Can you find the problems in this photo?
Most people are familiar with the Where’s Waldo? books, where the reader scours the pages to find a distinctively dressed cartoon character. Well, here’s the marine version. No, you’re not looking for Waldo in a Captain’s hat, but the photo above contains 11 technical faults. Your job is to locate as many as possible. The problems fall into two main areas: Electrical and fuel/ventilation. All of the faults are based on standards developed and maintained by the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC). Boats should be built — and maintained — to these standards. Additionally, the ABYC standards are relied upon by surveyors during pre-purchase and condition-and-valuation surveys.
The picture was taken in the engine room of a twin gasoline-powered boat during a pre-purchase survey. Hopefully, this was not your boat!
1. Improper Conductors. Conductors (wires) are the distribution network of the electrical system. They are subject to a harsh environments, temperature, vibration and humidity. As a result they should be designed appropriately. Such residential conductors as RomexTM have a solid core that will break over time due to vibration. Additionally, welding cable is often wrongly used for battery cable. The jacket and insulation are not rated for the marine environment and will break down over time. The correct conductors should meet the requirement of UL 1426 Boat Cable or SAE J378 and J1127 or 1128.
2. Conductor protection. The main culprit here is chafing of the conductors passing through a bulkhead. Over time, the chafing on the bulkhead will cause exposure of the copper and a bad situation. Chafe protection can be accomplished with loom, conduit, or overlapping electrical tape.
3. Conductor support. Conductors must be secured every 18 inches. This could be accomplished with smooth-edged metal clips or straps, metal clips with insulators, or plastic straps. Keep in mind that plastic straps can’t be used in areas — over engines, say, or over shafts or other machinery — where failure would cause a hazard. Additionally, the insulation should not be damaged by the support during installation.
4. No Battery trays or boxes. These batteries are certainly not in battery boxes, and further investigation — not evident from the photo — showed that they are not in battery trays either. The intent of the tray or box is to contain any accidentally spilled battery electrolyte and protect the surrounding area.
5. Spring clips must not be used. While spring clips may be a quick solution for a dead battery, they are not an appropriate method to connect to battery terminals. In this example, the temporary battery charger has migrated into a permanent installation. Also the spring clips are continuously energized by the battery and not protected by the terminal covers. A proper connection should be made with ring terminals on the studs or battery terminals on the posts.
6. Improperly secured batteries. Batteries contain a chemical cocktail and have a tremendous amount of energy. In this case a bungee cord is simply not up to the task. Batteries should be secured with hold-downs or straps so they will move less than one inch.
7. No wing nuts on 6 AWG or larger conductors. Wing nuts are quick and easy to use, but they are not suitable for making high current connections because there is a limit as to how far the human hand can torque them down. In this case, the main DC negative conductor is connected to the battery by a wing nut.
8. Metal too close to battery. Metallic components in the fuel system within 12 inches of a battery terminal need to be protected with an insulating barrier. This is to prevent incidental contact from tools during battery installation and removal.
Fuel and Ventilation
1. Bulkhead penetrations. Bulkhead penetrations need to be sealed to prevent the migration of any fumes between the engine room and the inhabited spaces, cabins, staterooms, etc. This is particularly important to contain carbon monoxide, a lethal, colorless and odorless gas that is a by-product of combustion.
2. Fuel filter fire test. The fuel filter needs to pass the 2.5-minute fire test. In this instance, the plastic bowl at the bottom of the filter would melt before 2.5 minutes in a fire. The installation of a metal bowl under the filter provides the additional protection required.
3. Continuous energy flow. This remote fuel pump is connected to the battery and continuously energized even when the ignition is off. The fuel pump should be energized only when the engine is running.
So how many did you find? Would you buy this boat? The next time work is done on your boat, ask the technician if he’s certified by ABYC and the work will be done to ABYC standards. As electrical issues — followed by fuel issues — are the leading causes of fire on board, the safety of your crew and boat may just depend on it.