The Do’s and Don’ts of Boating Electrical Systems Maintenance

oceanvolt sailboat electric systems
Image courtesy Oceanvolt

Written by Joshua Bremmerer, CEO at Komodo Covers
While some sailboats can seemingly last for eternity with consistent maintenance, electrical systems are far more prone to falter. Previously basic tinned wiring installations for rudimentary electrical systems were all that was needed. But in the last 20 years, more complex electrical equipment has become standard.

Greater electric components use means there is a greater strain on the battery’s capacity. So there is more danger of severed connections in the system, cables melting or even blown fuses. Electrical system maintenance should therefore be high on the priority list for sailors.

Let’s take you through some of the crucial elements to maintaining all of the electrics in your boat.

Improving the Battery Life

Battery technology has vastly improved in the last few decades, and several new types have been introduced with varying benefits. Primary among these are AGM and gel batteries, which have non-liquid electrolytes that make them leak and maintenance-free. A storage battery’s chemical reaction is reversible, which means that it can recharge continuously, as long as the engine is running and the alternator or generator is functioning correctly.

A trickle charger in battery maintenance mode can also be a great help. Regular chargers offer a safe amount of electricity for rapid charging, but it might take these chargers several hours to complete the powering process. In contrast, a good battery maintainer or trickle charger will use different types of charge to keep your battery alive for as long as possible. By reducing the power amount, you’re able to charge a battery over several days slowly. This is perfect for winter storage, on-and-off days, and transport periods during the summer.

It’s crucial to ensure you have the correct amount of amp hours to keep your batteries at the correct level of charge for optimal life. You don’t want to run your batteries too low as it will shorten their lifespan. A simple device called a hydrometer can monitor the state of charge of the battery by measuring the specific gravity of the electrolyte solution.

Wet Wiring Woes

Wiring in the home is largely left untouched for decades and rarely causes issues. This is not the case with sailboats. Unfortunately, many electrical elements are constantly submerged in water, such as the boat bilge pumps. The components mounted on the foredeck are also frequently subjected to water. 

You need to ensure all of your lines are sealed to prevent salt and water from getting in and start the corrosion process. The best way to solve this issue is to use proper wire running, rubber grommets, and zip ties to remove as much movement between the wires as possible.

Whenever frayed wires are spotted, they must be fixed immediately because they might be the source of a leak that ends up draining the battery. If the insulation is the source of the problem, some good tape can repair the wire. However, if the wire itself is damaged but doesn’t need a complete replacement, you can fix it with a soldering iron, rosin core solder, and a crimping tool. 

Corrosion Be Gone!

Corrosion is simple enough to remove from a battery or wire. First, you will want to do a thorough inspection to see where it has occurred in the sailboat, and then, using a wire brush and a simple contact cleaner or rubbing alcohol, you can get rid of the residue without leaving any moisture behind.

Once you’ve removed any existing corrosion, you’ll want to take steps to prevent corrosion from forming again in the future. Putting a layer of petroleum jelly on the battery terminals prior to reconnecting them will help here. 

It goes without saying that electrical systems problems can vary in severity and risk, so if you have any doubts about a particular issue on your boat, take it to a mechanic to be safe. 

About Josh Bremmerer

josh bremmerer

Josh Bremmerer is an innate navigator, an experienced leader in the boating industry with over a decade of experience in management and company development and a lifelong passion for boating.  As the manager of Glacier Ski Shop, Josh grew the small Shop into a nationally recognized business and increased profits by 400%. With that background, it’s no wonder Josh started his own business in the boating industry: Komodo Covers

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