Sail Away! Excerpt - Electrical System Problems | Sailing Blog - Technical Hints and Tips - Sailing Television

Sail Away! Excerpt - Electrical System Problems

A number of years ago Sheryl & I wrote a book called
Sail Away! A Guide to Outfitting and Provisioning for Cruising
This book went on to sell nearly 11,000 copies and we are happy that so many people have told us the book helped them fulfill their cruising dreams!

I checked this morning on Amazon They have 4 "new condition" copies on sale from $153-$363 - Yikes!!!

The book has been out of print for some years now but we are starting a project to update it! Here is an excerpt from the Outfitting section...


The most common electrical problem, especially in saltwater, is corrosion causing a bad connection. This problem is not confined to wet bilges and areas where saltwater leaks onto and actually touches the connections. Even the salt air holds sufficient moisture and salt to start corrosion on terminals.
Different metals react to this corrosive environment in different ways. Plain copper wire, for instance, is susceptible to corrosion -- it turns the characteristic green of copper roofs. The best wire for use on a boat headed for saltwater is “tinned, stranded copper wire”. Stranded copper wire refers to the fact that a large number of fine strands of wire are run together inside the insulating core. This means the wire is much more flexible and less likely to fatigue and break if bent repeatedly. (Single strand wire commonly used in houses should not be used!) Tinned copper wire has a fine coating of tin on the outside of each strand and this is far more resistant to corrosion than plain copper. Any projects where gear is added to a boat should be done using tinned copper wire if possible.
A surprising amount of marine electrical gear comes with regular copper wire. I usually solder these bare connections before doing anything else. Even if I am not installing a new pump right away I lightly twist up the exposed strands and melt a drop of solder onto the wire. It protects it while waiting in the locker to be installed.


Many boats are wired up with crimp connections and I believe this is the best solution to the question of how to connect two wires. Experience on Two-Step and Distant Shores has shown that these connections last well BUT only when the wire being crimped is tinned first. If you don’t have tinned copper wire then it is best to protect the ends of the wires first by soldering them before crimping, when adding equipment. Then crimp a connection onto the wire and get a much better connection between the wire and the crimp fitting. Use closed end crimp connectors since they are more reliable in the event of a connection becoming loose.
Caution: Do not use acid core flux solder on any electrical connections. It will cause failure when least expected! Use rosin core solder only.
If the boat’s original wiring involves regular untinned wire with crimp connections, check any connections in damp areas and make sure they are watertight. You might be able to slip an insulating piece of heat shrink tubing over the terminal or wrap with self-amalgamating tape to protect them.
Battery connections
Incidentally, a copper wire that has gone green will not accept solder until it has been cleaned first -- I sometimes pull the strands between a piece of fine sandpaper a couple of times to clean them.
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