Archive for the 'Electrical' Category

Miscillaneous Engine Work

I (Jon) finished these jobs variously on Nov. 25th, Dec. 22nd and March 23rd.

The oil pressure alarm sensor stopped working so I bought a new one of those, and got it wired up properly. We bought an adjustable pressure sensor. Based on the recommendations from the Valiant Owners Group, the pressure is set higher than what Perkins ships sets their alarms when at the factory. This gives you just a little bit more time to get the engine off if there is a sudden loss of oil pressure.

The alarm the oil pressure sensor is wired to used to have a time delay function so that it would take about 10 seconds to sound after turning on the switch to start the engine. This allowed you time to try to start the engine. The time delay no longer works, so when you turn the key before starting the engine, the alarm sounds. This is annoying.

My hope is to add a new switch that operates independently from the current switch key used to turn on the engine. You would turn this on after the engine has started, and then the alarm would sound if while the engine was running the oil pressure dropped dangerously low. We’ll see if that happens.

I cleaned the air filter. (twice)

I replaced the zinc in the main heat exchanger. I also checked the zincs in the oil cooler and in the tranny oil cooler. There wasn’t really anything left of the zincs there, but the coolers are too small for a proper zinc, you can only put a tiny nub of zinc in them. Since the whole system is connected, Matt and I decided one zinc in the main heat exchanger would be fine. Since there is only one zinc, we just check that one more frequently.

I re-attached the leads from the tachometer to the alternator as it wasn’t working. I then rewired it again (April 5th) a couple of months later, as it was only intermittently working. It’s finally working consistently.

I also bought a new fresh water pump to have as a spare.

I also re-routed the engine blower hose as high as I could to prevent water from coming in. It had been coming in and dripping very close to various electronics.


Various Electrical Jobs

I (Jon) finished these jobs variously Dec. 1st, Dec. 12th, Jan. 17th,

I finished off our lightening protection by fastening a wire that led to the backstay to a keel bolt. This was accomplished under the sole in the quarter berth.

the SSB is connected at the stern to the keel bolts by a foil of copper running through the bilge.When in the bilge it is up on the side out of where the nastiness generally resides. When it passes through the engine room though, it hangs out directly below the engine where all sorts of grease, grime and nastiness gets on it, potentially corroding it. It’s also easy to cut your finger on it when reaching under the engine. I attached to the side of the engine compartment so that it was up against the wall and out of harms way. I also reran the foil through the cockpit locker so that it was more firmly attached there.

I also cleaned the SSB antenna backstay fitting, scrubbing clean the copper fixture and coating everything with dielectric grease.

I repaired the wiring for the incandescent light in the forward clothing locker. The wiring had shorted out because the insulation on the wires had worn through where they enter the light fixture. It also needed a new switch. I broke the old one while soldering new electrical connections to it.

I also fixed the incandescent light next to the companionway which was having electrical issues as well. And needed a new bulb.

Two of the Alpine Glow lights have needed new bulbs and so those got replaced.


Added solar panels to the arch

We bought some solar panels from a guy in Berkeley, via craigslist: two 180W Mitsubishi panels for $360 apiece a total of 360W, for $720.  Exactly $2/W, which is a good price as far as I’m concerned.  Even better, they precisely fit the dimensions that I was seeking to fit in the space allotted for them on the radar arch.

Also, I included some additional photos detailing the arch mounting and construction.

Installed KISS wind generator

I bid $600 for a three year old KISS wind generator on ebay, never thinking I would win it (the minimum bid was $600), but I did.  I was the only bidder; I believe it was because the seller didn’t want to ship it and was located in Pennsylvania (really nice guy though–Mike if you read this don’t worry I’m treating the wind generator to the usage it deserves!).  Conveniently, I happened to be driving back east to get married at the right time, so we just stopped off and picked it up.  Also conveniently, jonny ended up buying a car right before attending the wedding, so he was able to put it in his car to drive it back to the west coast.

A few notes about the KISS: it is an AC alternator, so the power coming down the three lines out of the generator is three-phase AC.  The electrical box that is supplied with it is an on/off switch along with a rectifier.  Since the AC is more efficient than the DC, all other things being equal it is better to mount the electrical box closer to the batteries; i.e. use a longer run of cord for the AC and a shorter run after it is rectified to DC.

When the switch is turned to the on position, the generator is under load producing amperage that is fed to the batteries (duh); when the generator is switched to the off position, the generator is shorted out such that it self-brakes.  This self-braking works only up to a certain wind-speed.

