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Saturday, February 23, 2013

All About Corrosion

Bus bar corrosion
Tapping Screws, Leading to Poor Bonding. Courtesy Yachting 2/13
Yachting Magazine's Steve D'Antonio ran a great feature this month on bonding and corrosion in marine electrical systems.  Having trudged through the greater part of the electrical systems chapters in Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual, I've come to realize that a ship's electrical system might be the greatest source of confusion and expense on any boat.  

Before we begin, I believe I deserve a round of applause for getting through multiple chapters of mind-numbing electrical mumbo jumbo.  But counterintuitively, the further I got, the more important all of this knowledge became.  Corrosion and other electrical ghost-problems are serious marine epidemics that can be eradicated with knowledge and careful monitoring.

By all means seek out Steve's article, and don't let it make your head spin.  Here are the highlights:

1. Most boat electrical systems are horrible accidents waiting to happen.

2. We should all be using aluminum, not zinc, anodes because of aluminum's better all-around performance with no negative trade-offs.
3. Monitor anodes throughout the season to ensure that they are wearing evenly and thoroughly.  If they wear unevenly or too slowly, there's a problem that should get addressed immediately.

Most enlightening in this article was the reference to resistance across the grounding system.  Essentially, since corrosive charges are very low in voltage (yet still high enough to cause damage, mind you), we want a ground system that does not have significant resistance anywhere which would impede the course of stray current getting to the right sacrificial metals.  Keep that in mind when tracing ground wire runs around your boat's various systems.

In Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual, a read I highly recommend, author Nigel Calder goes over multiple scenarios on grounding circuits within boating applications, all of which are extremely enlightening.  What's absurd is the number of manufacturers who get this critical system wrong from the get-go.  Also surprising is the role that shore power plays in what Steve calls an 'insidious' electrical problem.  Essentially, shore power is your enemy, especially if wired improperly.  But all is not lost; devices like galvanic isolators can help mitigate the poor wiring often found at a marina near you.

Even if you know nothing about electrical systems, take the time to learn as much as you can take and review your own boat's system for some tell-tale signs of bad wiring.  You may just be able to catch a potential mishap just waiting to ruin your sunny day on the water.

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