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Old 05-02-2014
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What to do about a 220V electrical system?

My friend is considering purchasing a boat coming out of a charter fleet that has a 220V electrical system, for use in the southeastern US and Bahamas. I know folks taking 110V boats to the Med buy step-down transformers so they can run battery chargers, tools, toasters, etc., but what do the Euros do when they come to the US? I imagine it would be a bit of a PITA to reconfigure everything for 110V? Anybody with firsthand experience care to chime in? Thanks!
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Old 05-02-2014
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Re: What to do about a 220V electrical system?

To change 110v ac to 220v ac you would use a converter. A very simple solution.
Buying an ex-bareboat is by far a much more difficult thing. There are a multitude of problems even the best surveyor may miss. Extreme caution is the watch word here.
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Old 05-03-2014
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Re: What to do about a 220V electrical system?

Because the amperage at 220 volts is half as much as in North America it is likely that the AC wiring is too small a gauge and will have to be changed throughout the boat. This can be pretty time consuming and expensive.
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Old 05-03-2014
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Re: What to do about a 220V electrical system?

Capta - I think my friend understands the challenges and risks of buying an ex-charterboat, and that's his decision. It seems to me installing a transformer would only be part of the solution, because of shore power outlets and cords, and US (110V) gadgets (hair dryers, toasters, tv's, yadda, yadda).
mitiempo - I understand that a full 220 to 110 volt conversion would require going to a larger gauge wire due to the higher amperages of 110V, I'm hoping to hear from folks who've lived through the same issue who can report firsthand the hassles, costs and what worked well/what didn't work well for a 38-40' sailboat.
Thanks for both of your replies, anybody else?
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Old 05-03-2014
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Re: What to do about a 220V electrical system?

Quote:
Originally Posted by capta View Post
To change 110v ac to 220v ac you would use a converter. A very simple solution.
...
Does this allow you to switch between the two? Our next boat will more than likely have 220V but we don't want to change it as it won't be sailed in just the U.S.

Looking for an answer to the original question as well.
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Old 05-03-2014
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Re: What to do about a 220V electrical system?

A North American 15 amp circuit @120 volts is only 7 or 8 amps @ 220 volts. European wiring is a lot smaller - one of the advantages of a higher voltage. This makes it difficult to convert to US standards as the wiring is too small a gauge for the amperage we require. It is much easier to convert a US boat to European standards.
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Old 05-03-2014
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Re: What to do about a 220V electrical system?

Why do all of my posts seem to start with "it depends..."

The most important check is the wire gauge for the inlet and branch circuits. The inlet wire must be at least 7 gauge and the branch circuit wires need to be a least 10 gauge. (see note at bottom) It is possible you will need 4 gauge wire on the inlet - more below. Remember that thicker wires have smaller numbers (strange but true.) Your friend may get lucky as some boat manufactures run internal wire for 110v systems on all their boats and then just install the appropriate hardware for 110v or 220v. If the wiring does not meet these specifications he has two choices:
1a. Sail the boat to Europe and enjoy life
1b. Run away, run away...
Replacing the internal wiring will be both very expensive or if he is a DYI kind of person a royal pain in the posterior.

2. Check the AC circuit breakers. Since you are dropping voltage they will be too small by half so they will need to be replaced.

3. Replace the 220v shore power input with a 110v shore power input. If the 220V input is for 16 amps that would be a 30 amp shore power input. If the 220v is a 32 amp inlet that would translate to a 50 amp inlet (and 4 gauge wire for the inlet. Maintain the polarity color coding - brown or black to black; blue to white; yellow-green to green.

4. He could replace the outlets on the branch circuits but an easier solution is to purchase plug converters from a travel store. He should be paying less then $5 for a plug that changes the pins from Europe to US.

5. He may need to replace the battery charger. Newer battery chargers might be "world chargers". These are chargers that accept in input voltage of about 90v to 250v and 50Htz to 60Htz. If that is what is installed he is home free. New battery chargers run from $100 up to about $600.

6. If the boat has a 220v gen set he has two options - a step down transformer or replacing the generator on the gen set. The second option is a better choice - I would contact the manufacturer for advice.