There are thermal cutouts located in the alternator that will open-circuit the generator if it becomes to hot.  When the generator is open-circuited, the alternator can free-wheel and the blades can pick up speed.  As soon as the unit cools down enough, it restarts and puts the blades under load again.

So, there are three possibilities: the unit can either be under load and feeding power to the batteries, shorted and braking itself as best as possible, or open-circuited and freewheeling.

If the unit is free-wheeling faster than you are comfortable with (storm conditions), then you have to take a boat hook and use it to push on the tail to rotate the unit out of the wind.

Other models of wind generator have more sophisticated safeguards in them to deal with excessive wind, and even built-in charge controllers to protect the battery from excessive current–I share the opinion of the KISS generator’s inventor, however, that those safeguards are not worth the additional cost and complexity.  If you understand how the generator works and how to deal with it in the infrequent situations that it is either producing too much power or speeding out of control, then I see no need to spend the extra money on extra stuff to break.

I would recommend the use of Tef-gel on all the stainless to aluminum surfaces, i.e. the stainless bolts in the aluminum rotor hub, and the aluminum hub on the stainless rotor shaft–it seems to be by far the most lasting protection.

Installed Battery Monitor

After spending $1200 on new batteries, I want some simple way to monitor their state of charge, largely so that we have a better idea of when we need to run the engine to charge them back up.

It is best to recharge a lead-acid battery before the charge drops below 50% (of the amp-hour capacity); if you discharge them too much you damage them.  And it is not practical to charge them all the way to 100% with the alternator each time–as the batteries approach full charge the charging process gets slower and slower.  When you are idling the engine only to charge the batteries, you want to limit the amount of time it runs.  So it is more practical to charge the batteries only to about 85%.  This means that in actual practice you will only use 85%-50% =35% of your total battery capacity during each charge cycle.  Our total battery capacity is 720Ah, so I expect that we’ll be able to use 250Ah before needing to turn on the engine–and hopefully the solar and wind and tow generator will keep up so that we never have to.

If you let your batteries sit for 12 hours with no sources or sinks connected to them, then you can simply measure the voltage and know the state of charge (11.6V is 50% discharged; 12.7V is fully charged).  But while cruising we will never let our batteries rest without some device drawing power, so we cannot simply watch the voltage to know how charged they are.  Hence the battery monitor.

I chose the Xantrex LinkLite, because Xantrex makes great stuff and we got a great deal on it at Svendsens.  It required a fair bit of wiring, since it uses a shunt installed in the battery negative (big-ass cable) to measure the current.

I have been told by many people that the batteries need to be fully charged every once in a while (i.e. up to 100% not just 85%) in order to stay in sync.  I just put it in this past week so I can only comment on how pretty it looks in our electrical panel.


Replaced batteries in house bank

Two of the old batteries wouldn’t hold a charge, and the other two were low capacity, unfortunately mostly due to neglect (not being kept topped off with water).

The old ones were 4 Rolls-Surrette EIGH 262, each of which is 6V and 262Ah (at the 20hr rate).

The new ones are 4 Rolls-Surrette S460 (pdf datasheet here), each of which is 6V and 350Ah (20 hr rate).  They are marketed to the solar energy crowd, which is why they quote the capacity at 460Ah at a 100hr rate, which just isn’t the way us sailboat people measure it.

The new batteries are exactly the same footprint as the old ones, but about 5 inches taller.  As a result, we had to remove the old battery box and modify it to allow for more headroom (there are things mounted over the batteries close enough to have prevented them from fitting).  I cut out the bottom of the box on the left side and dropped it down, cut side pieces, lightly screwed it together, then jonny glassed over it, then we painted it with a couple coats of Primekote epoxy paint.

Remaining: fabricate new acrylic cover to go over the top (to protect against tools, or the furnace cover, from shorting out on top of the batteries), and add buckles to the webbing straps.

Replaced engine key switch and push button

The old ones had to be jiggled and messed with to get them to work, bad connections inside.  I replaced both switches, and all the wiring behind them.

Ripped out 50 yards of extraneous wiring from engine room

This deserves a post of its own, even though it was just a big clean up project.

