By the time a boat gets a few years old, it will probably have a number of things in the electrical system that need to be updated or replaced. When an insurance surveyor comes along, he may end up handing the owner a long, and costly, list of things that need to be corrected.
An electrical system for a boat is much different than that of a house or even a car. Sea water is a fair conductor of electricity. Therefore, there are some additional rules on the materials and methods of installation when it comes to boats.
Materials & Equipment – It is important that only equipment and materials rated for marine application be used. The American Boat and Yacht Council has very stringent standards for this. Things like common household wire and wiring devices, as well as electrical equipment and appliances should not be used on boats. These things are not properly constructed, insulated or grounded and could either start a fire, or worse, result in an electrocution. Federal regulations require that all electrical devices that are used in the engine compartment or bilges be "ignition protected" means that they will not create a spark that can cause a fire or explosion.
Buying Older Boats – When buying a used or older boat, one of the things to pay close attention to is how much rigging and alterations there are in the electrical system. Sometimes there are quite a bit. In most cases, the owner may not even be aware of why things are constantly breaking down. Usually he blames it on the pump or motor when actually faulty wiring is the problem. You should be aware that on boats with poor electrical systems, the cost of straightening it out can be pretty high.
Electrical systems do not last forever. Over time boat systems degrade, particularly when it comes to the effects of corrosion. It is recommend that a boat have an electrical system survey once every 5 years. This does not take long and does not cost a lot of money. In fact it may save you hundreds of dollars in unwelcome headaches. In most cases, the survey will reveal the effects of damage which may need to be cleaned up, along with a few minor repairs. The advantage is in not allowing these problems to accumulate to the point that it becomes a big, costly job.
Adding New Equipment
Most boats, particularly smaller ones, are not designed with the idea of adding new equipment, even though nearly everyone does. But the primary reason why systems get so messed up is a result from the attempt to force something in where there is no provision made for it.