Volts, watts, amps and ohms – without us there is no electricity! Long gone are the days when you could get by with a petroleum glow on board.
Modern ships are getting more and more hungry for energy, the more consumers are installed – from lighting to autopilot and refrigerator to navigation electronics that are becoming increasingly “clever”. It is good that at least part of this rapid energy requirement on most yachts is generated by the sun, wind or even water (wave or tow generator).
Still, the easier we want to make life, the more complicated it sometimes becomes. If you want to be familiar with your ship and the systems on it, you should also be an electrician and IT specialist. At least we have to deal with it and know the basic terms. Even with the spring check, which is what this is all about. Whereby we limit ourselves to the really simple basics, otherwise this article will become a book.
Maintenance of the batteries
Let’s start with the batteries, because literally nothing works without them. Let’s hope that these have been kept in a good state of charge over the winter and not stored too cold, then things will look good. However, if they are too deeply discharged and show less than 12V, then they may be damaged. You can sometimes see that: if whitish-greenish powder settles on the poles, then they evaporate during charging. And, unfortunately, are over. And need to be replaced. Worse still, if you only replace one of them in a battery bank, it does not help much. Because unfortunately an old battery pulls all the others down with it, so bite the bullet and ideally replace all of them once.
Avoid leakage currents
So-called “wet” batteries have to be topped up with distilled water from time to time until it is about two or three millimeters above the plates. Of course, this does not apply to gel or sealed batteries. For everyone, however, the battery compartment should be clean and dry, and above all the batteries should be dry on the top between the poles – even damp dust or dirt can lead to leakage currents and gradual loss of charge.
Check the on-board system
If the batteries are OK, we can check the entire on-board system – just switch on all consumers one after the other. When an electrical device does not work, it is very often simply the power supply or, more precisely, the lack of it. Check: Does electricity get there at all? What do the contacts look like? Are the cables intact?
The death of any electrical connection
This is especially true for the “outside lighting”, that is position lights, steam lights and so on. They are particularly vulnerable because they are constantly exposed to adverse conditions: In the long run, the constant salt water showers that the position lights installed in the pulpit have to endure are the death of any electrical connection. Greenish-black oxidized contacts and rotten cables are the frequent consequence, and nothing is passed on to electricity.
Check contacts and connections
So: clean the contacts (best with sandpaper), check the cable connection – if the wires in the cable are already black, usually nothing works anymore. Then cut back the cable until bare wires come out again. Unfortunately, this often means that such a cable, sometimes with considerable effort, if it is so elegantly hidden inside the pulpit, has to be extended or completely retracted. First you can of course also check the light bulb and hope that only this one is broken … And of course all the lamps in the mast are best checked while it’s still on land: Take a look at the light bulbs, contacts and cable connections!
Voltage tester – the indispensable helper
A voltage tester or “multimeter” to check the voltage is actually essential on board, but you have to be able to handle it. Because even if only one fuse has blown: it doesn’t happen for no reason. So there must be a fault somewhere, either the device is broken or the cabling is defective. You could then find out with such a voltage tester.
The engine also needs electricity
Even if the engine does not start, it is almost always due to the power supply. The starters on a diesel draw a lot of electricity, but apart from that they are pretty sturdy and reliable. If you only hear the dreaded clacking when you try to start the engine, this is due to insufficient voltage: The magnetic switch works, but does not get the engine to turn.
The navigation electronics
Let’s come to what is often the favorite “toy” on board: the navigation electronics. Today mostly integrated in a network of all instruments, a precise explanation and investigation of such systems would go beyond the scope here. Just so much at this point: The winter and spring before launching the boat are the ideal times to study the manual for navigation electronics in depth. Modern integrated systems in particular can do a lot, but they also have to be configured and operated correctly. A computer itself is only as smart as the person who operates it!