blue Seas Systems, make a wide variety of electrical panels—both AC, DC, and combinations of each. These are available in horizontal and vertical orientations, with or without gauges or battery switches. It is common to put separate panels and sub-panels together to suit the needs of a particular boat.
The Blue Seas part number 8068 is a 13-circuit DC panel with voltmeter and ammeter for three battery banks. It is 7.5 inches high and 10.5 inches wide. Add to this the Blue Seas No. 8087 8-position blank panel at 7.5 inches high and 5.25 wide—into this blank panel you can insert a No. 7242 double-pole, 50-amp main AC breaker and up to six additional single-pole breakers to handle the loads to the AC appliances. If you then add a Blue Seas No. 8014 dual meter mounting panel (7.5 inches high and 5.25 inches wide) with a No. 9630 50-amp AC ammeter and a No. 9353 150VAC voltmeter, you have everything you wanted. Side by side, the three panels could be put in a frame 7.5 inches high and 21 inches wide or, alternatively, 15 inches high and 15.75 inches wide. This is only one way out of a half-dozen combinations of panels and sub-panels to arrive at the number of breakers you want.
The advantage to working with stock components: (1) you can buy them off the shelf without waiting—the SailNet Store carries most of the items in stock, (2) parts for future additions or replacement will be easy to locate, and (3) the price is the best you’ll find.
Now, if you want what you want, and the stock parts just don’t fit the bill, you have two options left. You can buy the gauges, breakers, and buss bars and build your own panel. I did this once on a piece of teak-veneered ply and it was gorgeous when I got done putting six coats of varnish on it. But if I valued my time at more than a dollar an hour, the final price probably rivaled something NASA would build.
The other option is to sketch up what you want and FAX it to a SailNet representative to get a price on a custom panel from Paneltronics. Paneltronics will build you virtually anything you want to ABYC or CE standards and SailNet has the experience to get the job done right for you. But the process takes time, and you need to convince yourself that the exact number of breakers in the exact right size configuration is worth double the money. Best of luck to you.