7. Now the most expensive parts:
7a.The inverter. If the boat has an inverter or inverter charger you are in for a replacement. Most inverters only accept a limited input voltage - 110v or 220v. And the inverter on the boat is going to output 220v. He is going to have to replace the inverter. Again costs vary but we are talking in the range of $500 to $2000 for a new inverter charger. My preference is Victron Energy (Dutch) but Magnum (Nederland) has a good reputation too. Remember - friends don't let friends by Xantrex.
7b. Air conditioning. Again - if the unit runs off AC - as most do - you are going to have to replace the compressor and fresh water pumps. In other words pretty much the entire unit(s). So figure $3,000 - $4,000 per unit.
7c. Dual voltage appliances: Some refrigerator units run on both AC and DC. You would have the choice of disconnecting the AC side completely or replacing the unit

8. You might also consider that part of the cost of conversion would be new appliances - TV. toaster, microwave, etc. I don't know what is on the boat so I can't comment.

For parts, time, trouble, etc. I would be willing to pay about $5,000 (without air conditioning and a gen set) to $15,000 (with air conditioning and a gen set) less for this boat than one wired for 110vac.

I hope this helps.

Note at bottom: It has been suggested that 10 gauge for the inlet and 12 or 14 gauge for the branch circuits is common and adequate. I took the wire sizes from a specification chart - if your boat is wired with 10 and 12/14 wire I would think it might be adequate (note the weasel words so you can't sue me!)

Addendum at bottom: I forgot to add that your hot water heater may very well also be an AC heater - they usually are although propane, diesel, and kerosene heaters exist.

Fair winds and following seas...
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Last edited by svzephyr44; 05-04-2014 at 07:21 AM. Reason: water heater add
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Old 05-03-2014
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Re: What to do about a 220V electrical system?

Quote:
Originally Posted by svzephyr44 View Post
Why do all of my posts seem to start with "it depends..."

The most important check is the wire gauge for the inlet and branch circuits. The inlet wire must be at least 7 gauge and the branch circuit wires need to be a least 10 gauge. It is possible you will need 4 gauge wire on the inlet - more below. Remember that thicker wires have smaller numbers (strange but true.) Your friend may get lucky as some boat manufactures run internal wire for 110v systems on all their boats and then just install the appropriate hardware for 110v or 220v. If the wiring does not meet these specifications he has two choices:
1a. Sail the boat to Europe and enjoy life
1b. Run away, run away...
Replacing the internal wiring will be both very expensive or if he is a DYI kind of person a royal pain in the posterior.

2. Check the AC circuit breakers. Since you are dropping voltage they should be OK, but make sure they are rated for both 110v and 220v. If not they will need to be replaced.

3. Replace the 220v shore power input with a 110v shore power input. If the 220V input is for 16 amps that would be a 30 amp shore power input. If the 220v is a 32 amp inlet that would translate to a 50 amp inlet (and 4 gauge wire for the inlet. Maintain the polarity color coding - brown or black to black; blue to white; yellow-green to green.

4. He could replace the outlets on the branch circuits but an easier solution is to purchase plug converters from a travel store. He should be paying less then $5 for a plug that changes the pins from Europe to US.

5. He may need to replace the battery charger. Newer battery chargers might be "world chargers". These are chargers that accept in input voltage of about 90v to 250v and 50Htz to 60Htz. If that is what is installed he is home free. New battery chargers run from $100 up to about $600.

6. If the boat has a 220v gen set he has two options - a step down transformer or replacing the generator on the gen set. The second option is a better choice - I would contact the manufacturer for advice.

7. Now the most expensive parts:
7a.The inverter. If the boat has an inverter or inverter charger you are in for a replacement. Most inverters only accept a limited input voltage - 110v or 220v. And the inverter on the boat is going to output 220v. He is going to have to replace the inverter. Again costs vary but we are talking in the range of $500 to $2000 for a new inverter charger. My preference is Victron Energy (Dutch) but Magnum (USA) has a good reputation too. Remember - friends don't let friends by Xantrex.
7b. Air conditioning. Again - if the unit runs off AC - as most do - you are going to have to replace the compressor and fresh water pumps. In other words pretty much the entire unit(s). So figure $3,000 - $4,000 per unit.

For parts, time, trouble, etc. I would be willing to pay about $5,000 (without AC and a gen set to $15,000 (with AC and a gen set) less for this boat than one wired for 110vac.