When we purchased the boat, I was most overwhelmed by the wiring of the boat.  It was utterly undecipherable to me, for months.  I spent hours looking at the original engine wiring diagram from Perkins, and the regulator wiring diagrams from Quad Cycle (no longer in existence, which didn’t help things).  Hours staring at the engine and cursing in frustration at the dozens of identical looking wires wrapped up in duck tape (rendering individual wires untraceable).  Yet more hours drawing up new arrangements and placements for bus bars and terminal blocks to organize things.

In the process of figuring it out, I discovered that it was made more confusing by a ton of extra, old wiring that lead nowhere, and also by some really fucked up wiring choices that had a single wire crisscrossing the engine room multiple times unnecessarily.  Piece by piece I discarded unneeded stuff.  There were two really big days, where I tossed enough garbage wiring out of the engine room to make a big rats nest pile in the cabin.  The old engine wiring was completely encased in ancient black electrical tape, which was all gooey and black, and all of the wires running to the instruments were at least 8 feet too long (no one bothered to shorten the wires as it came from the engine manufacturer, I presume).  The key switch, which is less than 3 ft away from the starter battery, was pulling it’s power from the starter solenoid across the room; twice a hot wire went an additional 4 ft past a perfectly functional terminal block, to be spliced into the middle of another wire directly under the wettest part of the engine.  I discovered the original alternator regulator hidden underneath the solenoid, with much of the wiring still spliced in place all over (this despite the fact that we have a nice regulator mounted elsewhere, with a backup regulator mounted right next to it).  The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Now it is organized, with clean connections, in the simplest arrangement that I could come up with, and it is reasonably easy to trace the wires when necessary.  And I drew up a big schematic of the whole shabang.

Rebuilt/Rewired Main Electrical Panel

This was a hell of a job. First I’ll describe the original state of the panel.  The panel was set back 4 inches in the space, behind a 3 inch vertical piece of trim.  The panel was hinged at the bottom, so that when it folds down it hits the piece of trim, preventing it from opening less than halfway.  Inside the panel, all of the negative wiring was piled up on a single stud, with over 16 terminals stacked on top of each other, all corroding.  A handful of wires had pulled out of the terminals and were hanging loose in the compartment, only a few inches away from the hot stud.  It was unorganized, impossible to access and work on it, and a serious fire hazard. I took out the old panel and cut out the trim so that the new panel could be mounted at the face of the compartment (rather than 4" recessed).  I constructed a new panel out of plexiglass from TAP plastics, laboriously drilling all the holes to accomodate the circuit breakers.  I put a piece of hardwood trip around the outside (coated with penetrating epoxy) and used a long piano hinge to mount it.  I used all of the old breakers from the old panel.  To make the common, hot side of the circuit breakers, I bought a strip of solid copper from McmasterCarr, and drilled out holes to match the location of the circuit breakers.  I bought tiny little screws from bowline and screwed the common hot side of each breaker flat against the copper bus bar.  I ran 0 gauge hot and negative cables to the compartment, mounting all the negative to the right and all the hot to the left.  The 0 gauge hot supply runs to a stud, and 3-4 gauge jumper cables connect from this stud to each of the copper bus bars on the back of the panel (there are three rows of breakers).  I mounted three terminal blocks on the left side of the compartment, to mirror the three rows of circuit breakers.  I used short jumpers of 12 gauge wire in as many different colors as I could find to make the connections from the circuit breakers to the terminal blocks.  These short jumpers are bundled into spiral wrap to tame them.  All of the negative wiring runs to a dedicated spot (very few stacked terminals) on two ample sized negative bus bars. The wiring remains loose in the compartment behind the panel, and looks completely disorganized.  But there’s plenty of space and it is simple to trace wiring.  I am concerned that if I bundle the wiring all up to make it look pretty, it will only make it more difficult to trace wiring.

Installed GFCI electrical outlets

We have about 6 120V outlets on the boat, that are powered either by shore power (when we are plugged in at the dock) or by our inverter running off the boat batteries (when we’re not).

GFCI outlets are the ones with a “test” and “reset” button in between the two plugs.  GFCI stands for “ground fault current interrupt”.  Here’s an extremely abbreviated explanation of what it does: it measures the current in and the current out, and if they don’t match, it trips.  If you stick your finger in the outlet, some of the “current in” doesn’t make it to the “current out”, rather it takes a route through your body to get back to ground.  The GFCI senses that current is going elsewhere, and trips.

GFCIs do not completely eliminate the risk of electrocution: they do not trip instantaneously (though they do operate very fast) and so during the millisecond that it takes for the GFCI to trip, you may have got enough of a dose to kill you.  They do, however, significantly increase the protection and safety.

