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ContinuousWave: Small Boat Electrical
Fuse Panel or Circuit Breaker Panel
|Author||Topic: Fuse Panel or Circuit Breaker Panel|
posted 04-02-2013 01:26 PM ET (US)
After 30 years of service (and patching) my Montauk console wiring is no longer trust worthy. Almost all wiring and gauges need (or could use) replacement, except ignition switch and down rigger relays. The biggest issue is the rats nest of wiring has finally got to come out. I was hoping to wait until the second re-power (3rd engine), but the Mercury 90 is still running strong.
I was looking at either a fuse block wired to original (but new) pull tab switches, or a resettable relay panel. Normal gauges and electronics on the boat: VHF, GPS/FF, Nav lights (incl/gauges), Bilge, Spot light, 12VDC outlet. (Down riggers have separate dedicated resettable breakers.)
Are there any comments on the selection a fuse panel or [circuit breaker panel]? I hope to get it done in the next month or four weekends. And does anyone have blank console panels available?
In theory I was going to bond a piece of starboard to the interior of the console (Starboard side to be exact) and this would serve as a spot to mount and tie down any switches and wiring.
Neat little app note on panel #2:
[Changed the name of the electrical component known as circuit breakers to circuit breakers; was something else.--jimh]
posted 04-02-2013 02:03 PM ET (US)
Circuit breakers can be used as a circuit control device for ON-OFF switching, if the circuit breaker is designed for that service. Many circuit breakers are not designed for that application. They are not meant to be manually operated from ON to OFF, or vice versa, very many times, and some specify only a service life of just a few hundred operations. If you want to use a circuit breaker as the control element of a branch circuit power distribution, be certain to get a circuit breaker that is intended for that use.
posted 04-02-2013 02:10 PM ET (US)
I do not endorse or recommend the wiring of the navigation lamp circuits with diodes in the path of the current to the lamp, as some of the literature to which you gave hyperlinks shows. When current flows through a diode there is a voltage drop. Typically the voltage drop is about 1-Volt unless a special type of diode (Schottky Diode) is used. This means that the circuit branch being powered by the diode gets less voltage.
In the case of navigation lighting, the lamps are specified to have a certain amount of light output. If the lamp uses an incandescent lightbulb, the light output is very sensitive to voltage. Reducing the applied voltage reduces the light output. When you power a navigation light lamp through a diode, it gets less voltage and produces less light output.
While the light output from the incandescent lamp is lower, it may or may not remain in tolerance for the required amount of light to be legal. I suppose this is just a minor quibble. You can look at it like this: suppose someone said you could use an 11-Volt battery instead of a 12-Volt battery. There would be long line of people to object. The diode in the lamp circuit does just about that.
posted 04-02-2013 02:17 PM ET (US)
For a small boat like a Boston Whaler MONTAUK with a center console exposed to the weather, I would be more likely to use a fuse block (like the one shown in the hyperlink above) than a circuit breaker panel. Use the conventional switches for control of certain branch circuits that need a switch. Typically there are not that many branch circuits that need switched power. Usually the circuits are limited to:
The navigation lamps use a specialized switch to produce the unusual control action needed. The instrument lamps are typically just a simple ON-OFF switch. The sump pump usually has its own small switch panel and escutcheon. Cockpit lamps are usually just ON-OFF switch controlled. This makes the control panel very compact.
I recently re-wired the secondary power distribution panel at the helm of my boat with the BLUE SEA SYSTEMS 12-circuit fuse panel. I think that is a good choice. See my article and comments at
posted 04-02-2013 02:35 PM ET (US)
With regard to the use mode of the circuit breakers, I agree completely. But the design of the panels shown is a toggle switch wired to resettable breakers (or in the second option blade fuses). The inclusion of toggle switches addresses the life cycle usage you are concerned about.
As for the diode, I figured a VDC drop, but a entire volt seems a bit high. Granted we have no idea what is actually installed, so it may be just that. [Changed the name of the electrical component known as toggle switch to toggle switch; was something else--jimh]
posted 04-02-2013 02:47 PM ET (US)
I see now, on closer look, that the circuit breaker panel has switches for each branch circuit for control of the circuit and also circuit breakers (with pop-up trip buttons) for current protection. That is a nice panel. I bet it costs a lot more than the fuse panel.