I hope this helps.

Fair winds and following seas...
Mostly correct but North American gauges are 10 for 30 amp inlet, 6 for 50 amp inlet. Circuits are 12 or 14 gauge for 15 amp circuit.

AC circuit breakers will NOT be ok as the amperage doubles when the voltage is halved. They will all have to be changed.
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Old 05-03-2014
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Re: What to do about a 220V electrical system?

Lots of EU boats cruise the US. If you have a complex AC system you might consider keeping the boat at 220 VAC (presumably 50 Hz). You can get a step-up transformer if your battery charger won't take 120 VAC in. The downside is that A/C systems and other rotating equipment may not take kindly to 60 Hz even at the correct voltage.

For minor appliances you can install a small 120 VAC / 60 Hz inverter.

Do check the wire sizes - some EU builders pull wire sized for 120 VAC so all boats can be sold anywhere in the world when they come off the line.

Read European Power Onboard and consider the implications heading in the other direction. *grin*
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Re: What to do about a 220V electrical system?

Quote:
Originally Posted by DRFerron View Post
Does this allow you to switch between the two? Our next boat will more than likely have 220V but we don't want to change it as it won't be sailed in just the U.S.

Looking for an answer to the original question as well.
See my previous post for information about conversion. In general it is far easier and cheaper to convert a boat from 110vac to 220vac. You know the wiring is big enough and that is the big hassle.

For world cruising you want the ability to use either voltage/frequency - 220/50 and 110/60. Setting that up is not as hard as it seems with some reservations.

A note about step down or step up transformers...
This is an elegant solution if your battery charger and equipment can take the voltage and frequency variations. Marina shore power is not the best in the world - the voltage can vary quite a bit. You might find that the step-up or step-down puts the voltage out of specification for certain things on your boat. My old inverter-charger refused to run as the step-down from 220vac to 110vac was 1 volt too low so it alarmed on a "low voltage" alarm and refused to run. I could not charge the batteries. The nice part of this solution is that everything on the boat works - as long as it can tolerate the potential voltage and frequency variation. The transformers are bulky and heavy - most are placed on the dock between the pedestal and the shore power inlet with appropriate cords so they need to be waterproof too. Also some equipment might not take kindly to the conversion from 50Htz to 60Htz or 60Htz to 50Htz.

Presuming you want to go the more bulletproof route...
Steps
1. Decide on your internal AC usage configuration. You don't want to have to purchase two TV,s two microwaves, etc. So decide if your appliances are going to be 110vac or 220vac. Get a boat that is wired for that voltage. The only downside to this solution is if you have guests that use the other voltage. Lend them the necessary appliances.

2. Have or purchase an inverter that outputs the appropriate voltage for internal use. You have now disconnected the reliance on input voltage from the internal use voltage. For example:

If you have a 220vac system purchase an inverter that outputs 220vac
If you have a 110vac system purchase an inverter that outputs 110vac.

You will run all of the internal appliances from the inverter circuit.

Purchase a second battery charger (I presume you already have one) for the other voltage.
If you have a 220vac system you would purchase a battery charger that inputs 110vac
If you have a 110vac system you would purchase a battery charger that inputs 220vac.
As I pointed out in my previous post you may already own a "world charger" that accepts both 110vac/60htz and 220vac/50Htz. If so you are semi-home free. Since the specification calls for the boat inlets to be male plugs (with the pins sticking out) it would be unsafe to wire a 110vac inlet and a 220vac inlet in parallel since plugging in the one would make the other "hot." Also you need a 110vac breaker at the inlet and a 220vac breaker at the inlet with different amperage ratings (remember the 110vac is going to be 30 amp and the 220vac is going to be 16 amp. Also if you have pure AC appliances (such as air conditioning) you run the risk of sending the wrong voltage to the appliances. The better solution is the next paragraph.

Even if you have a "world charger" get a second battery charger of the right input voltage. Wire each charger (with the appropriate circuit protection) to the appropriate shore power inlet. This configuration will not let you use your air conditioning when in the wrong power zone but it is pretty fail safe.

This is basically how my boat is set up as I have cruised in both voltage regions.

Fair winds and following seas
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Last edited by svzephyr44; 05-03-2014 at 01:22 PM.
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