You can get them from home depot–I think they’re about $7 apiece (not including the box to mount them in and the plate to cover the front).

The GFCI outlets were bulkier than the old outlets, so I had to cut out the mounting hole a little bit on every one (wouldn’t expect any less frustration from a boat project).

New Marine Electrical Paradigm

I made a diagram to show the basics of our setup.  Hover over a choice to the right and the hot wiring will go red.

The traditionally espoused sailboat wiring setup is not ideal for a sailboat that incorporates multiple charging sources.  The traditional setup uses two identical house battery banks and a single battery isolation switch.

The ideal setup uses a large deep-cycle high-capacity house bank and a small, inexpensive starting battery.  The reason we use two battery banks on a sailboat is so that we always have a charged battery that can be used to start the engine.   Identical house banks are an inefficient and expensive way to accomplish this goal.  Prior to the existence of efficient and affordable series regulators, the double house bank setup made more sense.  Now, we can use a $130 Xantrex Echo charger to siphon charge off of the house bank to the starting battery, with no danger of the starting battery becoming accidentally discharged.

The ideal setup uses two isolation switches.

These are the goals:

1) Ability to isolate current sinks from the batteries with a switch. Ability to isolate current sources from the batteries with a switch. Ability to isolate current sources from current sinks with a switch.

I was working on the electrical system with the main battery switch turned off, and was astounded to find that the lights (and everything else on the boat) still turned on.  I realized that the Freedom Inverter, plugged into shore power, was acting as a transformer to supply 12V to the boat even without the batteries in the system (the inverter is on the downstream side of main switch). I considered moving the inverter to the upstream side of the main switch, but then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to switch the inverter out of the system–it would be constantly connected to the batteries. The same reasoning holds true for other sources of current as well, including the alternator, the PV panels, and the wind generator. I do not want those things constantly connected, without a quick way (a switch) to remove them from the system when leaving the boat.

The solution is to have two switches rather than the traditional single switch. By installing the second switch in the ground return instead of the supply side, we have isolated both house and starting batteries at the same time. (similarly, by installing the 200A fuse in the return line we protect the 2/0 wiring with just one fuse, instead of one in each of the batteries + side.

2) Separate house bank and starting battery.

This is the most efficient and cost effective way to maximize capacity available for regular usage while maintaining a backup way to start the engine.

The starting bank is charged with the Xantrex echo charger; the Freedom Marine 20 inverter has one built in that will come online regardless of charging source (not just the AC). I ran the starter hot to the other spot on the main switch, so that in the event that the starting battery fails, the house bank can be used to start the engine.

3) Protect all wiring with as few fuses as necessary.

To this end, I have inserted the fuse for the 2/0 cable in the ground return rather than the positive side. If I had put it in the positive side, I would have needed separate ones for the house and starting batteries.

Added dedicated starting battery

My current ongoing battle is with the electrical system.  It consumes on average 40% of my time every workday.  And I discover new, terrible things about it every single day. The original setup was two equal sized house banks of 250Ah each; each bank consisted of two 6V Rolls 250Ah batteries in series.  This setup is not the ideal system for a boat that is trying to both maximize the capacity of the house bank and maintain the safety of a reserve supply for starting the engine while simultaneously minimizing the size, weight, volume, and cost of the batteries.  Two equal-sized house banks is a common, simple, effective solution for this.  But it is not the best.  It is better to have a large house bank of high-capacity deep-cycle (thick plate) batteries, and a separate low-capacity high-cranking (thin plate) small starting battery.  This system, though better, is more complicated for two reasons: the charging system must be more advanced in order to treat the two wildly different batteries separately, and the amount and complexity of wiring is increased. So we combined the two identical house banks into one large house bank, and bought a starting battery.   Jonny built a bombproof battery box for the starting battery next to the existing house bank.  We bought $200 worth of 2/0 cable to run new hot and ground lines to the engine (I put the new cable on the alternator and used the old cable for the starter). 

Replaced VHF coax

Previously, I spent a few hours in the berkeley workyard replacing the coax connectors on the old coax, while the mast was on the ground.  Well it figures that as soon as we put the mast in the boat, I notice that the old coax is completely snapped (dielectric was brittle) right at the exit hole of the mast.  So we ended up replacing it after all.  We bought RG-213 from Svendsen’s, which is now the replacement for RG-8U.  (internet research told me that the RG-8U is an old designation no longer made, and that the RG-213 is for all intensive purposes identical).   The RG-213 is thicker and higher quality than the standard RG-58x.

