Sunday, May 12, 2013

Call Me? Maybe???

 We've known for a while that "something" was a little bit off about our boat's electrical system.  I really am obsessed with monitoring our power consumption and recharge from our beloved solar panels, and I had noticed that one bank of batteries wasn't quite recharging all the way, maybe they were just a few percent low, but something was still NQR (Not Quite Right).

I'm so glad we hadn't known how close we were to potential disaster! (Photo from here)
That's when we learned how hard it was to schedule marine electricians.  We left a message with one, who never called us back.  The second one, we were able to get on his calendar in a few weeks to come and diagnose the problem.   He was very informative about many issues and new ideas and standards that had come into existence in the 33 years since our boat was built to then-code.  No specific answers to our mystery lack of charge, but he pointed out some things that definitely needed attention.  We paid him for his time, but when we tried to schedule the actual work, multiple phone messages and emails were met with ... silence.  So, disappointed that we would now have to pay someone else to familiarize himself with our systems before getting actual work done, we phoned a third electrician.  Who didn't call us back ...

Back when we had our kitchen design/remodel business, we had at one time a 6-month waiting list for new projects.  We had told one potential client this, and offered some other names that could get to her work sooner, and she said, "No, that's okay, I'll wait.  I heard you return phone calls."  That's it? I asked myself.  Not that we're creative, not that we have good attention to detail, not that our work is on budget and on time, but that we return phone calls?  That just didn't seem to me to be a prize-worthy achievement; it seemed more like the foundation stuff, the goes-without-saying stuff, that should be taken for granted.  But now that we were the clients instead of the providers, I learned how frustrating it was to be so dependent.  Meanwhile, I was looking suspiciously at our battery-selector switch, seriously, dangerously undersized by modern standards, more and more aware that something was going to have to be done sooner rather than later.
Just a look at our electric panel doesn't hint at the chaos behind,  but the hand-printed labels and multicolored breakers should be the first clue that this has evolved over time.  Four owners over 33 years had each added their personalization.

Aaaack!  This is what's inside!  The blue circle on the left side of the panel is the selector switch.  The wires leading up to it are the proper size, but the switch itself is small.  
 Enter Patrick and Rob from Marine Electric Systems.  We broke the project into two phases, partly due to the crowdedness of their work schedule, and partly due to the emptiness in our checkbook.  Phase 1 replaced the battery switch and rerouted the wiring.  The scariest thing they found wasn't the battery switch, though; it was that a few connections had vibrated over the years and were loose, as was one of the crimps on those big honking red battery cables.  I feel a lot better now!
After.  The negative wires (black, yellow, and gray) are grouped on  the back wall, and each  positive (red) is labeled.   The big heavy-duty wires that went to the battery switch have been re-routed to a new, larger switch right next to the batteries.  Shorter run of wire = a good thing.

Battery box "before."
Battery box "after." Big new fuses in the upper left corner, big new switch in upper right corner.

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