While many owner/operators are diligent at preventative maintenance, one item that is often overlooked is the electrical distribution system. This includes items such as shore power cables and connectors; selector switches; miles of wiring; thousands of crimps and terminals; circuit breakers; and fuses.
Salt water, humid air, and constant vibrations accelerate damage to these components. Routine inspection reduces the chance of system failure or potential fire. Because much of a vessel’s wiring is located behind panels, in bilges, and inside the helm console, we recommend a thorough annual inspection as a minimum. If any area is subject to extreme stress through high amperage draw, excessive vibration, or salt spray, it should be inspected more often.
In order to conduct a safe and thorough inspection, having a working knowledge of all of your vessel systems is important. Annual inspections should begin by de-energizing all AC/DC circuits to eliminate the chance of electrocution. Methodically inspect connections for corrosion, heat damage, tightness, and proper crimping. Don’t be afraid to wiggle connections a little as many connections appear fine until they are touched. Inspect your wiring harnesses for chafing, and pay particular attention to sharp bends and where wires enter and leave chases. Also, inspect your systems as a whole to look for any overloaded circuits or potential safety concerns. During operation, an infrared gun can be invaluable in identifying hotspots at connection points and sharp bends.
Loose connections, corrosion, and hotspots can be hard to find; an annual PM involving detailed and diligent inspection will go a long way toward preventing a dangerous electrical fire. Any items that come up should be flagged for a marine electrician to inspect if you are not comfortable completing the repair.