It was less enjoyable doing the work while hanging in the bosun’s chair at the top of the mast than when the mast was on the ground.

This time, instead of making a power-sucking butt connection in the bilge, I just ran the coax all the way back to the radio, so it’s unbroken from masthead to the radio.  The next time the mast is pulled, all the bilge wires will need to be snipped and then reconnected.  I deemed it more prudent to make permanent, waterproof connections (with adhesive-lined heat shrink) than to leave connectors down in the wet environment of the bilge.  Now, even if the bilge fills with water our VHF and trilight should continue to function.

Changed location of wiring exit from base of mast; enlarged drain slot

The old hole was on the port side, which is the inaccessible side of the mast in the bilge. Jonny drilled a new hole on the starboard side; the edges were filed nicely to create a soft edge for the wiring to exit.

The old drainage at the base of the mast was a single hole, approximately 1/8″ in diameter, about 2″ above the base of the mast. This was corroded and plugged when we pulled the mast, and the base was filled with dirt and aluminum corrosion. Jonny used a cutoff blade on the grinder to create a narrow slot from the base, reaching up to the old hole. This should do the job much better.


Rewired mast

The wiring that comes out of the mast includes:
1) VHF coax
2) mast head instruments: wind speed and wind direction
3) masthead trilight
4) steaming light/deck light combination fixture

I redid all the connections in the bilge and some of the wires that run the length of the mast.  The old connections in the bilge were wet and soggy when I unwrapped the ancient electrical tape that was “waterproofing” them.  I soldered each of the wires directly (i.e. direct splice, no butt connector), put a heat shrink over each of the individual connections, then put a large heat shrink over the whole group.

VHF coax connectors:  The old ones looked heavily corroded, so I cut off as much coax cable as I dared in an attempt to expose fresh, uncorroded foil. The coax was pretty manky and I didn’t feel great about it, but I didn’t want to pay for 50ft of new coax to pull up the whole mast.  This was unfortunately not as successful as I hoped–I ended up soldering the new connectors onto still pretty corroded foil.  Then we got a deal at ancor on new VHF coax, so I ended up redoing it again after the mast was in the boat.  Poor timing on my part, but it worked out alright.  I ran the new cable all the way to the back of the radio, so there is no connector in the bilge as there was before (this is preferable, since there are substantial losses in signal power at every connection).  The next time the mast gets pulled, the coax will have to be cut in the bilge and a connector installed.

Rewired steaming light/deck light fixture

When we bought the boat the steaming light did not work.  It was a wiring failure in the connection located in the bilge.  But I decided to examine and potentially rewire the fixture anyway.

There were two additional, unused three-conductor cables in our mast.  I do not know why they were installed without being used for anything.  Regardless, we used one of them for the new trilight, and the other one we pulled partway back down the mast and I used it for the steaming light fixture.  I now have complete confidence in the electrical connections.

Redid underwater zinc installation

The old installation used two bolts through the hull; the head of the bolt was on the inside of the hull, lock washer and nut on the outside. The electrical terminal was under the head of the bolt inside the hull. This meant that the electrical terminals could not be removed, cleaned, or replaced without pulling the boat out of the water (which explains why the old terminal was rendered worthless by corrosion). Moreover, the bolts used were stainless, which is not very conductive. We purchased extra long silicon bronze bolts, cut off the heads of the bolts, and used doubled nuts with lock washers both on the inside and outside of the hull. This way the terminal can be accessed and replaced without affecting the zinc installation.

img_1334.jpg Zinc Installation Expanded sany0322.JPG Underwater Zinc Valiant 40

Replaced masthead trilight, LED bulb

We purchased a FirstStar LED trilight bulb, which is conveniently a light-activated anchor light and trilight all in one bulb that fits a standard socket (only two conductors needed; switch the polarity to switch the function). Our old masthead housing wasn’t a standard socket, and was nearly opaque besides. We replaced it with a standard Aqua Signal series 80 fixture. But we weren’t happy with how low the housing sat–the visibility was blocked by other mast hardware. So jonny bought some c-board and we mounted the fixture atop four stacked 1" pieces of c-board. I even routed the wire through the c-board to come up exactly underneath the fixture, to avoid water intrusion. We’re very proud of the result.