How many circuits do you have that actually need an ON-OFF control element in the power distribution? Most of the electrical loads on my boat have their own ON-OFF switch. I don't need that many switched branch circuits. I think at the moment there are only three: navigation lamps, instrument lamps, and sump pump. I have an extra switch on the console waiting for a new circuit. I keep thinking about cockpit lighting. But in the summer when we are boating we have daylight to 10 p.m., and there is not much need for cockpit lighting.
posted 04-02-2013 03:26 PM ET (US)
I think either breakers or fuses would work fine. You have to keep fuses on hand in case of a circuit fault, but fuses are so simple. Hold it up to the light and see if the wire inside has melted. I would use something other than starboard as a glued on base in the console. There is a short list of exotic glues that actually bond starboard with good strength. If you plan to attach the base with mechanical fasteners, then it's great stuff. I would probably use plywood, and fiberglass resin or epoxy to attach it. Good luck. Dave
posted 04-02-2013 03:29 PM ET (US)
While everything needs to be fused, I actually have more than desired that need ON-OFF switching.
However I am trying to minimize wiring runs, and from what I have sketched out having the fuses or breakers and the ON-OFF switches in the same chassis reduces the mounted hardware, wiring, and connectors. With the panels described the only other new items would be the master battery ON-OFF switch.
As far as cost, a 12-fuse block ~$45, an 8-switch and fuse ~$150. But with a fuse block I then have to buy several rocker or pull switches.
posted 04-03-2013 09:02 AM ET (US)
I used some of this cellular vinyl trim board bought at Home Depot
http://www.royalmouldings.com/s4sproductpage.html glued inside my console with Liquid Nails adhesive to mount my ACR, rock solid for over a year now. Great screw holding power for mounting stuff, paintable, moisture and rot proof.
posted 04-03-2013 03:42 PM ET (US)
Here's a link to how my Blue Sea [Systems] panel is mounted:
|L H G||
posted 04-04-2013 06:28 PM ET (US)
I have completely rewired three 70's generation Whalers, including a 1979 Montauk. It is a fairly easy task, as these boats don't need have many electrical needs.
The main thing you have to decide is whether you want to wire the classic Cole Hersey pull switches with an instrument panel mounted fuse holder for each switch as Whaler usually did.
Because of the more recent availability of the Blue Seas 6 circuit fuse blocks, (either blade or glass fuses), I determined I did not need to have the much more complicated wiring the panel mounted fuses require. So I chose to use the Blue Seas fuse block mounted where it is EASILY accessible, on the Port side of the console near the front drop down door.
The starboard side you mentioned is much less accessible, since steering and engine control cables and other engine wiring is in that same area. The wiring runs across the inside front face of the console, at the console floor, where it is not seen. Done correctly, this will leave the entire interior of the console free of wiring, and great for storage, with no wire snags. It works nicely - the engine/instrument wiring comes up to the instument panels from the starboard side, and the house power comes up the port side.
The actual wiring is simple. Bring the 30 amp fused (in-line in the battery box in the case of a Montuak) #8 or #10 gauge house power cable to the fuse block, and then distribute fused + power to your accessories & switches. All negs return to the fuse block also, with the exception of the nav lights which Whaler returns directly to the stern mounted battery. In my Montauk I have:
1. navigation/compass light
In my case the 6 fuse unit is all I needed. The VHF radio does not need a circuit as radios have an in-line fuse in the power cord.
Here is the final result, which I think makes for a very clean instrument panel on the console.
posted 04-04-2013 07:21 PM ET (US)
Considering the minimal cost difference between the 6-ciruit panel (PN5025, $35) and the 12-circuit panel (PN5026, $45), from BLUE SEA SYSTEMS, I'd get the 12-circuit panel. That is what I did. It gives you some headroom for expansion. For the extra $10 you will have plenty of circuits left over. You also get twice as many negative return circuits, which seem to be used up much faster than the branch circuits. The size difference is not really of much concern.
posted 04-04-2013 09:10 PM ET (US)
My thought process kept the panel on the right, where the wiring tunnel came up and used the circuit breakers as switches. The panel itself is back lighted, and mounted in a recessed panel with a clear door, painted the same color as the console. The recessed panel came from Sailing Specialties, Inc in Hollywood, MD. I just jumped to their website, and they have a great catalog:
I had planned on eventually mounting twins, so wanted the console face to be pretty clear. Alas.... never got to the twin stage.
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