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ABYC’s Boat System Check Reveals Common Issues


Many people are capable of doing some of the minor maintenance jobs onboard, but when it gets into the more complicated stuff, such as rewiring, repowering, or replacing a fuel tank, most of us are smart enough to hire a pro. But even the simple stuff, such as installing a new battery, can be dangerous if not done right. And the complicated things can really put your boat and crew in danger if it’s not done to American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) safety standards.

But how do you know if things are up to snuff? Several lucky boat owners found out last May, when the ABYC conducted a free Boat System Check on a fleet of boats at the Port of Annapolis in Maryland. Local ABYC members, consisting of surveyors and ABYC-certified technicians, gave boat owners a quick once-over on the major systems on their boat and pointed out areas of concern. The fleet of boats ranged from a 1985 26-foot Nordic Tug to a 2010 Dufour 405 sailboat. Problems ranged from a simple lack of warning labels to a potentially deadly leaking propane system. Here are the top five most common issues that were found:

1. Faulty or Lack of GFCIs (Ground Fault Current Interrupters)

ABYC E-11 AC and DC Electrical Systems on Boats requires that AC outlets installed in heads, galleys, machinery spaces, or on weather decks be protected by a GFCI, either a breaker or a receptacle. Keep in mind typical GFCI receptacles are not ignition protected and should not be installed in gasoline fuel spaces. And don’t forget to perform the self-test a few times a season to make sure they’re working properly.

2. Unprotected Positive DC Terminals

ABYC E-11 requires any continuously energized part to be physically protected with boots, an enclosure or some other cover. These are usually at the batteries and the connections in the starting circuit. Whether it’s a positive battery terminal or the positive starter post, if it’s not protected by overcurrent protection (breaker or fuse), then it needs a boot or enclosure.

3. Improperly Secured Batteries

Batteries are full of an acidic chemical cocktail and contain lots of power. It’s extremely important to keep them where they are intended. ABYC E-10 Storage Batteries requires that batteries not move more than one inch. Hold-downs or a properly secured battery box are the way to go.

4. Fuel System Grounding

According to ABYC H-24 Gasoline Fuel Systems, each metallic fuel tank and metallic part of the fuel fill system must be grounded — and this actually applies to diesel fuel systems as well. The simple reason — to prevent potential sparks created by the buildup of static electricity. Typically, a green wire is used to ground the components. Even if you have a wire, check to make sure the connection is not corroded, a common problem.

5. Seat Lid/Locker Restraints

As boats bounce around, the ability to secure seat lids and prevent the admission of water, contain gear, and limit the potential of mangled fingers is critical, particularly in sailboats that often heel 30 degrees or more. ABYC H-3, which governs exterior openings on boats, requires all boats to have closures for cockpit seat lids.

So the next time you’re on your boat, test the GFCIs, look for missing battery terminal boots, make sure the batteries won’t shift if you tug on them, look for the green wire on the fuel tank, and make sure cockpit lockers can be latched. And when it’s time for some major work, make sure it will be done to the most current safety standards and hire an ABYC certified technician. You can find them on the ABYC website at Hopefully, when your boat gets a survey or a free boat system check by ABYC, it will pass with flying colors.

Brian Goodwin

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine