Bonding System Design and Evaluation

My previous post (Corrosion Article) discussed corrosion of underwater metals caused by various stray electric currents in the water.  In that post, I made passing reference to “bonding,” “bonding conductors,” and to underwater metals “being bonded together.”  This article looks specifically at the bonding system of a boat.  The objective is to provide a basic understanding of why bonding is installed, what it does, and consider the maintenance needs of the bonding system.

As boaters, we are constantly involved in discussions of the design, equipment, materials, techniques and components of the AC and DC divisions of a boat’s electrical system. When those systems fail, there are usually symptoms, anxieties and inconveniences that boaters notice. Although Internet boating discussion lists are filled with electrical topics, only rarely does one see discussion related to a boat’s “bonding system.”

As in other electrical technical areas, “bonding” is an area where there is a body of common concepts and terminology that apply across a wide range of AC and DC situations. Just as in the “Corrosion” topic, the concepts of bonding are consistently the same, but an understanding of context is essential to avoiding confusion.  Experienced electrical practitioners often take shortcuts with context. For the layman, the only way to get past that is to invest some time in understanding the concepts. After that, understanding context gets easier very quickly.

The terms “grounding” and “bonding” are often used interchangeably, but in fact, they are different. Following are definitions with which most experts would agree:

Ground” is the single-point of electrical connection between an electrical sub-system (like a boat) and the physical earth. This connection is made for the purposes of:

  1. providing a lightning discharge path,
  2. providing a path to bleed off static charge,
  3. sub-system voltage stabilization, and
  4. reducing RF interference.

Bonding” is an electrical connection (usually a network of electrical connections) which electrically interconnect metallic housings and device enclosure components. Bonding:

  1. provides a low-resistance path for ground-fault currents to ensure circuit protection devices (circuit breakers) trip,
  2. prevents dangerous “touch-voltages” from appearing on exposed metal surfaces, and
  3. provides a path for galvanic currents and AC and DC stray currents.

Figure 1 is a simplified topology overview of the three major divisions (AC division, DC division and Bonding division) of the electrical system of a typical boat. It is representative of the great majority of US-manufactured boats. This topology view is consistent with the “model” electrical system upon which the principal ABYC Electrical Standard, E-11, is based (“AC and DC Electrical Systems on Boats,” July, 2015, Figure 10).

The ABYC E-11 standard treats a boat’s DC System as the “central-most” division of the electrical system of the boat, to which all other divisions are attached in a peer-to-peer relationship. This seems a reasonable assumption, since AC systems and bonding systems are neither required nor essential on a boat, but the DC system is always needed for engine starting and the operation of bilge pumps, navigation lighting and (usually) sound-signaling device requirements.


Figure 1: The Bonding System on a Typical Fiberglass (FRP) Cruiser.

All of the conductors shown in green in Figure 1 are part of the boat’s “bonding system,” or “bonding network.” That entire network of conductors works together. In typical dockside conversation, the “bonding system” is often thought of as limited to the wiring shown on the right-had side of Figure 1. The usual term applied to the AC portion of the bonding system is the “AC safety ground.” Note, however, that the AC safety ground is a part of the overall bonding network of the boat.

In normal operation, all bonding systems are “silent” and “invisible.” When “everything is right,” the bonding system does nothing, and “everything works fine.” Bonding networks are so quiet and invisible that a boat owner might never know if a fault had appeared.

In fact, the primary purpose of the bonding system is to spring into action to protect us when an electrical fault does occur in either the AC or DC system. The only “normally active” purpose of the bonding system is to control corrosion due to DC galvanic currents.

Due to component reliability, the mathematical probability, confirmed by life experience, is that electrical faults are relatively infrequent. Given that the bonding system comes into play only when there is a fault, it probably won’t actually be needed very often. If the bonding system does have a defect, unless there is another fault there will be no failure symptom or danger to people or pets. Yes, there may be an increased rate of corrosion, often interpreted as “electrical issues in the basin and nothing to worry about.” These are “handled” as a routine maintenance item, but the underlying cause is often not corrected. The bonding system adds complexity to the boat, but can save many headaches, much expense and even heartache for the boat owner if it is intact when needed. Some bonding system faults can create dangerous situations leading to fire, electric shock, loss of property and in the ectreme, loss of life.

The heart of the DC division of the boat electrical system is the battery/battery bank, including all B+ and B- wiring and all subordinate DC device attachment wiring. “B+” is the term for the DC positive feed (+12V, +24V) that originates at the positive post of the boat’s battery. “B-” is the term for the DC negative conductor that returns DC power to the negative post of the battery. In the common lexicon of conversation, the DC return circuit is often referenced as its “ground” conductor. However, the B- conductor in the DC system carries DC current back to the battery, so it is more properly analogous to the “neutral” conductor of the AC division.

Bonding circuits are intended to carry only galvanic and fault currents; never currents that power equipment or attachments. To avoid undesirable voltage drops in the bonding system, and problems with accelerated electrolytic corrosion, no B- connections should ever be made to any part of the bonding system. Such connections are analogous to a “code violation.”

ABYC E-11, Figure 10, shows the “DC Main Negative Buss” as the central collection point for all DC B- return circuits, as well as for the “AC Safety Ground” and the bonding network connections. The boat’s AC Safety Ground and the various branches of the DC bonding system are all connected together at one place, and at one place ONLY: the “DC Main Negative Buss.”

Neither ABYC nor NMMA “require” the installation of DC bonding systems. Bonding systems are “optional.” However, ABYC E-11 does specify requirements for the bonding system if one is installed. Among US boat manufacturers, bonding systems are the “normal” manufacturing practice.

The primary purposes of the bonding system are to:

  1. hold exposed metal parts at to “touch potential” that is safe for people and pets;
  2. provide a low resistance path for fault currents to trip “circuit breakers;”
  3. provide a single point-of-access to protect multiple structural metals of the boat from corrosion, via a sacrificial anode (zinc);
  4. provide a path for certain DC stray currents to safely exit the boat via the AC shore power safety ground;
  5. disperse static electricity in high winds and from nearby electrical storms, and
  6. reduce (attenuate) spurious RF electrical “noise” created by on-board equipment (battery chargers, inverters).

Many of the conductors of a “bonding system” are installed in the very hostile environment of the boat’s bilge. The various metal objects tied to the bonding system include:

  1. thruhulls, seachests, sea strainers and packing glands,
  2. rudder “stem iron,” rudders, rudder “shoes” (skegs), tillers and miscellaneous metal support structures of the steering system,
  3. various steering system components (quadrant, cables, hydraulic lines, hydraulic pumps),
  4. trim tabs and thruster systems,
  5. exhaust system fittings and ports,
  6. radio counterpoise and static dissipation “ground plates,”
  7. fuel tanks, fuel filling ports and tank vents,
  8. potable water and black water tank access and vent ports,
  9. generator, battery charger and inverter chassis frames,
  10. solar panel and wind generator frames,
  11. handrail and bridge enclosure frames,
  12. heat pump and circulator pump frames,
  13. stove and water heater frames,
  14. refrigeration (compressor) frames,
  15. etc, etc, etc…

In short, lots ‘o stuff.

Figure 2 shows the hull penetrations on a typical trawler (Sanctuary) built with individual thruhulls (without a seachest).


Figure 2: Typical Hull Penetrations on a Boat with Thruhulls and Without a Seachest

The complete collection of all of these metal components are “bonded” – connected together into a single electrical network – as shown in Figure 3.


Figure 3: Typical Bonding System

Figure 3 is only one example of the construction of a bonding system. Other configurations are acceptable. Take particular note of the large gauge conductor shown in orange. That conductor is the “backbone” of the DC portion of the bonding system. That backbone conductor runs the length of the hull. To the backbone are attached all of the green stranded wire pigtails connecting the metal structures of the boat to the backbone. Also note the transom zinc, which provides primary galvanic protection to all of the metals connected to the bonding system. When the boat is at anchor, away from shore power, it is the transom zinc that is the “ground” connection point. That is, the single point of electrical attachment to the earth, the primary dispersal point for static electricity and lightening and the electrical connection that establishes the “touch potential” for people and pets for the entire electrical system of the boat.

