Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Boat DC Wiring!!!!!!

Had the pleasure of visiting our friends Scott and Jeanie and their boat 'Joie de Vivre' in Stuart on Sunday. Always enjoy snooping around other boats, especially other Whitby 42's. Scott proudly showed me his wiring system and trust me he has reasons to be happy with it (installed, no doubt at great expense, by the previous owner). It is a thing of beauty but also serves to illustrate the complexity of the current method of wiring a boat. ALL the wires lead back to a central panel usually midships.

Installing such a system is way beyond my meager abilities and patience so my only choice would be to contract it out. This is unlikely to be a cheap option and unless I stand over the installer I may still not understand where all the squiggly amps go.


I can investigate one of the new distribution systems, e.g. the Capi2 bus based power supply systems. Nigel Calder went this route on his new sailboat Nada, not without some pain, see "On the Leading Edge"

This is one of the comments about the system which I like;

Comments which stop short of "are you completely f#&king nuts?" would be greatly appreciated.


Ocean Dove said...

After seeing the work you have completed on “The Incredible Hull” I think you can handle the job. I labeled all the wiring. When replacing wiring on Ocean Dove I used flat duplex wire for my DC wiring it was a little more expensive then using single wires. I like the extra protection of the outer jacket. It makes it easier to pull the wire through all the holes and for tracing wire later. I labeled the wires at the panel and any terminal block with a Brother labeler.
My wiring panel is not as pretty as the panel you show put I know each wire and were it goes because it installed it and labeled it.
I am a believer in K.I.S.S.
Ocean Dove

jc luddite said...

the capi2 system looks interesting. i was always under the impression that anything that makes for less time doing repairs was not allowed on board. That being said my initial thought is this would make sense to install in a new boat or a gutted hull. Seems that an old boat with most of the interior intact it would be a lot more work for the return gained.

i think mastervolt has a system as well, http://www.mastervolt.com/view_product.php?lang=2&section=marine&prggr_id=1031&prg_id=1157&pro_id=6034

all the same, i would need to farm this job out , just so i can sleep at night.

rj said...

What jc said.

In a new/refurbished hull situation, when you consider the miles and miles of wiring needed for traditional dc systems, especially if you plan a lot of gadgets and devices, distributed power is the way to go.

IMHO (disagreeing with Ocean Dove here) distributed systems like Capi2 IS K.I.S.S! Not only for installation but also for troubleshooting and diagnosing after the install.

Reliability questions are often a con argument made against these systems, but most are built upon proven technology used in automotive and defense applications. So, I don't believe that argument.

But that traditional DC system in the picture looks very tidy and nice. Must have taken a LOT of time to make it that pretty (but very much worth it).

Ocean Dove said...

Capi2 IS K.I.S.S?????

My old breaker system
I close the breaker for the cabin lights and turn on a light in the cabin and Walla! I can see.
or with Capi2
I press a button on the main panel and it sends a message through a data cable to the hi-tech breaker please close the breaker, the breaker closes I turn on a light in the cabin Walla! I can see.

Ok what if there is not Walla and I am till in the dark.
The old breaker system
I take out my trusty voltmeter. I have voltage at the breaker and after the breaker the breaker is OK.
I go to the light I have power at the light it’s the bulb If it there is not voltage at the light it’s the bit in the middle, the wire.

Capi2 system
Where is the problem?
Is it the button on the main panel that did not send the message to the hi-tech breaker to close?
Is it the data cable between the main panel and the hi-tech breaker?
Is the hi-tech breaker?
Is it the wire between the hi-tech breaker and the light?
How do I test the panel button, the data cable, or the hi-tech breaker?
Just call the Hi-priced tech guy Walla I can see.

You be the judge which is system is K.I.S.S.

Yes you may save a little weight with capi2 system but
"TIH" is Whitby 42 you are not out to win any races

rj said...

