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Old 01-11-2013
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FYI - Suitcase Generators & ELCI's

Lately I have been researching issues with suitcase generators, such as the Honda EU inverter type and ELCI's.

Please don't take this post as me condoning the use of this type of generator on a boat, I personally don't, but it is your boat & your choice...

So what is an ELCI? An ELCI is an Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter for the main power feed of your boats AC system. It is your "main AC breaker" What? Huh?

Think of an ELCI as a whole boat GFCI, like you have as an outlet in your bathroom. However, instead of a 5mA trip level, the trip level is set for 30mA. ELCI's are in a class of device called Residual Current Devices (RCD's). These devices respond to electrical leakage outside the intended path.

The intended path for a 30A shore power feed is BLACK/HOT & WHITE/NEUTRAL. These two wires are the ONLY place any current should be flowing in a properly operating system. If measured under load the BLACK & WHITE wires need to be in 100% agreement. If the current on these wires is not the same on both, you have a "leak". When the leak gets to 30mA the ELCI will trip to keep swimmers, workers and vessel occupants safe. In your bathroom or kitchen at home when the "leak" gets to 5mA the GFCI trips. The 30mA level is/was intended to prevent "nuisance trips" yet still keep humans safe.

Marina's in the US have HORRIBLE issues with voltage leaks. I measured one marina just yesterday and approx 30%, of the in-water stored/live aboard vessels, had leaks larger than the 30mA. These leaks would trip an ELCI, as they should.. 30mA is a leak of just 0.03A of AC current.

Electric Shock Drownings (ESD's) can be caused by just 12 - 20mA of leakage current. While the ELCI trips at 30mA the trip time is short enough to avoid an ESD. ELCI's are about human safety first and they are now part of the ABYC standards. RCD's have been part of the European standards for quite a while and we lagged behind them on this.

So what does an ELCI have to do with my Honda, or other brand, inverter generator?

I have had two customers, one a consult customer and one a direct customer, who have had issues with the Honda generators tripping the newly installed ELCI.

The Honda and some Yamaha suitcase generators use a "open ground" at the generator end. Honda ADAMANTLY advises against bonding the WHITE/NEUTRAL to the GREEN/EARTH at the generator end. They will not even discuss it any further than DO NOT DO THIS. I have reached as high up as I can go in their engineering department to get an answer as to "why" but they will NOT give you one. The Honda "party line" is DO NOT bond GREEN to WHITE at the generator. Could it work? Some on the net claim it can, but it is your generator and your risk..

An open ground at the AC source end (Honda generator) does not meet the safety trip parameters for a marine ELCI and also does not meet OSHA standards either. Inverters and permanently installed "marine" gen sets bond GREEN to WHITE at the source. It should be noted that other than at a source (marine rated inverter, marine gen set or land) GREEN & WHITE are NEVER tied together on the vessel.

So why does the ELCI trip when connected to one of these generators?

The ELCI is intended for the ultimate in human safety but perhaps not convenience when that convenience does not meet applicable safety standards..

I called Carling Technologies last month to find out why this was happening. Carling makes most of the ELCI's sold by the marine electrical suppliers. Essentially the ELCI looks for an EARTH/NEUTRAL bond at the source end. With a land source the NEUTRAL and GREEN are tied together (but NEVER ON THE BOAT). This is what the ELCI wants to see at the "source" is a NEUTRAL/GREEN bond. The Honda EU1000, EU2000 etc. do not have this GREEN/WHITE bond at the generator end. On their larger non-inverter generators they do bond GREEN & WHITE as these are often used on job sites overseen by OSHA..

The inverter generators don't use a NEUTRAL/GREEN bond at the source and thus an ELCI will trip.

So, if your boat has an ELCI, and you want to use a Honda suitcase generator, you will need to call your marine electrician or install a marine gen set..
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Old 01-13-2013
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Re: FYI - Suitcase Generators & ELCI's



Yes i just had all kinds of grief in the recent hurricane when i retired my my old-school generator for a modern inverter unit

In the past we connected the ground lug to the generator and pluged in a few items one of which was the gas furnace which was happy with the old unit

It became very UNHAPPY when powered with and inverter unit as the control board checks for voltage on the neutral (that would be about 50 volts )

In the end i had to connect it as a new service with the netural/ground bond and do not see how you could do that on water ?

I also now fail to see how its really safe to use one in portable mode because you sure cant use a GFI
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Old 01-13-2013
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Re: FYI - Suitcase Generators & ELCI's

Good post Maine. An accident waiting to happen. Only a matter of time for the insurance co. to catch on and prohibit their use.
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Old 01-14-2013
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Re: FYI - Suitcase Generators & ELCI's

Maine-
I think someone snuck decaf in your coffeepot this week. (G)
You say "is BLACK/HOT & WHITE/NEUTRAL. These two wires are" Ah, math errors like that are my job. That's three wire, not two.

" the ONLY place any current should be flowing in a properly operating system...
Marina's in the US have HORRIBLE issues with voltage leaks. "
Voltage leaks? Or current? Or both?

Doesn't the ABYC have something to say about separating ground and neutral on boats?