It would not be unusual if a boat’s owner did not know when the bonding network was last tested. It may have been quite some time; perhaps, never. It is possible that weakness(es) are present in the bonding system. I suggest testing of the bonding system should be done every three to five years.

Most if us have measured the terminal voltage of flashlight batteries many times. We have probably all measured our boat’s 12V (or 24V) lead/acid batteries. Figure 4 reminds us of the very simple task of measuring the terminal voltage of a “AA” battery:


Figure 4: Measuring the Terminal Voltage of a Battery

In this “typical” battery, a galvanic cell, there are two “half-cells” (copper and zinc) located in an electrolyte. Since the battery is always seen as a packaged unit, the term “half-cell” is not commonly used except by engineers and battery manufacturers. The terminal voltage is measured with a digital voltmeter. When a load is connected across the battery terminals, current flows.

Key concept: batteries are used to provide the voltage needed for circuits.  With batteries, their intended use means there should be a voltage between the positive and negative terminals.  A direct short circuit across a battery is never desirable, as it will dramatically accelerate the rate at which the battery becomes exhausted.  Inside a short circuited battery, the halfcells will become wasted (corroded) at an extremely fast rate, accompanied by the generation of heat and gasses.  However, in the case of the “accidental” battery created by the electrochemistry of dissimilar metals in seawater, the whole point of the bonding system is to create an electrical short circuit across the various exposed terminals of that “battery.”  Bonding creates a path for electrochemical galvanic currents to circulate.  Bonding holds all of the metal surfaces at the same, safe touch voltage, but in so doing, bonding also ensures the presence of the conditions needed for corrosion to occur.  That is the reason for the presence of the transom zinc in the bonding network.  The transom zinc is the sacrificial anode that protects all of the important and more noble metals attached to the bonding backbone from corrosion.

For measuring and troubleshooting the bonding system of a boat, a reference “half-cell” is used. The reference cell is external to the bonding system.  The reference cell behaves in a known and predictable way when submerged in sea water. The reference cell becomes one of the halves of a “battery.” The metals attached to the bonding network of the boat become the other half-cell. In use, the reference half-cell is immersed in seawater outside the hull of the boat, and that seawater is the electrolyte of the “battery.”

A Silver/Silver Chloride half-cell is the best reference cell with sea water (chemical symbol: Ag/AgCl) because it has known and stabile behavior characteristics. That is, the voltage that other metals will produce against a silver/silver chloride half cell are very consistent across a wide range of temperature and electrolyte salinity.

Conceptually, measuring between the Ag/AgCl half-cell and the bonding network of the boat is the same as measuring the between the terminals of a conventional battery. The bonding system and the half-cell, immersed in sea water, become the battery being tested. The DVM measures the terminal voltage of that battery.

Figure 5 shows the measurement configuration described above:


Figure 5: Measuring the Bonding System with a Ag/AgCl Half-Cell

As a boat owner, there are two ways to proceed with the testing of the bonding system. One is to hire an ABYC-Certified Corrosion Specialist. This analysis is a form of survey, although not all surveyors offer it as a service. Two is for owners to do it themselves.  In the DIY case, one must obtain an Ag/AgCl half-cell, available from and other Internet sources at a cost in the range of $140 – $150.

DIYers will begin their testing by connecting the Ag/AgCl half-cell to the negative terminal of the DVM. Then lower the Ag/AgCl half-cell over the side into the water near the hull, to about the level of the boat’s running gear. The half-cell should not rest on the sea bed. The guiding principle here is, if the bonding system is fully intact and functional, all metals connected to the bonding system are expected to be at the same voltage. Probing any of the bonded metals with the DVM should produce the same voltage reading. If different voltages are noted, something is not right, and corrective action is advised.

The bonding system of a boat – whether connected to shore power or not – should produce a reading on the DVM of between -400mV and -700mV. Knowing that the bonding system has all of its metal structures tied together, we therefore know all of the readings must be found at the same voltage.

To evaluate the integrity of the bonding system, start anywhere that’s convenient and probe each of the various metal objects found all over the boat; that is, all the stuff previously mentioned (thruhulls, packing glands, sea chests, rudder posts and rudders, steering system components, exhaust fittings, main engine/transmission, Generator frame(s), battery charger/inverter chassis frames, solar panel and wind generator frames, handrail and enclosure frames, heat pump unit chassis frames, fuel tanks, fuel filling ports and tank vents, potable water tanks, thruster systems, black water tank, etc, etc, etc). The voltage measured by the DVM should be the same as seen at the shore power connection everywhere. If it is not, something is “wrong!”

The last two steps in this analysis are to discover the cause of any inconsistent voltage reading, and make corrections. Some symptoms one might encounter include:

Symptom Possible Cause
Wide variation of voltages between different metal objects.
  1. Boat is not fit with a DC bonding network;
  2. Damage or corrosion to connections within the bonding system.
Most metal objects have consistent voltages except for one or two isolated objects, “here and there.” Loose, corroded, broken or missing bonding connections to the affected metal object(s).
A collection of several metal objects measure one voltage, but that entire collection is different from the baseline voltage. Broken bonding buss somewhere along the length of the backbone.
The baseline voltage is grossly different than expected (-400mV to -700mV).
  1. Loose, corroded, broken or missing connections to the transom zinc or the shore power ground. Disconnect from shore power, looking for changes and to check the transom zinc by itself;
  2. Overly wasted transom zinc;
  3. Missing shore power ground connection;
  4. B- connection to the bonding system made in error;
  5. Stray DC electrolysis current in the bonding system.
No reading occurs when the metal object is probed. Bonding connections absent.

(Note: this will only happen with metal objects above the waterline and not in contact with the water.)

Metal Corrosion and Zinc Wasting


On the long list of complex technical topics that boat owners face, corrosion of underwater metals is one of the most complicated, potentially most expensive and least well understood.  While it is not possible to ease the complexity or terminology of the topic, I can at least describe several related “stray current” metal corrosion phenomena in this one place.

Some readers may feel this topic is “beyond their pay grade.”  Like it or not, we all have a stake in understanding the basics.   At some time in boat ownership, most owners will face one or more corrosion issues.  Even for those for whom the topic is both uninteresting and obscure, all boaters should know how these phenomena are similar and how they are different.  Some familiarity will allow the affected owner to hire the right expert, understand remediation recommendations, and possibly avoid problems in the first place.

AC and DC “stray” electric currents flow in the water.  Because these currents flow outside their normal electrical conductors and devices, they are referred to as “stray currents.”  Worst case, all types of fault currents can be present at the same time.  Boaters should consider all electrical currents that flow in the water as a bad thing.


The basic concept in all corrosion is always the same: there is a voltage difference between two or more different metals, or alloys of metal, which are a) connected together electrically and b) immersed in an electrically active liquid.

The three major “stray currents” flowing in water (or in the earth’s crust) are:

  1. AC “ground fault” currents, resulting mostly from wiring errors aboard boats and occasionally from inadequate equipment design, incorrect equipment selection or AC appliance/equipment malfunction,
  2. DC “Galvanic” currents, resulting from the natural behavior of dissimilar metals in mineral-containing ground water, fresh surface water or sea water, and
  3. DC “Electrolysis” currents, a DC “ground fault” current, resulting from wiring errors, equipment faults, and improper equipment use.

While the basic electro-chemical processes and terminology of corrosion are always the same, the cause is context-specific.  Understanding the context (AC fault current, DC galvanic current, or DC Electrolysis current) is essential to avoiding confusion caused by the shared terminology.

“Electrolysis,” or “Electrolytic corrosion,” is  frequently confused with, but very different from, “Galvanic corrosion.”  To repeat, the concepts and terminology are shared and common to both phenomena; it is the “cause and origin” of the driving voltage that is different.  

No matter the terminology, corrosion currents are a silent attack on every boat, and can cost many hundreds or thousands of dollars for those who don’t mount an appropriate and effective defense.


AC fault currents flowing in the water are often dangerous to people, pets and wildlife.

Worst case, AC fault currents can lead to death by “Electric Shock Drowning:” (ref:  Children and pets must never swim in a marina’s basin.  Boat owners and professional divers performing in-water maintenance on boats must be alert to the causes and consequences of AC electric currents in the water.

In general, AC fault currents DO NOT deteriorate the underwater metals of boats and do not cause rapid zinc wasting.   There is a great deal of technical understanding about environmental AC ground fault currents that comes from the utility and transportation industries (power transmission, buried utilities, pipeline and railroad).   The 60 Hz AC power found across North America changes polarity 120 times per second.   Whatever molecular metal material that might be removed from a metal in one half-cycle is re-deposited in the second-half cycle.  (Cit: “DC Currents in the Bilge – Not AC – Is the Culprit When Metal Fittings Corrode,” Robert Loeser, Seaworthy Magazine, October, 1996).   AC fault currents must be very large before metal corrosion results.   The AC voltages found around pleasure craft docks (less than 600V) DO NOT cause zinc wasting.

Aluminum can be an exception.  Aluminum can be damaged by AC stray currents IF the density of the fault current is greater than 40 Amps per square meter of aluminum surface area (40A/M2).  What that means in English is: a relatively high AC fault current in the water will cause erosion to a relatively small chunk of underwater aluminum.  This combination would be unusual, but not impossible, in pleasure craft marinas.  One m2 is equal to about 10.75 ft2, so it would only take 3.7 amps of AC stray current to cause corrosion damage to a 1 ft2 aluminum part.  This is not an extraordinary leakage current, but 1 ft2 is a small piece of aluminum.  So trim tabs and outdrives may be “relatively” “safe” at levels that would waste aluminum anodes installed for galvanic protection.  On boats without other aluminum parts, aluminum anodes can waste quite rapidly in proportion to the size of a moderate in-water AC fault current.

Readers can find information on testing for AC ground and leakage fault currents in layman’s language on this website, here:   The reference article helps owners bring their boat into compatibility with National Electric Code (NEC) standards that require ground fault sensors on docks, and it also dovetails well with identifying and eliminating corrosion issues.

Be aware that some in-water AC stray currents can originate from sources on land.  In that case, the fault current will flow on the green AC safety ground wire (a component of the boat’s bonding system), originating in the basin water and flowing back into the shore power infrastructure.  This situation is not caused by a problem on the boat, and in general, is not something a boat owner can fix.  Always report this finding to marina management.


  1. Assess the boat for AC ground fault and leakage fault conditions.  (ref:
  2. Correct all issues in order to establish a defect-free starting-point baseline.
  3. Consider installing Equipment Leakage Current Interrupter (ELCI) sensors on boat shore power AC service circuits.  (ref: ABYC E-11, 11.11.1 and
  4. Where automatic ELCI sensors are not installed, perform frequent manual monitoring of AC shore power cords with a decent-quality clamp-on Ammeter.  (ref:
  5. Correct any newly discovered issues as soon as they present themselves.


  1. DC galvanic currents are associated with small voltage potentials that are a naturally-occurring characteristic of all metals.  The specific voltage is determined by the atomic structure of the individual metal (or metal alloy).
  2. Different metals have different naturally-occurring electro-potentials.
  3. A “Galvanic Series” is a list of metals sorted by their naturally-occurring characteristic electro-potentials.  Different “references” can be used for ordering a “galvanic series.”  The best reference for salt water is a silver/silver chloride cell.
  4. A “galvanic couple” is any combination of two or more dissimilar metals or metal alloys connected together electrically and immersed in an electrolyte.
  5. An “electrolyte” is an electrically conductive liquid (generally) medium.
  6. Dry Corrosion” is the direct attack on a metal by dry gasses (air, oxygen) through chemical reactions which result in surface oxidation.
  7. Wet Corrosion” is the direct attack on a metal by an aqueous solution (strong or dilute, acidic or alkaline) through electro-chemical reaction.  Moisture and oxygen can act by themselves.


The underwater metal alloys on a boat together with the minerals in the surface water in which the boat is floating create the elements of a “galvanic cell” (a battery).  Galvanic currents will always be generated when a boat with dis-similar metals occupies water containing dissolved minerals.  A zinc/copper galvanic couple (common “dry cell” flashlight battery) is a “galvanic cell.”  A “lead/acid” automotive or boat battery (wet cells, AGM or Gel) are examples of “galvanic cells.”

When the metals making up the galvanic cell (battery) are actually the underwater component parts of a boat (bronze, aluminum, stainless steel), the naturally-occurring galvanic currents result in corrosion of some of the underwater metal.   The mineral concentration of sodium, calcium and magnesium salts and many others in the surface water affect the speed at which galvanic corrosion proceeds.

The flow of electrons in a DC galvanic current is always from a more active metal (anode) to a less active metal (cathode) on a Galvanic Series.   All environmental surface water, whether fresh or salt, acts as an electrolyte.  Salt water carries more mineral ions than fresh water, so is more “efficient.”

Galvanic corrosion is a slow process that occurs over many months.  Since it’s the anode in a galvanic cell that dissolves, the point of avoidance/remediation is to artificially force the metal(s) to be protected relatively more cathodic compared to a sacrificial metal present in the electrolyte (water).  This is done by adding a “sacrificial anode” made of a very active metal (aluminum, magnesium, zinc) to the mix of less active but more valuable underwater metals on a boat.

Perhaps a ”before” and ”after” view:


Figure 1 shows a ”before view” of a galvanic couple lying in seawater.  The stainless steel (SS) is the anodic alloy, so it erodes due to the natural galvanic voltage between it and it’s cathodic bronze couple-mate.


Figure 2 shows an ”after view” of the same galvanic couple with the addition of a sacrificial zinc anode.  The zinc forces the SS relatively  more cathodic (relative to the zinc), so the SS part is now protected from corrosion.  The zinc is the most active (anodic) metal in this new couple.  By corroding, the zinc acts to protect all of the more “valuable” metals.

Ongoing zinc maintenance is required to provide continuing protection of the more important components of the couple.  Additional valuable corrosion control techniques include the installation of galvanic isolation devices in shore power ground conductors, cable TV coax ground sheathes, and the ground conductors of (now pretty much obsolete) wired telephone and wired Ethernet connections.


The propulsion and genset drive engines on most cruising-sized pleasure craft are fit with two-stage engine cooling systems.  In diesel cooling systems, a coolant (“fresh water”) circulates through the engine block, heads, oil-cooler, turbo-charger, and intercooler.  A heat exchanger transfers waste heat from the fresh water coolant to environmental raw water, where it is eliminated via the raw water exhaust.  Commonly, a second heat exchanger transfers waste heat from transmission fluid into exhausted raw water.

Electro-chemically, the raw water passing through the heat exchanger is an electrolyte.   Heat exchangers contain several different alloys of copper and nickel.  The alloys used in heat exchangers are designed to have galvanic voltage potentials that are close to one another on the salt-water galvanic series.  That greatly slows, but does not stop, the galvanic corrosion which occurs within heat exchangers.  The dissimilar metals of the heat exchanger act as the galvanic couple and the raw water is the electrolyte.

If galvanic corrosion in heat exchangers is allowed to continue uninterrupted, pinpoint leaks will develop in the shell or tubes of the exchanger.  Similarly, pinpoint leaks can develop in raw-water cooled oil coolers, transmission coolers and intercoolers.   The result over time is damage to expensive heat exchangers, as well as the possibility of secondary damage to the engine itself.   Boat owners  must be aware that there are zincs located within the raw water channels in engines and heat exchangers.