Ocean Dove,

With Capi2 and related systems, its not the weight savings (I never claimed that), it is the simplicity of installation. Furthermore, it is the simplicity ADDING and TROUBLESHOOTING devices.

That nice electrical panel/wiring of yours will take some effort to keep nice when (if) you add more circuits as you chase wire through cramped spaces, cut/retie zip ties, etc. etc.

On trouble shooting, say you have a wire running half the length of the boat with a suspect break in it, but you don't know where the break is. How do you find that EASILY? Well, chase the wire through the cramped spaces poking the plasic jacket with your multi-tester (perhaps with EXTRA LONG lead extensions going back to the panel for continuity checks, I might add). If you are spending that much effort, you might as well spend a little more and run a new wire.

In distributed systems, you typically only need be concerned with the leg of wire coming off of the (large gauge) buss wire. I call that SIMPLE.


The Incredible Hull said...

Glad I've opened another bag of worms. I think that this is an important discussion and at some time in the future "smart" distribution systems will be the norm. We are mainly discussing whether the current systems are ready for prime time. Lets keep in relatively civil, most of us are fellow WAFI's after all.

Anyone else want to pile in?


Ocean Dove said...

I am not anti-technology my wife thinks I am a Gadget Nerd I love my Mac, iPod, my wireless hard drive, my Raymarine C series chartplotter, ST70 instruments, autopilot etc.
The carpi2 system is truly remarkable technology but does it belong on my Whitby 42 in my opinion no, a Super Yacht yes.
I have worked a number of years on commercial vessels with electronic controlled engines, alarms, computer controlled ballast systems and unloading systems. Hi-tech systems have revolutionized the marine industry, but they require some expertise to troubleshoot and maintain them.
If the carp2 bus with the distribution points and breakers were run through the bilges I would be concern about flooding of the bilge. Every connection is designed to be watertight But!!! Wherever you make an electrical connection there is the potential for corrosion.
The photo of the electrical panel on “TIH” blog is not mine. I have been slowly upgrading Ocean Dove DC system over the last year and half or so. Went ever I replaced wires I used duplex wire with an outer jacket for extra protection against chafing. I also over sized the wires 14 gauge became 12, 12 gauge became 10 gauge over kill yes but I was concern will voltage drops over a long runs. “This would not be a concern with capi2” I also ran spare wires on the long runs to the bow and stern for future use. All runs were made with one continuous wire no joints. Connection made to equipment within the bilge areas were made with heat-shrink crimp-on connectors.
If during my troubleshooting I determine that the bit in the middle “the wire” was the problem I would replace the complete wire provably with one of the spare wires I had already pulled through.
When I mentioned weight. I was quoting the manufactures.
An opinion is just an opinion. It is healthy to have one.

jc luddite said...

To RJ's point some high end builders have tried to come up with their own sort of distribution systems using terminal strips. below is a quote from Walt schultz of Shannon and the link to a page of the interior of a new 53' yacht and how they deal with the limitations of conventional DC installs. scroll down for the photos of the DC system in the link.the amount of wiring is truly overwhelming from a maintenance perspective.

"the wiring on Shannons is run under the side deck flange. Note the terminal strips that are located throughout the interior. It is much easier to track down a short in shorter length of wiring from terminal strip to terminal strip, rather than a 50'+ wire. There will be at least a mile of wire in the Shannon 53 HPS."

page link:


In honor of full disclosure I have yet to start work on a big cruising boat overhaul and can't honestly say I would use the capi2 or mastervolt system. it would really depend on the level of work required to rebuild the yacht and the state of the electrical panel/system. I do think these systems, like the matrone(?) instruments will be the future in all but the most basic of boats. In my mind they do make sense for the DIY because it's alot easier to track down issues and figure out how to fix them.

I always wonder what sort of wiring Dick Cheney's pace maker has.


Emily said...

I love all your posts, I've just taken on my first sailboat renovation this past year: www.theladyiris.com

Your posts give me a lot to think about.

Lady Iris