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Go Back   SailNet Community > On Board > Gear & Maintenance > Electrical Systems > When to hire a pro...
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Thread: When to hire a pro... Reply to Thread
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Topic Review (Newest First)
09-15-2013 08:53 PM
boatpoker
Re: When to hire a pro...

The vast majority of issues I find on surveys are electrical. Most older boats have been modified by different people with different skill levels over the years. What started out as a simple 12VDC system in 1984 now has several hundred feet of unused conductors, many connections made with marettes (or electrical tape), automotive type butt connectos on bilge pumps, a large number of under sized conductors and 8 out of 10 inverters I see are improperly installed.

Yes, some of the books suggested are very good but your original post suggested that you would struggle to understand this stuff. My opinion ..... Hire a pro to assess your system and hang over his shoulder asking a lot of questions.

Be careful who you hire, there are many "marine" electricians out there who are self taught, some are good, some are bad. Since you don't know the difference it would be wise to hire and ABYC certified electrician.

Do not hire the land based electrician who wired your sisters basement. He may be a very competent residential technichian but there are a few fundamental differences when you combine AC, DC and water that he was never trained in.

By all means buy the books and educate yourself but I think you could learn more and faster by hanging over an old hands shoulder for a while.
09-15-2013 08:31 PM
Stu Jackson
Re: When to hire a pro...

Just to add, if you have any work done, especially on your electrical system, you MUST design it first. YOU need to know what you want, and how it works in order for anyone to put it in. If you let anyone mess around, woops, work on, your boat, you need to be able to express what it is you want done. Otherwise, you'd never know what was done or how well it was accomplished.

Here are examples of how different folks can wire a boat's basic electrical system, and you should at least learn from these examples, compared both to themselves and to how most boat builders wired their boats.

OEM 1-2-B Switch Wiring History Alternator/Batteries & "The Basic" 1-2-B Switch BEST Wiring Diagrams

Basic Battery Wiring Diagrams This is a very good basic primer for boat system wiring: Basic Battery Wiring Diagrams

This is another very good basic primer for boat system wiring: The 1-2-B Switch by Maine Sail (brings together a lot of what this subject is all about)
1/BOTH/2/OFF Switches Thoughts & Musings - SailboatOwners.com

It doesn't take long to learn to draw wiring diagrams. One way is to place the things that need to be connected on a piece of paper in relation to where they are physically located and go from there. The other way is to draw it as an electrician would do, called a schematic, that doesn't relate to their locations. Downside of that is that wire lengths do not become obvious. Upside is they can be much clearer to visualize the relationships. Some folks do both.

Good luck.
09-15-2013 03:45 PM
hellosailor
Re: When to hire a pro...

diverchick-
Fear is a good thing. Especially since AC mains power can kill you, and even DC battery power can literally amputate a finger. (The USN used to have some pages on an official web site about an accident one fellow had when his wedding ring arced to ground.)

OTOH the stuff can be perfectly safe to work with, if you read up a little beforehand and take simple precautions, like not working when you are sleepy or have the flu. (Don't ask me why I know this.)

If you want it fixed fast, by all means, hire the pro, sometimes they even get it right. But with a little patience, the same hundred dollars that a fast housecall would run you, will buy a decent multimeter ($25 at Target or WalMart) a non-contact AC test light (wonderful tool), and a couple of books on boat wiring.

Electrical systems are like garden hoses: If everything is connected and turned on, they work. It really is about that simple. What really helps is to take a big piece of paper and a pencil and draw the circuit, even crudely, and put labels on things themselves.

So you start with "here's the plug" where the power comes in, and there should be fuse(s) or breakers or a GFI right near that, then some wire to the breaker panel, the inverter, a charger, the batteries....Yes it will be strung in places you can't easily see, but that's why you make the pencil sketch, and don't be ashamed to use the eraser.

Comparing your sketch to what the books (and web sites) show you, is much easier than trying to compare mental pictures in your mind.

If you are unplugged from shore power, and you pull the main battery fuse, it is also really hard to get hurt unless you physically open up the inverter itself. (Some designs can store a jolt internally which is why they often say not to open them.)

Really not hard, or dangerous, as long as you do a little learning before you start. Odds are there is a blown use, tripped breaker, loose wire, or else the damned thing is dead. And a professional will charge you $100-200 to tell you that.
09-14-2013 11:29 PM
mitiempo
Re: When to hire a pro...

I agree, Charlie Wing's book is the best I have seen - easy to understand and up to date.
Boatowner's Illustrated Electrical Handbook: Charlie Wing: 9780071446440: Books - Amazon.ca Boatowner's Illustrated Electrical Handbook: Charlie Wing: 9780071446440: Books - Amazon.ca


09-14-2013 03:32 PM
Stu Jackson
Re: When to hire a pro...

Electricity only becomes sensible when you draw a wiring diagram.

Charlie Wing's book is also very good.
09-11-2013 10:46 PM
asdf38
Re: When to hire a pro...

The thinking I use to decide on the pro is this


1) How long will it take me
2) How much do I value my time
3) How much will it cost to hire a pro

I consider myself able, with enough time, to do anything on the boat. But I'm better at some things than others.

For electrical I'm probably 1.5-2x slower than a pro. A pro would cost about $100 an hour so while I'm doing electrical I'm "saving" about $50-$75 an hour. That's a decent rate, so I do the work myself.

However I have little fiberglass/hull work experience. So when faced with a through hull replacement it would perhaps take me 8 hours, with research and planning. A pro takes like 2. So at this I'm only good for about $15 bucks an hour - I paid the pro.

That's part of the thinking anyway. If I had infinite time I'd do everything, because I want to know everything, but since I don't, that's how I reason it out.

Bottom line, if you know electrical, want to know electrical or have a lot of time, do it yourself. Otherwise consider the pro, hope they do a good job, and go sailing.
09-10-2013 06:40 AM
Minnewaska
Re: When to hire a pro...

A very basic invertor will have wires connected to the 12v DC system and others run to the 110v AC receptacles. More sophisticated systems also have wires connected to shore power, as they double as battery chargers. In order to test them with a multi meter, you need to know which are which. Some should show voltage, even if the invertor is bad.

Invertors do go bad, but its tough to know if its hooked up properly, turned on properly or blew a fuse. The cost of an electrician could be a good education in how your boat is set up. Meet him/her there.
09-10-2013 01:53 AM
diverchick71
When to hire a pro...

Thanks for all the great replies. The inverter seems to not be getting juice. I flip the on/off switch at both control panel and on inverter and I get zilch. Two thick wires coming out of the back (red and black) but I'll actually have to remove the inverter to get behind it, it's mounted too closely to the side of the boat. It's mounted under nav station. All things I need to look at when I get back to her. I need to move closer. :-). I have Don Casey's Illustrated Sailboat repair, and Nigel Calder's essential systems. Not knowing what I'm doing and fear of fires is exactly my fear!
09-09-2013 11:24 PM
jimgo
Re: When to hire a pro...

Before you do it on the boat, play with a 12 volt system at home. Get familiar with the concepts, then go aboard and have at it. But I agree with all of the comments above. It's really not that hard, but it DOES have to be done properly or you risk having serious problems.
09-09-2013 07:51 PM
manatee
Re: When to hire a pro...

Another candidate: The 12-Volt Bible for Boats
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