Boats with wood, steel and aluminum hulls require special anti-corrosion techniques.  Many sacrificial anodes are required to protect the surface area of metal hulls.  Too many anodes can cause paint to peel from a metal hull, and cause damage to the woods of a wooden hull.  Alternatively, systems such as Electro-Guard ( apply a voltage to a metal hull.   These “Impressed Current Cathodic Protection” (ICCP) systems protect the hull plates and welded joints from galvanic attack by making the hull cathodic to its surrounding environment.   This is one of many areas that are “different” for owners of metal-hulled boats vs hulls of fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP).


SS, bronze, brass and galvanized steel are metallic alloys that contain several elemental  metals within their compounding mix.   Dissimilar metals within the alloy can experience galvanic corrosion.  “Single metal” corrosion results in micro-fractures in the material’s structure, and often results in surface pitting.  The process can proceed to structural failure.

Anodic and cathodic areas form on the surface of alloys due to surface imperfections in the alloy mix, lack of oxygen and/or other environmental factors.  The anodic areas in the matrix give up electron(s).  The ions left behind form into the visible hydroxyl oxidation residue that is shed.  Corrosion currents flow at the expense of the anodic metal of the circuit, which corrodes continuously.

SS shaft logs and propeller shafts, SS rudders and rudder posts, SS fasteners that attach swim platform brackets to an FRP hull, SS keel bolts, SS exhaust port fasteners, etc, etc, are all candidates for a form of single metal galvanic corrosion called “crevice corrosion.”

In brass that contains more than 15% zinc, like the manganese bronze alloy often used in propellors,  unprotected fittings can undergo a single metal galvanic corrosion process called “dezincafication.”  Zinc within the brass alloy erodes away, leaving behind a weak matrix of copper and small percentages of other metals (such as nickel, chromium, manganese) of the original casting.  What’s left is structurally weak and can fail catastrophically.  “Dezincification” leaves a characteristic “pinkish” color to what once had a golden bronze color; particularly so in broken, exposed areas of a part.

In stainless steel, this process is called “CREVICE CORROSION.”  In aluminum, the analogous process is called “POULTICE CORROSION.”  When stale water lies against stainless steel for long periods or time, the water looses it’s content of dissolved oxygen.  Oxygen-depleted water in prolonged contact with stainless steel promotes crevice corrosion, leading to possible structural failure in stainless steel parts and fittings.  Similarly, water that lies in contact with aluminum for long periods of time promotes poultice corrosion.  Poultice corrosion can result in pinpoint leaks in aluminum fuel tanks.

For thruhulls especially, boaters should use fittings of bronze or Marelon; BRASS FITTINGS SHOULD NEVER BE USED UNDERWATER.

For those interested, I have more details on Galvanic Corrosion and the Galvanic Series for salt water on this website, here:

BoatUS has a good article on electrochemical corrosion on their website, here:

David Pascoe has a good article on electro-chemical corrosion on his website, here:


  1. Install a complete bonding system if one is not currently present.
  2. Install zincs to protect bonded underwater metals.
  3. Perform routine maintenance of zincs on underwater metals: propellor shaft, rudder, and other underwater metal structures.
  4. Maintain the “master” zinc that protects the boat’s bonding system.
  5. Maintain zincs protecting engine and transmission cooling system components.
  6. Use deck fill screw-on covers that are galvanically compatible with under-deck fittings to avoid galvanic corrosion and hidden fuel leaks.
  7. Install an appropriately rated Galvanic Isolator in the shore power safety ground if one is not already present.
  8. Install galvanic isolators to telephone, Ethernet and TV Cable feeds that come onto a boat from shore.


The source of the voltage that drives the process is what distinguishes a “Galvanic current” from “Electrolysis,” or an “Electrolytic” current.  Recall that galvanic voltages are a function of the natural atomic electro-potential of the metals of a galvanic couple.  The voltages which cause electrolysis are man-made, not naturally-occurring.  The voltages that drive electrolytic corrosion are often significantly larger than galvanic voltages, and the destructive impact of a DC fault causing electrolytic damage is much faster and more aggressive than galvanic currents.

In Figure 3, the metallic actors (SS and bronze alloys) are the same as shown in Figure 1.  In this case, the elemental voltage polarity of the couple has been reversed by the application of an outside source of DC voltage.  This is a DC fault scenario.  The bronze thruhull in this example will disintegrate, freely giving up it’s copper content into the surrounding sea water.


Figure 3: A DC Fault Injecting Power to the Bonding Buss Resulting in Corrosion of Important Underwater Metal Alloys

Electrolysis voltages originate with an externally- supplied DC source; i.e., a battery or its equivalent.  Causes can be a wiring error, chafed/frayed DC conductor, defect or age-deteriorated insulation on a bilge pump B+ wire lying in bilge water, a defect in a DC power supply or a DC generator, a failed piece of DC equipment or misapplication of use of DC equipment.   A common wiring error that can lead to electrolysis currents results from incorrectly wiring the neutral return circuit of a DC device to the boat’s bonding system.  NEVER USE THE DC BONDING SYSTEM FOR THE ELECTRICAL RETURN PATH FOR DC CIRCUITS.

DC electrolysis currents are equivalent to the industrial process called “electroplating.”   In a marina, failed DC equipment can deliver a DC voltage into the basin water.  On a boat, wiring error or a failed piece of equipment can apply a DC fault voltage to the boat’s ground buss.  Electrolysis current flows IN ONE DIRECTION through the ground path and into the surrounding basin water.  The anode literally dissolves.  The fault can be on the same boat as the failed equipment, on a neighboring boat or in nearby land based equipment.  Or it can be, simply, in between a source point and a return point.  The fault can be located in shore-side infrastructure wiring, or it can be because of misuse of equipment by a contractor, such as a welder or a DC motor on a marine railway or travel lift.

It is a law of physics that electric current always seeks the path of least-resistance back to their source.  Scenario: imagine three adjacent slips on a dock.  In slip #1 is a boat with a fault and dumping a DC electrolysis current into the basin water.  Slip #2 is empty.  In slip #3 is a boat providing a path to ground for the fault current via it’s shore power cord.  So far, only boat #1, the boat with the fault, has a corrosion problem.

Now a transient boat comes into slip #2.  The fault current previously passed through slip #2 on the way to ground, but when the transient arrived, that boat’s protective electrical system (Bonding System) becomes inserted into the path of the fault current.  The transient’s bonding system has a lower resistance than the surrounding basin water.  The fault current passes into the transient via one or more underwater metals, passes on through the transient’s bonding system, and exits back into the basin “on the other side” of the transient.  The fitting(s) where the current exits the transient will corrode.  That fault current is now causing damage to boat #1 and boat #2.  Boat #2 is a true victim, safe if plugged into shore power, potentially damaged if not.

All fault currents are always opportunistic.  They simply follow the rules of physics to find the “path of least resistance” back home.

The rate at which metal loss occurs is proportional to the voltage involved and to the many Ohms Law factors that determine the magnitude of accompanying current flow.  At its worst case, this process can sink a boat astonishingly quickly (a matter of hours/days), because with large uni-directional electrolytic currents (electroplating), metal mass can erode away from the anodic terminal(s) very quickly.   The part that gives up metal mass will ultimately suffer structural failure if the process is not interrupted.  If it happens to a thruhull on a boat in the water, the boat will sink.   All underwater metals – propellors, rudders, struts, trim tabs and radio ground planes – can be effectively “dissolved” by these stray electrolysis currents.

The best articles I know of for an understanding of this topic are by Capt. David Rifkin, who has good reference articles on his website, here:

Nigel Calder, Ed Sherman of ABYC and Steve d’Antonio have also written about these phenomena,  mostly in fee-based subscription publications like Professional Boatbuilder and Passagmaker Magazine, or in their own for-fee publications.


Like all metal corrosion, zinc wasting is a form of electro-chemical corrosion, always due to DC currents.  Electrical measurements of the basin occupied by the boat would be necessary to determine which mix of stray currents are present at any given time, but zinc wasting is a DC phenomena, and by far most commonly, a galvanic phenomena.

Boat owners can do their own basin-water testing, but it is not a process I would recommend for the electrical layman.   An understanding of the theory of these types of faults, understanding the probes and tools that are necessary, and the skills to correctly interpret test results are necessary.  This can be quite confounding, even to experts.

Boat owners that experience corrosion issues would be better served to hire an ABYC CORROSION-CERTIFIED MARINE ELECTRICIAN.  That said, skilled and knowledgeable boat owners can do their own DC testing with a silver/silver chloride half-cell.  High quality Digital Voltmeters (DVM) can detect AC ground fault currents, DC galvanic currents and electrolysis currents, but detection and evaluation is highly specific and sensitive to the placement of the measurement electrodes, quality of the test equipment, and conductivity of the surrounding basin water.

By the time a layman has bought the tools, learned to use them, and learned to interpret the results, said layman would be better off financially in hiring a professional who could provide the diagnosis and remediation recommendations as a one-time service.


  1. Diligently avoid having DC wiring wetted or submerged in bilge water.
  2. Never use the boat’s bonding system as a B- “neutral” return circuit for DC attachments.
  3. Avoid facilities (marinas, municipal or private docks, boatyards, etc) where the infrastructure appears to be poorly maintained.
  4. Be alert in marinas located in industrial neighborhoods where ground fault currents from shore sources may be more likely; check with the dockmaster for known issues in the basin.
  5. Avoid facilities with numerous boats that are in a poor state of maintenance and repair.



Oxidation occurs with the release of electrons and the simultaneous shedding of positively charged metal atoms which detach from the surface of the metal.  These particles enter the electrolyte solution as positively charged ions.  Chemically:

Fe → Fe++ + 2e (example with Iron);

Zn → Zn++ + 2e (example with Zinc);

Pb → Pb++ + 2e (example with lead).


Free electrons reach the cathode and react with hydrogen ions in the electrolyte.  Hydrogen bubbles will often form on the cathode; clearly visible in lead/acid batteries.  Chemically:

2H+ + 2e → 2H


If acid is not available, water itself will break down (dissociate) to generate hydrogen ions (H+).  The specific chemistry here depends on the composition of the electrolyte.  Assuming water, water dissociates, forming free hydrogen and hydroxyl ions:

H2O ⇌ H+ + OH

Then, metal ions combine to form metallic oxide, which is the corrosion product:

Fe++ + 2(OH) → Fe(OH)2, or

Zn++ + 2(OH) → Zn(OH)2, or

Pb++ + 2(OH) → Pb(OH)2

Electrical System Topology

Electrical System Schema:

The schema of Sanctuary’s vessel-wide electrical system contains three major divisions.  This diagram is specific to Sanctuary, showing two 30A shore power connections and a fully-integrated but modestly sized inverter/charger.  That said, the overall model generalizes very well to larger electrical systems based on voltage, inlet, inverter/charger and load capacities and configurations.

  1. AC electrical system division of the vessel includes:
      • 120V Shore Power inlet connections
      • AC Generator (Genset)
      • ABYC-compliant Generator Transfer Switch
      • AC Branch Circuit Distribution Panel(s) – (NewMar – House loads; Weems & Plathe – heat pumps, raw water circulator)
      • Galvanic Isolator
  2. DC electrical system division of the vessel includes:
      • Battery Bank
      • Propulsion engine alternator
      • DC Branch Circuit Distribution Panel(s)
      • Individual component attachments (Thrusters, Windlass, Autopilot, Entertainment, Inverter/charger, etc.)
  3. Interface, or Bridging, or Power Conversion division of the vessel includes:
      • Magnum MS2012 Pure Sine Wave Inverter/Charger

General Topology of the Vessel Electrical System:


An Adobe Portable Document Facility (.pdf) version of this drawing is available by clicking this link: 20161019_electrical_system_topology.

AC Electrical System

AC System Overview:

Note: An electrical diagram of Sanctuary’s AC Power Distribution  System as described in this article is located here (Adobe Portable Document Facility (.pdf) file): 20161022_ac_electrical_distribution_system.

The ship is wired to operate from two single-phase, grounded-neutral, 120VAC, 30A shore circuits originating in a dockside shore power system.  Neither the shore grounded (white) neutral conductor (white) nor the ungrounded energized conductor (black) is connected to the safety ground (green) aboard the ship (ABYC E11,

The ship’s AC safety ground (green) and DC negative buss (black) are connected together in the engine room (ABYC E11, and subs).

The ship is fit with a ProMariner® Prosafe-1™ galvanic isolator.  AT the time of it’s installation, the device complied with the then requirements of ABYC A28, 28.13 (now obsolete). The diode pack of the device is installed in series with the ship’s incoming green safety ground wire. The isolator and its control module are located in the ship’s electrical closet. The enumerator/monitor is mounted at the ship’s electrical control center located stbd, in the companionway to the vee berth.

Note: the ProMariner® galvanic isolator control module was disconnected in May, 2016.  The design of the enumerator/control module places a ground fault on the incoming shore power circuit.  That ground fault is used by the device to test the ship’s safety ground wire for continuity.  That ground fault can trip shore power ground fault sensors.  Disconnecting the enumerator does not affect the purpose or operation of the diode pack itself, but it does defeat the self-checking feature of the OEM design of the enumerator/monitor.

The ship is fit with two 120VAC, 30 Amp SmartPlug® marine shore power inlet connections (ABYC E11, and subs). “Shore 1” corresponds to a Newmar® ACDC-1™ “house” AC Load Center (identified with the numeral “1”). AC branch circuit breakers (ABYC E11, and subs) serving the genset battery charger, refrigerator/freezer, 120VAC water heater, inverter/charger and several house utility outlet circuits are installed. “Shore 2” corresponds to a Weems and Plath® “heat pump” Load Center (identified with the numeral “2”). AC branch circuit breakers (ABYC E11, and subs) serving two reverse cycle heat pumps and a raw water circulator pump (“air conditioner” units) are installed.  It is not necessary to connect both shore power circuits in order to use either one; each is completely independent of the other.

The ”AC Master Breaker” on the NewMar® “house” AC Load Center and the ”Master Breaker” on the Weems and Plath® “heat pump” Load Center function as shore power disconnect switches (ABYC E11, and subs and 1). These double-pole breakers isolate their respective AC shore power circuits from the ship’s on-board AC distribution system. The 120V energized current-carrying (“hot”) buss on the AC side of the NewMar® Load Center has been modified from its OEM configuration. Breakers 1-4 on the NewMar® panel are fed by shore line-in or generator power. Breakers 5-8 on the NewMar® panel are fed by the onboard inverter/charger as described later in this document.


  1. NoteThis section of E11 was upgraded to include ELCI in the July, 2012 release of the standard. Sanctuary complies with the July, 2009, release, E11, Sanctuary is not fit with ELCI at this time.

The ship is fit with an ONAN® MDJE™ onboard generator. The generator is powered by aa Onan 2-cylinder, 4-cycle diesel engine. Diesel fuel for the generator engine is drawn from the ship’s onboard fuel tanks. The generator has a 2-stage (fresh water with heat exchanger) cooling system. The generator is rated for continuous operation at 7.5kW, 60Hz. Generator operation (glow plugs, start/stop) is controlled by two rocker switches mounted at the ship’s electrical control center.  The generator and its diesel engine are mechanical devices that require periodic preventive maintenance. Refer to the Onan manual for maintenance schedules.  The generator’s AC output is wired in a 240VAC configuration. The generator starter motor is fed through a BlueSea Systems ML-RBS remotely operated DC disconnect switch (ABYC E11,,

The ship is fit with a Blue Systems® p/n 9093 manual Generator Transfer Switch. The GTS transfers the ship’s AC distribution load centers to either the shore power inlets or the onboard generator. When shore power is available, and the load center disconnect switches are set “on,” the corresponding green “Shore Power” LED on the GTS operator’s panel becomes illuminated. The GTS is of the break-before-make design. This prevents simultaneous cross-connection of incoming shore power source(s) and the ship’s generator (ABYC E11, This allows the generator to be started and run for servicing while the ship is simultaneously connected to energized (live) shore power connections.

