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  #1  
Old 09-06-2013
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Power Cord/Adapter Issues

Look familiar anyone...




Yet another one of these power cord/adapter failures. This is the third set I think I have replaced in about eight years. Luckily I have been aboard each time they failed and smelled it burning through. This particular failure burned the hot wire about four inches back from the adapter and melted the wire sheath inside the boat. It was a boat fire waiting to happen.





There are many things which cause this issue, in my opinion. Chiefly I think it is a design failure because these adapters/sockets do not have a thermal breaker and because these adapters are poorly suited for their purpose. What happens is:

+ You get low voltage (bad power) at a marina.
+ You get a small amount of corrosion inside the cord/adapter.
+ You run very close to 30 amps on the boat, and with the air conditioning turning on/off, you briefly go over that 30 amps on startup.
+ The cord itself gets hot in the sun.
+ You connect too many cords together because the distance from the hookup to your plug exceeds what a single cord can reach.

Over time, any or all of these issues cause the cord itself to get warm/hot. Heat causes resistance and corrosion. Resistance and corrosion causes more heat, etc until the cord begins to melt down. Because there is not a thermal breaker in the cord/adapter itself, you see the result. Now couple this with a cord set that in my opinion is at best rated for 30 amps and a connection mechanism that carries minimal surface contact, and you have a disaster in the making.

My suggestion is to avoid these cord types altogether (Marineco/Hubble). I see three different options. The first option is to up your cord set and adapter to 50 amps. The connection mechanism is better and higher rated. You will still keep your breaker on your boat at 30 amps, but your cord set and adapter will be much higher rated. A second option is to go with a Smart Plug.



These plugs were born due to the very issues I described. They have a thermal breaker inside the plug itself (so you will never burn down) AND the connection mechanism highly increases their contact/surface area. I have used one of these successfully for quite some time now. Interesting enough, I have that set running my air conditioners and I often put my hand on the adapter and it was always cooler than the Marineco plugset. A last option (and probably the best if you can in my opinion) is to avoid plugs altogether and hardwire the wires to your boat. The "big boats" do this. Using this method you will have maximum surface area and a solid, mechanical connection. When you wish to go sailing, simply unplug from the dock and pull your cord into the lazarette. Now, many boats are set up differently and this is not a viable option, but certainly something worth considering.

Brian
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  #2  
Old 09-06-2013
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Re: Power Cord/Adapter Issues

The hardwire option is interesting, Brian, and something I hadn't considered. I go bow in, and the boat's plug is basically at the transom. I had considered adding another shore power plug near the bow to shorten the run. The one-time cost would probably be about what a 50' cord will run me.

I had read about the Smartplugs. Did you wire up the boat end of the cable yourself? If so, how expensive was the connector? I have 4 different power cables, but only 2 of them are good (one 25' and one 50'). The boat ends came off both of my other cords.
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Old 09-06-2013
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Re: Power Cord/Adapter Issues

Quote:
Originally Posted by jimgo View Post
The hardwire option is interesting, Brian, and something I hadn't considered. I go bow in, and the boat's plug is basically at the transom. I had considered adding another shore power plug near the bow to shorten the run. The one-time cost would probably be about what a 50' cord will run me.

I had read about the Smartplugs. Did you wire up the boat end of the cable yourself? If so, how expensive was the connector? I have 4 different power cables, but only 2 of them are good (one 25' and one 50'). The boat ends came off both of my other cords.
Jim,

Yes, I did it all myself. It is an easy install. I think the adapter and plug run about $180 together as a kit. So you will spend more money on it than you will just rebuilding your current one to Marineco. Or, you can hardwire it in as I suggested.

One option on the hardwire is to put in a buss bar. That way you can still disconnect it, but still get a lot more "contact" and surface area. If I were going to do the buss bar route, I would put it into a electrical box mounted in the Lazz so you don't have hot wires that can be touched.

Brian
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Old 09-06-2013
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Re: Power Cord/Adapter Issues

Here you go Jim, $170ish at Sailnet with no tax. Good price.

SMARTPLUG 30 AMP INLET & PLUG COMBO BOATSIDE - B30ASSY

Brian
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Old 09-06-2013
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Re: Power Cord/Adapter Issues

Brian--

I have seen several failures of the type you describe including, for the first time in 26 years, one ourselves earlier this year. The single common element to the failures I've seen seems to have been corrosion on the blades of the connectors, exacerbated by pitting experienced by those that do not shut down the power before plugging/unplugging the connectors. On our boat, the connector has a screw-in cover with a gasket that is intended to prevent moisture penetration into the plug. If not used, or only loosely attached and not tightened down, it serves no useful purpose. In our case I have found that one needs inspect the blades on the plugs periodically and, periodically give them an application of conductive grease to prevent corrosion; and, shut down the power before plugging/unplugging the connectors to prevent resistance pitting of the blades. For grease, we simply use the "light-bulb" grease sold in the lighting department of Home Depot/Lowes et al.

FWIW...
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Re: Power Cord/Adapter Issues

Based on my observations, and in agreement with svHyLyte, I believe the cause is high resistance at the connection - due to a build up of a resistive layer on the blades. Considering the environment these parts operate in, it's hardly surprising.

Once you have some resistance and parts start getting hot, it is a rapid vicious circle as the heat leads to rapid build up of a layer of corrosion.

I hadn't thought of adding dielectric grease, but will do
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Old 09-06-2013
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Re: Power Cord/Adapter Issues

I work in a wash-down environment and those piece of crap twist lock plugs are worthless in wet areas

Even the real good Hubbell pin & sleeve sets need some level of care and even THEN we need to use a high end SJOOW cord as the dreaded black copper also causes heat issues
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Old 09-07-2013
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Re: Power Cord/Adapter Issues

Something else you can do is put a *slight* twist on the blades of the plug. Every time you remove or install the plug, the blades wipe themselves clean. You also get a more-aggressive contact with the socket -- the springlike socket contacts weaken & wear over time, giving poorer contact. About once a month or so, unplug & reconnect the plug to keep the contacts clean.

The 50-amp cable is a good idea too. I try not to run things at their rated capacity because it guarantees a short working life and leaves no safety margin. How long would your engine last if every time you ran it , you ran it full throttle?
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Last edited by manatee; 09-07-2013 at 10:47 AM.
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Old 09-07-2013
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Re: Power Cord/Adapter Issues

Been hard wiring my shower power with buss bars for 30yrs, never had a problem.
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Old 09-07-2013
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Re: Power Cord/Adapter Issues

My impression of "hard wired" must be slightly off. To me it means the conductors are connected via attachment with screws or wire nuts (in the case of home wiring) within a proper electrical box. How do you hard wire your boat to shore power?
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