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Go Back   SailNet Community > On Board > Gear & Maintenance > Electrical Systems
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  #1  
Old 11-22-2009
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The Best Way To Learn Electrical

I am pretty handy, but I confess that I am a dummy when it comes to electrical wiring. I see things I'd like to install or hook up, but I have no clue how to do it. Isolators, bus bars, multimeters, etc are just Greek to me. I imagine that I just need to sit down with a book like "Your Boat's Electrical System" and bang away until I get it, but if you have a better way for me to learn this stuff, I'd love to hear any suggestions. Perhaps a website or a different book that helped you learn. Any suggestions will be appreciated, no snickering please.

Mike
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Old 11-22-2009
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My advice would be to work on perception, and that involves tools. The hardest part for most people who have never worked with electricity before is that it isn't tangible, they can't see it, it is too abstract, so the solution to that is to find a way to make it tangible and the way you do that is with tools that help you "see" what is going on. Multi-meter is a good place to start. With a basic DMM you can see voltage, resistance, and amps if you know what you are doing, but more than likely if you try to see amps you'll just ruin the meter. You can perceive much more if you invest in more serious tools, these days you can get logic analyzers and oscilloscopes for a few hundred $us, and these let you actually see the waves and patterns that the electricity is making which is extremely helpful. Being able to "see" is extremely useful, especially for someone who doesn't know already what is going on, because electrical problems can be diagnosed by people without any tools at all, but you have already know what is going on to be able to do that. It is like a car mechanic who can figure out what is going on inside of an engine just by how it "feels", people who are experienced with electricity can do the same thing, they just have an intuitive idea of what is going on, a model in their mind that is very similar to reality, but newbies need tools to augment their senses so that they can perceive what is happening.

It is funny, most people in electronics would tell a person new to it not to spend money on something expensive like a scope, and yet they have one themselves and count it as one of their most important tools. I think that is cultural, that is, I think it is a left over idea from the days when scopes were very expensive, but these days anyone can own a scope.
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Old 11-23-2009
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Taking a course at the local voc-tech school on basic 12 VDC wiring and electrical systems, like they'll often offer for working on cars is a good idea and would give you a fairly solid foundation, as well as teach you how to use a multimeter and trouble shoot with it. A course for 110 VAC basics would be a good idea if you've got an inverter or shore power on the boat as well. Then sitting down and reading a good book on it would put you a long way to understanding how the systems on a boat are supposed to work.

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Originally Posted by MikeinLA View Post
I am pretty handy, but I confess that I am a dummy when it comes to electrical wiring. I see things I'd like to install or hook up, but I have no clue how to do it. Isolators, bus bars, multimeters, etc are just Greek to me. I imagine that I just need to sit down with a book like "Your Boat's Electrical System" and bang away until I get it, but if you have a better way for me to learn this stuff, I'd love to hear any suggestions. Perhaps a website or a different book that helped you learn. Any suggestions will be appreciated, no snickering please.

Mike
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Old 11-23-2009
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I learned basic electrical & electronics things as a kid, using an electronics kit like this one: Elenco MX906 130 in 1 Electronics Learning Lab

Should get you through some of the basic concepts. What it won't cover is, of course, any marine specific electrical concepts (such as ABYC wiring standards for sizing wires, crimping, using adhesive-lined heat-shrink terminals, tinned marine wire, ignition-safe components in the battery compartment, etc)

A word of advice, when you finally do get around to wiring the boat, don't cheap out on anything, and follow ABYC specs. Marine grade stuff is more expensive, and the ABYC specs are pretty anal about things, but it's important for safety reasons to do things the right way.
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Old 11-23-2009
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Mike,

I'd suggest a book like Ed Sherman's Powerboater's Guide to Electrical Systems as a VERY SIMPLE (hey, it's for Powerboater's ) book to start with.

If you want to move beyond the basics, Nigel Calder's Boat Owners Electrical and Mechanical Manual (or sumthin' like that) is a GREAT reference. Speaking from experience, it has cured many sleepless nights.

I took the course at the local community college (got the Marine Certification too), and frankly, was disappointed. The guy that taught the class had his own business in marine electronics sales and installation.

The instructor didn't like Garmin, and dissed their products throughout class. I eventually realized it was because Garmin sells direct to consumer outlets (WM, Defender, etc.) and not through a specialized "secret" distribution network. The result is that he made more money selling the other brands.

With the information available in SailNet (and MaineSail's website) I felt that I could have done a better job teaching the class, except for the discussion of the various brand names of marine electronics vendors and suppliers.
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Old 11-23-2009
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Something else I think can really help someone who is trying to learn is to go ahead and get a solar panel and a deep cycle battery and just build a simple electrical system with those two components. Then get your DMM and start using that to measure the voltages created by sunlight, the state of charge the battery has, get a hydrometer and measure the density of the electrolyte, and maybe wire something into it like a car stereo so you can see how much a load discharges the battery over time. That's the basics of an electrical system right there.
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Up here in the Seattle area the University runs Marine electrical classes under thier "Sea Grant" program. Try googling Sea Grant for universities in yor area. You would find something like this very useful and the fees are reasonable. This is federally supported program in which many universities participate and there may be one near you. The univrestitis decide what public courses to run and they run the gamut. Here they include courses of value to boaters and commercial mariners.
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On books, I've read a lot of them on boat electrical systems in conjunction with rewiring my boat and designing a new system. It's not that hard if you can keep disciplined and methodical so you don't lose track of things. You get something different from each. For the most comprehensive approach I'd suggest one of Charlie Wing's books. I've read his book on wiring. He aslo has a more comprehensive electrical book of the same vintage. One thing helpful is that he addresses the relavent ABYC standards. For an up to date info on gear I'd get a recent edition of Nigel Calder's book.
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Old 02-09-2010
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Start thinking of wires like pipes. You can't see inside a pipe, just like you can't see electrons running around inside wires. Wires, like pipes, move stuff around, from one end to the other.

Draw diagrams before you ever connect a wire to anything.

Understand, like pipes, how the electrons flow through the wires, from A to B.

Switches are like valves.

Don't understand piping? Look inside your water closet (toilet) and see how it works. Think of the tank as your battery bank, the incoming water line from the wall is your charger or alternator.

Then it becomes a lot simpler.
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Old 02-09-2010
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Calder's book is great but a little too much info for a beginner, as I've been told, by a few I have recommended it to.

I really think Charlie Wings book Boatowner's Illustrated Electrical Handbook (second edition) is one of the best in terms of simplicity and how it pertains to current technology and standards.
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