Shown following is the wiring layout of the GTS as installed. Shore power service cords feed “Source 1” and “Source 2.” The 240V onboard Generator feeds “Source 3.” The NewMar® AC Load Center for “house” loads is connected as “Load 1;” the Weems & Plath® Load Center for  heat pumps is connected as “Load 2.” The GTS is shown in the “Shore” position. If the generator is “running,” the green “Generator” LED on the GTS operator’s panel becomes illuminated. If both shore and generator power are available at the same time, both sets of LEDs will be illuminated.


The ship is fit with a Magnum® MS2012™ Pure Sine Wave Inverter/Charger.

  1. When either shore or generator power is available, the device operates in “Passthru” mode to forward AC power to utility outlets via circuit breakers 5–8 on the NewMar® AC Load Center and to simultaneously charge the ship’s battery bank. When shore or generator power is not available, the device operates in “Invert” mode as the AC power source for circuits 5-8. The device automatically switches between its “passthru” and “invert” modes as availability of shore or generator power changes.
  2. The neutral buss for branch circuits powered by the inverter/charger is isolated from the neutral buss for branch circuits powered solely by shore or generator power. Magnum requires this separation, which they base on ABYC A31, However, AC neutrals are defined to be “grounded conductors.” Therefore, this ABYC reference seems obscure, since it refers to separation of “ungrounded conductors.”
  3. Configuration of the operational status of the inverter/charger is manually selectable via the ME-RCtm Remote Control mounted at the ship’s electrical control center area.
  4. The “fault” lamp on the ME-RCtm Remote Control indicates a problem that prevents normal operation of the inverter/charger. The two most common faults are spike voltages and out-of-tolerance frequency deviations. These faults sometimes occur when the ship is operating on the generator as its AC power source and heavy loads cycle “on” and “off.” These “faults” can be manually cleared by recycling DC power via the inverter/charger battery disconnect switch in the engine room space.
  5. DC electrical energy to power the inverter/charger originates from either 1) the propulsion engine’s alternator (supplemented by the battery bank), if the ship’s propulsion engine is running, or 2) solely by the ship’s battery bank, if the ship’s propulsion engine is not running. In the absence of shore or generator power, the DC ampere-hour (aHr) capacity of the ship’s battery bank can be conserved by discontinuing use of the Inverter/Charger and its attached AC loads.

Finally, the ship is fit with a 700-watt Xantrex® Modified Sine Wave (MSW) utility Inverter. This inverter is an alternative AC power source that can feed a utility outlet power strip on the ship’s salon nav station. This inverter is a stand-alone device that is not integrated into the ship’s AC distribution system. It is available to power the satellite TV receiver/DVR and the TV. DC energy supply for this inverter is as described above. The device mounted on the aft bulkhead of the ship’s standing closet.

DEFINITION: “Secured State” of the Ship’s AC Electrical System

Aboard Sanctuary, a “secured state” for the AC Electrical System is defined to exist when all of the following conditions exist:

  1. All individual AC house circuit breakers on the NewMar® AC Load Center are in the “off” position,
  2. All individual heat pump circuit breakers on the Weems & Plath® Load Center are in the “off” position,
  3. The “AC Master Breaker” on the Newmar® AC Load Center and the “Master Breaker” on the Weems and Plath® Load Center are both in the “off” position,
  4. The generator transfer switch is in the “off” position,
  5. Shore power service cords are disconnected and stored aboard,
  6. The generator is not running,
  7. DC power to the Xantrex® MSW Inverter is discontinued via it’s disconnect breaker, located in the electrical closet,
  8. DC power to the Magnum® MS2012tm system-integrated Inverter/Charger is discontinue via the DC rotary disconnect switch located in the engine room, stbd bulkhead.

References to ABYC E11 contained in this document:

All references to ABYC E11, AC AND DC ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS ON BOATS, are to the July, 2012, release of the standard unless otherwise noted.

DC Electrical System

DC System Overview:

Note: An electrical diagram of Sanctuary’s DC System as described in this article is located here (Adobe Portable Document Facility (.pdf) file): 20161022_dc_electrical_distribution_system.

The ship’s DC electrical system is a “negative ground” system. (ABYC E11, 11.4.24 and

The DC system is of the “ungrounded” system design (ABYC E11, 11.4 and E11,

The ship’s AC safety ground (green) is bonded to the Ship’s DC negative buss (black) in the engine room. (ABYC E11,

DC energy for the “house” and “engine start” services originates in a single battery bank comprised of six, 6 volt, flooded deep cycle “Golf Cart” batteries. Over-current protection (OCP) for the battery bank is provided by BlueSea Systems®, Type MRBF™, 200A fuses. (ABYC E11, and and subs).  Details of that design decision are discussed in my article, “Battery Bank: Separate vs Combined,” on this site.

A single Group 27 start-service battery is used to start the ship’s generator. A BlueSea Systems® model ML-RBS™ remotely operated disconnect switch, with p/n 2145 remote switch, is fit in the generator’s battery feed circuit.

The ship’s Main DC Disconnect Switch (ABYC E11, and subs) for the DC feed to the NewMar® Load Center and other attached DC loads is located in the engine room, stbd bulkhead, above the ship’s battery bank.

The ship’s OEM NewMar® Model ACDC-1™ Branch Circuit Load Center/Distribution Panel is located to stbd in the forward companionway to the vee berth. Because there is a combined battery bank for house and start functions, the OEM Battery Selector Switch is discontinued and removed. The left half of the Newmar® Load Center serves as the DC Load Attachment Center for many DC attachments, including:

  • navigation, anchor lights and deck lights,
  • LPG safety shutoff valve,
  • refrigerator/freezer DC feed,
  • house drinking water pump,
  • raw water wash-down pump,
  • DC lighting,
  • salon VHF radio,
  • windshield wipers and horn,
  • toilet macerator, and
  • stereo.

This panel provides over-current protection for attached loads via circuit breakers. (ABYC E11,

The ship is fit with a Blue Sea® System WeatherDeck™ DC Circuit Distribution Panel, located stbd on the flybridge. It is the primary load attachment center for the ship’s navigation instruments, including:

  • chart plotters (including Radar),
  • auto pilot controller,
  • VHF radio,
  • depth sounder,
  • under-console AIS receiver and wi-fi multiplexor, and
  • flybridge DC utility outlets.

