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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Tag: boats

Tips from Yamaha on Understanding Marine Electrical Systems

by on Sep.03, 2014, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS

The electrical system on your boat is the power behind the power. Without it, the outboards won’t start, the pumps won’t pump, the lights won’t illuminate and the navigational electronics show only black screen. Many boat owners don’t have a basic knowledge of the electrical system on their vessels and that lack of knowledge can result in lost days on the water or worse. Today’s outboard powered boats have sophisticated power distribution systems that incorporate multiple batteries, isolators, chargers, breakers, switches and fuses – you should understand the function of each.

Multi-engine installations, like this Contender with triple Yamaha F350’s, have complex electrical systems that require a basic understanding from the operator.
Power systems vary with the size of the boat, the number of engines and the power demands of the systems on board. Vessels with multiple outboard engines and a larger compliment of electrically-powered accessories require a more robust and complex system than a single-outboard skiff. Keep in mind that not all of the components covered in this issue are found on all outboard boats.

Joe Vizzosi recently took delivery of a new Yamaha-powered 39-foot Contender® with three F350 outboards. While he only had the boat for a week when he welcomed us aboard, he was already able to walk us through the components of the electrical system, from the batteries to the breakers at the helm switch panel, allowing us to shoot pictures along the way. This boat has a far more complex electrical system than smaller outboard-powered boats with fewer engines and batteries. Vizzosi’s understanding of the systems onboard was impressive.

“It’s critical to know where everything is located and its function in the system,” he said. “While electrical systems on newer boats are pretty foolproof and trouble-free, you never know when you’ll run into a problem with the power supply to your navigational electronics or running lights. If that happens offshore, you have to be able to fix it.”

Here’s a brief rundown of the major components commonly found in modern outboard-powered boats.

Cranking Batteries

Cranking batteries as well as storage or deep-cycle batteries benefit from on-board smart chargers that keep them topped off and ready for use.
Cranking batteries are dedicated only to starting your outboard engines. Once they do their job, they’re immediately recharged by the engine alternator. They are designed to provide a burst of amperage to the starter motor and, therefore, must be capable of providing the cold cranking amperage (CCA) required by the engine manufacturer to accomplish the job. CCA is a rating that defines a battery’s ability to start an engine at 0°F (-17.8°C), and can range from 250 CCA for low horsepower electric start outboards to 750 CCA for high horsepower V6 and V8 outboards. New boats come equipped with appropriately sized cranking batteries, but be sure to check your outboard owner’s manual when the time comes to replace old batteries.

Storage Batteries
Also called house batteries, storage batteries provide the power to run all the boat’s electrical accessories like running lights, bilge and bait well pumps, navigational and communications electronics, entertainment systems, anchor windlass, bow thruster, power steering, and air conditioning. Storage batteries also power refrigeration on larger boats or electric trolling motors on bass and walleye boats. This system can range from a single battery on smaller boats to a bank of batteries on boats that require more amperage, and they are typically deep-cycle type. Deep cycle batteries are designed to provide constant power over long periods of time and, unlike cranking batteries, are capable of withstanding extreme discharges and recharges without damage.

Battery Isolator

A battery isolator is useful for distributing charge from the alternators to batteries that most need charging.
A battery isolator is a single-direction pathway used for directing the power from the engine’s alternator to two or more batteries. For example, a vessel with twin outboards charging two cranking batteries and a house battery has the current from the alternators pass through the isolator, which distributes it to the batteries. Battery isolators also prevent competing batteries from discharging from one to the other during operation.

Battery Switch

Battery switches allow shutting down current to all stations when the boat is not in use, reducing chances of electrolysis and fire.
A battery switch, or switches in the case of multiple outboard applications, is used to engage or disengage the various batteries on the boat. When the boat is not in use, they are turned off. There are switches designed for single or twin battery applications. For example, a single-outboard boat with two batteries can be operated from a dual battery switch, which can engage them individually (battery 1 or battery 2) or in unison (both). Boats with more than two batteries typically employ a switch for each battery in the system with just an on-off configuration.

Smart Chargers
Smart chargers are more popular than ever for maintaining batteries at maximum capacity when a vessel is not in use. They are available in configurations capable of handling any number of batteries. Smart chargers are installed on the boat with a receptacle for plugging in a shore power cable for connecting them to a land-based 110-volt power supply. They distribute power on an as-needed basis to all the batteries on the boat. They are called “smart chargers” because they automatically detect when a battery falls below full charge, and then they send just the right amount of current to bring it back to full charge without overcharging.

Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers are a part of every electrical system on modern boats, allowing a quick reset after an overload.
The circuit breakers on a boat do the same job as the circuit breakers in your house or apartment. They are an automatic emergency power cut-off in case of a power surge, providing protection for the system and electrical components. Circuit breakers can be found in various locations, not just at the switch panel at the helm. You should always know where all the breakers on your boat are located in case one trips. This will help you to troubleshoot a problem and reset them to restore power to a circuit.

Fuses
The fuses are the last line of defense for accessories like your navigational and communications electronics that are not on individual breakers. A fuse panel is usually found in the vicinity of these items and can be traced by following the power cables from the electronics back to the panel. Most newer boats use automotive-type fuses, but many older vessels are equipped with glass fuses. You should make it a point to carry replacements for every fuse on the boat in case of a failure.

The list above details the common components that make up the power grid on your boat. You should take the time to familiarize yourself with the entire system, from the power source to the batteries to the distribution panels. Knowing and understanding your electrical system is as important as making sure there is gas in the tank before you head out for a day of boating.

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Marine Flea Market, Mangrove Creek Outfitters, Chiefland, March 22, 2014

by on Feb.17, 2014, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS, Cedar Key, Suwannee, Yankeetown and Waccasassa

Mangrove Creek Outfitters in Chiefland is planning another “Marine Flea Market” event on March 22.  There will be lots of used fishing, boating and related outdoor gear on the tables of folks who have been doing some spring-cleaning.    The last Flea Market was a huge success, with deals for all the fishermen in your life!

If you’re interested in selling, the charge is only 20 bucks. Call Robert or Kathy at (352) 493-0071 for details. Otherwise, just go by, say “hi”- and then buy!

Mangrove Creek Outfitters is located at 1109 N. Young Blvd., just north of the US19/US129 intersection, across from Hardee’s and next to Pizza Hut.

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A Shotgun Marriage? Ethanol and Old Outboard Engines–From NACO

by on Mar.30, 2012, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS

From NACO, the National Associatiion of Charterboat Operators.  Bobbi Walker offers and excellent overview of Ethanol-laced marine fuel.  This should be particularly interesting if you have a pre-1990 motor.  Personally, I use Star brite’s Startron Gasoline Additive, even though I’m pretty sure the fuel I get at the marina is low in ethanol.  But, you can never be too careful!

Boat US asked Mercury Marine’s Ed Alyanak and Frank Kelley, who between them have over 60 years of experience, to find out what’s made these decades-old outboards more susceptible to ethanol’s well-known problems and what owners can do.

1. Vulnerable hoses: In the mid 1980’s new standards (SAE J1527) for fuel hoses were developed for “gasohol,” which was known to deteriorate rubber and plastics. Since then, problems with hoses have largely gone away, but that doesn’t mean they are maintenance free. Tech Tip: Any hose older than 10 years should be replaced. Here’s another way to test rubber fuel hose condition: wipe a clean rag along the hose. If you smell gas on the rag, replace the hose immediately.

2. Carburetors: O-rings and rubber carburetor parts on older engines tend to get hard and brittle when exposed to ethanol and then break off in bits and pieces causing clogs, misfires and shutdowns. Pre-1990 carburetors were also made from alloys that didn’t stand up to ethanol, leading to corrosion that can cause tiny fuel orifices to clog, resulting in hard starts and poor running. Old carbs are also “dumb” in that they were designed to run on only one type of fuel. Ethanol, however, has more oxygen and affects the air/fuel ratio, causing engines to run leaner and hotter. Tech Tip: The best solution with old outboards is to run straight gas – if you can find it. Some mechanics may also have the ability to “recalibrate” a carburetor to tolerate E10 (note: gas with ethanol greater than 10% should never be used with any boat engine).

3. Plastic fuel filter bowl: Some older engines may have plastic fuel filter bowls. Tech Tip: If you still have one, replace immediately with a metal bowl.

4. Fuel fill gasket: Keeping water out of the fuel tank is even more important with ethanol as it can eventually lead to the formation of two separate solutions in the gas tank (water and fuel), also known as phase separation. The process is more common on older boats which are more likely to have accumulated water at the bottom of the tank. Once phase separation happens – the tipping point when water in the gas is either harmlessly ingested or transformed into a corrosive mixture no engine will run on – there’s no going back. No fuel additive can restore E10 back to its normal state. Tech Tip: Age and exposure to ethanol can rot fill gaskets or O-rings. Replace them every few years.

5. “Gunk” in the tank: It is still possible that some old outboards and boat fuel systems have yet to sip a drop of E10. But once your boat drinks its first tankful, ethanol will “scour” or dissolve the gunk that’s been coating the tank walls (and hoses) for years. Tech tip: You may want to think about hiring a professional to have the tank drained completely of any gas and water at the bottom before adding your first load of E10. If not, keep a supply of filters on hand – they will clog quickly. Always use a fuel stabilizer and avoid using octane boosters that contain ethanol.

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