Now, if you want to view a real case of insanity with GFIs and other devices, come down to any large municipality where the building codes usually require one for any outlet that is within ~30" of any sink or faucet. Look under the sink if there's a garbage disposal installed. Guess what outlet is within 30" but is rarely if ever protected?!

I found out about that one day when I flipped on a disposer switch and touched a faucet at the same time. Code says "MUST PROTECT!", but the inspectors never see that outlet. Hmmm...

It just makes the classic wood boats with no electricity onboard all the prettier, doesn't it?
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Old 01-14-2013
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Re: FYI - Suitcase Generators & ELCI's

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Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
Maine-

It just makes the classic wood boats with no electricity onboard all the prettier, doesn't it?
Yes but that would put Maine out of business, but it would Give Charlie Cobra a lot more!

So is there a "correct" way to wire this in?
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Old 01-16-2013
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Re: FYI - Suitcase Generators & ELCI's

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Originally Posted by Maine Sail View Post
So, if your boat has an ELCI, and you want to use a Honda suitcase generator, you will need to call your marine electrician or install a marine gen set..
Interesting... never thought of that. My boat does have an ELCI, and I connect my EU2000i with a short 15A male / 30A female cord, and never had a trip problem. The plugs are wired Hot-Hot Neutral-Neutral Ground-Ground (whatever the latter is on the Honda).

Guess I'll take a look at how that Honda outlet is wired internally, out of curiosity. FWIW, it's a Canadian model, without the bridging outlet. Wouldn't be the first time that meeting CSA specs vs UL required some changes.

I don't think that my merely being an engineer made it work (although a lot of stuff people ask me to fix mysteriously works when I pick it up).
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Old 01-16-2013
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Re: FYI - Suitcase Generators & ELCI's

If you search "honda generator grounding" there's an interesting hit at
Do Honda Portable Generators have to be grounded? - Lighting - Cinematography.com
discussing the problems of getting fried if you use a Honda EU-series while out on location with film equipment. Apparently, if you tie the neutral and ground, you are at risk one way, and if you don't tie them, you are at risk another way. So either way, reading between the lines they are saying "Only use EU generators in a rubber floored room on sunny dry days."

Kinda like gasoline stations selling cigarettes. In the US, in a typical year, only two customers manage to blow up the pumps by lighting up what they just bought. Part of the answer lies in "just don't do that".
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Re: FYI - Suitcase Generators & ELCI's

I believe my ELCI is a Siemens (white unit on a DIN-rail in a small semi-weathertight clear-front box - where "small" means "barely enough room to fit the #10 wires to the input and output terminals of the ELCI then close the box.) IIRC it is marked 30mA trip current, but now I'm wondering if it was otherwise fitted as part of the original 220V Jeanneau installation, some of which was retrofitted to 120V by the dealer who originally sold the boat. The original 220V/20A wiring was smaller gauge, and easier to work with (which I've since replaced with #10, and re-run more logically, and moved the ELCI to next to the power inlet, instead of in a cockpit locker and *after* the Freedom 2500 inverter/charger!)

It appears that either the dealer or Jeanneau moved the ELCI from the nav station electrical panel (where there is a blanking plug) to be within 10' of the inlet per ABYC - but then the dealer totally missed the point by redirecting the inlet direct to the inverter/charger without protection, then to the ELCI, then to the panel. Grrr.

Come to think of it, if the Siemens unit is/was the original protection, it would likely trip on an imbalance between what we would call "hot" and "neutral" rather than relying on a link between "neutral" and "ground", as 220VAC service doesn't have the concept of "neutral" - both sides are "hot" (at least in Switzerland, where the electrician gave me a really strange look as he answered).

I am definitely going to take a closer look at that unit next time I visit the boat.
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Old 01-16-2013
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Re: FYI - Suitcase Generators & ELCI's

Quote:
Originally Posted by redline View Post
I believe my ELCI is a Siemens (white unit on a DIN-rail in a small semi-weathertight clear-front box - where "small" means "barely enough room to fit the #10 wires to the input and output terminals of the ELCI then close the box.) IIRC it is marked 30mA trip current, but now I'm wondering if it was otherwise fitted as part of the original 220V Jeanneau installation, some of which was retrofitted to 120V by the dealer who originally sold the boat. The original 220V/20A wiring was smaller gauge, and easier to work with (which I've since replaced with #10, and re-run more logically, and moved the ELCI to next to the power inlet, instead of in a cockpit locker and *after* the Freedom 2500 inverter/charger!)

It appears that either the dealer or Jeanneau moved the ELCI from the nav station electrical panel (where there is a blanking plug) to be within 10' of the inlet per ABYC - but then the dealer totally missed the point by redirecting the inlet direct to the inverter/charger without protection, then to the ELCI, then to the panel. Grrr.

Come to think of it, if the Siemens unit is/was the original protection, it would likely trip on an imbalance between what we would call "hot" and "neutral" rather than relying on a link between "neutral" and "ground", as 220VAC service doesn't have the concept of "neutral" - both sides are "hot" (at least in Switzerland, where the electrician gave me a really strange look as he answered).

I am definitely going to take a closer look at that unit next time I visit the boat.
It sounds like you have a European style RCD. They are designed slightly differently and may not look for neutral/ground tie at the source.
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