This panel provides over-current protection for attached loads via circuit breakers. (ABYC E11,

The ship is fit with a Magnum® MS2012™, Pure Sine Wave (PSW) Inverter/Charger. DC over-current protection is provided by a 300A Class “T” fuse (ABYC A31, and subs; The DC Disconnect Switch for the inverter/charger is located in the engine room, stbd bulkhead, above the ship’s battery bank. (ABYC E11, and subs)

DC Power for some ship equipment attaches to the vessel’s DC Distribution System independently of the NewMar® load center. These attachments have individual over-current protection. These attachments include:


Location of Attachment’s
Disconnect Switch
or OCP

(ABYC E11, and subs, 11.10 and subs)

1 propulsion engine
a) starter motor feed and
b) control, instrumentation and instrument lighting circuits
fwd surface of galley drawer cabinet, floor level, aft of stbd salon door; switch is accessible without opening the engine room. This circuit is without OCP. (ABYC E11,, Exception 1)
2 Lewmar® H900 windlass tagged; on vessel’s electrical control center
3 Dickson® stern thruster Inline fuses, respective operator’s panel
4 Garmin® GHP10tm autopilot system tagged; engine room, stbd, mid-ships, above battery boxes
5 Magnum® MS2012tm, 2kW, PSW inverter/charger tagged; engine room, stbd, mid-ships, above battery boxes
6 ICOM® 706MKIIGtm Amateur Radio Transceiver Inline fuses, electrical closet, NewMar® B+ buss
7 bilge pump tagged; electrical closet aft bulkhead, eye level (tubular glass fuse)
8 high bilge alarm tagged; electrical closet aft bulkhead, eye level (tubular glass fuse)
9 shower sump pump tagged; electrical closet aft bulkhead, eye level (tubular glass fuse)
10 SirenMarine® Spritetm Boat Monitor inline fuse, electrical closet
11 salon +12VDC utility outlet. inline fuse, electrical closet

Battery State-of-Charge Status & Monitoring:

The ship is fit with six, Duracelltm, EGC-2, Golf Cart batteries.  These batteries have a 20-hour Ampere Hour (aHr) rating of 230 aHr and a Reserve Capacity rating of 448 minutes. These batteries are manufactured by East Penn Manufacturing® and are sourced from Sam’s Club. The batteries are combined in a series/parallel configuration to provide 12VDC.

The overall total rated ampere hour capacity of the ship’s battery bank is 690 aHr.

A Magnum® ME-RCtm Remote Control, and a Magnum® ME-BMKtm Battery Monitor Kit, are installed to monitor the ship’s DC electrical operating parameters and the state-of-charge status of the ship’s battery bank.

“Standard operating practice” aboard ship is to adhere to the “mid-capacity rule,” which states that lead-acid batteries (flooded wet cells, AGM or Gel) should not be discharged beyond 50% of their rated capacity and that discharging a lead-acid battery in excess of 50% of its capacity shortens its service life. Aboard ship, the ME-RCtm/ME-BMKtm Battery Monitor displays the “State-of-Charge” of the battery bank. Less overall depth-of-discharge is better.

The approximate eight-hour overnight (summer hours-of-daylight) DC system electrical consumption (refrigeration, anchor lighting, evening TV watching, computer use, etc.) aboard ship is 125 – 150 aHr. The approximate eleven-hour overnight (winter hours-of-daylight) DC electrical consumption is 150 – 200 aHr.

Battery Charging:

Shore Power/Onboard Generator:
When the ship is receiving AC power from either 1) shore power or 2) from the ship’s onboard generator, the ship’s battery bank is charged by the Magnum® MS2012tm 2kW Inverter/Charger 1.

Under way:
The ship’s engine alternator charging system consists of a single, 12-volt, 110 amp, Balmar® high-output alternator, model 712110, with a Balmar® MC-614tm external regulator. The external regulator receives its DC input power supply from the propulsion engine’s starter solenoid 2.

DC Distribution Wiring: 3

  1. Three attachments originate at the positive battery post of the ship’s battery bank:
    1. Attachment 1 is BlueSea Systems®, Type MRBFtm Fuse Block, p/n 2151, fit to the designated positive output terminal. (ABYC E-11, This fuse block is fit with two, 200A, Type MRBF fuses.
      • Fuse 1 feeds the ship’s Main DC Power Disconnect Switch 4, a Blue Sea® Systems, p/n 6006, rotary switch, via a 2-0 AWG red wire. A 2-0 red wire continues from the disconnect switch to a BlueSea® Systems, 150A, Type ANL fuse block. The house DC feed is a 2-0 AWG red wire from the ANL fuse block to a 600 amp, 4-post terminal block. The terminal block is the ship’s Main DC Power Distribution Buss.
      • Fuse 2 connects the ship’s Balmar 110A alternator to the battery bank, via a #6 AWG red wire.
    2. Attachment 2 is a 2-0 AWG red wire that feeds the ship’s propulsion engine starter solenoid through a BlueSea System®, p/n 6006, disconnect switch located in the salon, stbd, beneath the fold-down table. This circuit is not overload protected (ref: ABYC E-11,
      • The propulsion engine starter solenoid is the DC system attachment point of the engine’s DC sensors, controls, instrumentation and malfunction alarms, and the external Balmar® MC-614tm voltage regulator which energizes the on-engine Balmar® alternator unit.
    3. Attachment 3 is a 2-0 AWG red wire (ABYC, E-11, that feeds the ship’s inverter/charger through a Class “T” fuse block fit with a 300 Amp, Class “T” fuse. A 2-0 AWG red wire continues from the Class “T” fuse block to a BlueSea Systems® p/n 6003e disconnect switch. From the disconnect switch, a 2-0 AWG red wire feeds the Inverter/Charger.
  2. House loads aboard ship are fed from the Main DC Power Distribution Buss.
    1. A 1-0 AWG red wire runs from the terminal block to a terminal block in the electrical closet. This is the DC attachment point for the ship’s bilge pump, high bilge alarm, NewMar® DC Load Center, BlueSea Systems® WeatherDecktm Load Center, Xantrex® Inverter and shower sump pump.
    2. A 1-0 AWG red wire from the terminal block feeds the vessel’s 70 amp windlass circuit breaker. From the circuit breaker, a 1-0 AWG red wire joins in the electrical locker with an OEM 38mm2 red wire to feed the vessel’s windlass contactor, located forward, in the chain locker overhead.
    3. A #8 AWG red wire feeds a 40 amp circuit breaker which feeds the Garmin® GHP10tm autopilot system.
    4. A fused attachment feeds the Magnum® ME-BMKtm battery monitor module.


  1. Note: Setup options for the Magnum Inverter/Charger and ME-RC Remote Control are found in the MS-Word document entitled “Magnum_Remote_Control_Setup_Customization.doc.”
  2. Note: Setup options for the Balmar ARS-5 external regulator are found in the MS-Word document entitled: “Balmar_ARS-5_Setup_Customization.doc.”
  3. Note: the written description contained in this document is diagrammed in the document entitled ”DC_Electrical_Distribution_System.PDF.” Details of electrical system attachment points are documented in a table entitled “DC_Branch_Circuit_Functions.XLS.”
  4. WARNING: This  disconnect switch removes power from the bilge pump, sump pump and high-bilge alarm circuits. Therefore, it is to be used only for attended servicing of the electrical system. It is not intended for long-term disconnection of the battery bank while the boat is in the water!

Balmar® 110A High Output Alternator:

An alternator is a “self-limiting” device (ABYC E11, 11.4.26). That is, “a device whose maximum output is restricted to a specified value by its magnetic or electrical characteristics.” What that means is that an alternator can only produce just so much output current – in this case, 110A – regardless of how much drive is applied to its field winding. If the alternator fails, output generally stops. For self-limiting devices, a fuse is not “required” by ABYC E11,, but it is a reasonable precaution.

Aboard Sanctuary, the alternator connection to the ship’s DC system is protected by a 200A, Type MRBF, fuse. Two Hundred amps may seem too large a rating. The maximum rated output of the alternator is 110A. The ampacity of the #6 AWG conductor, derated because it’s in an engine space, operating in a 12V system with a 3% voltage drop and 105ºC insulation is 80A, and substantially higher for the 10% voltage drop case. So it may appear there is no scenario where the 200A fuse would protect the alternator connection wiring.

It’s very important to understand that we DO NOT want that fuse to open in the absence of a true, sustained over-current situation. If the fuse were to open while the alternator was operating in its designed power output range, the effect would be to instantly disconnect the electrical load (the battery bank) from the alternator. The magnetic field inside the machine would instantly collapse, creating a very high voltage “spike” inside the windings of the machine. That spike would almost certainly destroy the alternator’s internal diodes and render the device inoperable.

