Electrical Connections on Boats: Win the Never-Ending Battle

Electrical connections on boats present a never-ending battle. They corrode and corrupt, shake free from vibrations, and those that need to be constantly disconnected and reconnected, such as the plug-ends in the back of a removable fishfinder or chartplotter, are easily damaged with use. So, how’s a boater supposed to keep all of the accessories aboard humming smoothly along? Here are some tips and tricks that will help you keep the juice flowing.

1. When you wire something up, spray it down with a corrosion-inhibitor like CorrosionX or Boeshield T-9, before covering it up. This includes any crimp connectors, fuse or breaker panel connections, and plug-ends – anywhere a current flows, and you can see bare metal.

2. Cover or encase connections, whenever possible. Crimp connectors should have heat-shrink tubing around them, and panels should have covers. If you can’t get heat-shrink over a connection, another good way to protect it is with liquid electric tape. Regular electric tape is a last resort to be used for on-the-water repairs, not actual installations, and it should be replaced asap.

3. If you regularly remove and re-install plug connectors with multiple metal pins, coat them down with a corrosion inhibitor and/or lubricant every few months. These are a constant trouble spot and if a pin bends or breaks during installation, it can more or less render your unit useless. If you can, consider leaving the unit aboard and plugged in, even if that means purchasing a cover for it or for the entire helm station.

electronics plug end

Removable plug ends present a number of problems, and are a regular place to watch for electrical failure.

4. Be extra careful with plastic plug ends in cold weather. Whenever temperatures drop below the 50-degree mark these can become brittle, and break. In freezing temperatures, this problem becomes even worse.

5. Never leave a wire hanging, because vibrations and wave impacts will shake and swing it until the connection breaks. All wires need to be supported and loomed, and they should get a regular inspection to be sure everything’s ship-shape.

Bonus Tip: Keep basic wiring repair tools onboard: a stripper/crimper, extra crimps, electric tape, and a wire-tester for chasing down problems. That way, at least you can get your electrical accessories up and running while off the dock, even if they need a more complete repair job when you get back to dry land.

 

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  1. Criss Morgan

    The tip about liquid electrical tape is a good one. The product I use to protect as many electrical wire splices and other connections where feasible is the Plastic Dip you can buy at any hardware store. Many people use this product to give hand tool’s handles, such as pliers, a plastic coating that makes them easier to grip. Plastic Dip remains flexible even in cold weather and I have never had it get brittle enough to break. It has great wear resistance too. It also comes in several colors for the people who like a neater look and to have the dip be the same color as the wire. I suggest you dip wires in boats in use in salt water environments twice instead of the usual once, just to give a little added protection. I have never had problems with wire connections dipped in this stuff, even in high vibration areas. When I built my shop, I covered every wire nut and connection with it and have never regretted it. You also have the added benefit of all the other uses other than electrical connectors.

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