Alternators contain solid state full-wave rectifier diode pacs. Internal diodes prevent DC power from flowing backwards through the alternator when the engine is not in operation. If diodes fail in a welded-closed state – “shorted,” or “short circuited” – the result would create a direct path from the battery to ground via the alternator’s stator windings. The purpose of this fuse is to protect against that true over-current condition. In the case of a shorted diode, the 200A fuse protects the charging wire from becoming overloaded and, thus, a fire risk.

Magnum® MS2012tm Pure Sine Wave Inverter/Charger:

The positive and negative DC wires for the ship’s PSW Inverter/Charger are 2-0 AWG BC5W2 boat cable. Round-trip distance from battery-to-device and return is approximately 10′. The rated ampacity for 2-0 AWG primary wire inside an engine space is 280 Amps DC (ref: Magnum’s MS2012tm specs state that maximum battery charging current is 100 Amps DC, and maximum full load inverter draw at rated AC output load is 225 Amps DC. Optional configuration options are available via the ME-RCtm Remote Control to limit Inverter/Charger operating currents.

DC Return (DC “Ground”):

There are two terminal blocks in the ship’s engine room that comprise the ship’s DC return circuit to the main battery bank. The DC branch circuits and AC Safety Ground are all collected on a terminal block located fwd in the engine compartment, at deck level, starboard. This terminal block is connected to the main DC negative buss terminal block via a 1-0 AWG black wire.

The main DC negative buss is a Blue Sea® Systems 600A terminal block located amidships in the engine room, starboard, above the battery boxes. Joined at the main DC negative buss terminal block are:

  1. the consolidated branch circuit return terminal block, via a 1-0 AWG black wire,
  2. the Magnum® MS2012tm PSW Inverter/Charger, via a 2-0 AWG black wire,
  3. the propulsion engine block, via a 2-0 AWG black wire, (returns the Starter Motor circuit and the Propulsion Engine DC controls, instrumentation and instrument lighting), and
  4. attachment to the battery monitor’s 50mV, 500A measurement shunt, via a 2-0 AWG black wire.

The return connection to the negative terminal of the main battery bank is made from the battery monitor’s 50mV, 500A shunt, via a 2-0 AWG black wire.

Engine Wiring Diagram – Cummins 4B/6B

The wiring of the sensors and controls on a diesel engine in a boat involves several design variables, including:

  1. engine manufacturer preferences and choices,
  2. mechanically injected vs. electronically injected common rail technology platform,
  3. “normally-open” vs. “normally-closed” fuel shutoff solenoid,
  4. manufacturer and package options for gauges/sensors
  5. transmission neutral safety switch variables, and
  6. transmission oil pressure and temperature sensors/gauges, if installed.

The propulsion engine on Sanctuary is a Cummins 4BT-3.9 mechanically injected engine with a normally closed fuel solenoid that requires full-time DC power to keep it open.  The OEM sensor/gauge package is manufactured by VDO and includes tachometer, dual station oil pressure and temperature gauges and audible alarm sounders.  We installed dual station aftermarket high exhaust gas temperature sensors and alarms.

For those owners who perform DIY engine maintenance and repairs, I have included the wiring diagram I prepared for Sanctuary.  For simplicity, this diagram DOES NOT show gauge illumination wiring.  Click the following link to get a downloadable Adobe .pdf copy of Sanctuary’s engine wiring diagram: 20161022_engine_room_instrumentation_terminal_block.  This engine has two different kinds of oil pressure and temperature sensors.  The set that feeds the oil pressure and temperature gauges is analog.  The set that feeds the safety alarms is bi-modal (“on”/”off”).

Although this drawing is specific to the Cummins 4B, I would think it is “typical” of what would be found on many engines.  I encourage all boat owners or develop a wiring diagram of their propulsion engine.  If you ever need it, having it will save the skilled labor cost involved in figuring it out, diagnosing failures and making repairs.

Tripline Use and Cautions

Sanctuary and crew cruise mostly on the US East Coast, where water depths for anchoring in-the-main range from 12 to 25 feet.  Sometimes more, sometimes less, but a working average of 15 feet.  The deepest water in which we have anchored was outside Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  I think our “record” was in water depths of 56 feet at low tide with a 12 foot local tidal range.  These are not big numbers compared to the Pacific NW.

When we anchor, I put out a minimum of 4:1 scope, and my preference is to put out more.   Our rode is all-chain.  That scope is my precautionary approach against something changing in the overnight hours when I may be less alert and too slow to appreciate and respond to rapidly changing/deteriorating conditions.

When we first began full-time cruising, we depended on Skipper Bob Cruising Guides for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (A-ICW).  Skipper Bob suggested using triplines in areas of the Carolinas and Georgia, where underwater hazards included numerous deadfalls and stumps.   The first couple of years we cruised, I avoided anchoring in those areas.  I was afraid of the hassle and unsure of my skill in freeing myself from a snag.  But, we really liked the quiet and beauty of that area, so I decided to build and experiment with a tripline, and learn to use it, so we could feel confident anchoring in that region.

Our “proof-of-concept” assumptions for the tripline were twofold.  First, we knew the tripline would be useful in freeing an anchor snagged on some invisible underwater hazard.  Second, we thought it would signal the location of our anchor to other boaters looking to place their own anchors; “mark our swing circle,” as it were.

I designed our trip line to be self-adjusting to accommodate average East Coast tidal ranges.  One end of the tripline was permanently attached to the anchor, and the fly end of the tripline ran through the loop on a red float ball.  The fly end was permanently secured to a 1# lead fishing weight.  The size of the weight prevented the line from running back out of the float’s attachment loop.  As the tide fell, the weight fell by gravity to hold the ball floating centered over the anchor.  As the tide rose, the weight rose by the buoyancy of the float ball.  That held the ball floating on the surface of the water, centered over the anchor.  The line itself was 3/8″ nylon, 30′ long.  The system worked fine in water depths ranging from 12′ to 25′.  In waters less than 15′ deep, the weight would come to rest laying on the sea bed, but the ball would stay very close to the anchor’s position.

My design worked to keep our tripline float located immediately above our anchor.   Deployment was easy; we just threw the ball over the side after the anchor settled onto the seabed.  Retrieval was also easy; we’d just allow the anchor to come up and then catch the tripline.  Both tasks were easily managed from our foredeck.

I made it a point to use the tripline virtually every time we anchored for about one full cruising season.  That season included a 1400 mile southbound migration from Baltimore to SW Florida, and the 1400 mile return to Baltimore the following spring.  I never did actually need the trip line to free the anchor from a snag.  OK, I grant that’s not valid in evaluating the usefulness of the tripline for freeing a snagged anchor.  The idea of the trip line is for it to be there IF AND WHEN it’s needed.  We can certainly agree, it isn’t going to be needed very often.  However, our “proof-of-concept” trial didn’t work out as well in practice as I had hoped.  While we were using the trip line, we also encountered some significant disadvantages (risks) to having it deployed.

One realization was that the only time a tripline float helps other boaters understand our true swing circle is if wind and currents are up a bit.  In gentle to moderate breeze conditions (Beaufort 3-4), the rode becomes stretched out to the point that the bulk of the rode is lifted off the sea bed in resisting the drag forces on the boat; not taut, but stretched out along its entire length.  But in calm conditions, anchor chain lays on the sea bed.  With the rode laying on the sea bed, the swing circle appears rather smaller than it really is.  That is particularly true in deeper water where the length of the scope triangle’s hypotenuse becomes increasingly significant.

beaufort3    beaufort4

In calm conditions, the boat is typically held to the sea bed by the weight of the chain, not by the anchor itself.  The natural chain-fall location is the point at which the rode comes to rest on the sea bed after relaxing from the mechanical load of setting the anchor.  In my experience retrieving our anchor after a calm overnight, the chain usually comes up in an “S” pattern, formed by the movement of the boat in reversing tidal currents.  The result is that the boat never moves through it’s true swing circle.


In calm conditions, when tidal current reverses after slack, our boat will simply “pivot”  around the chain-fall location.  At that time, the tripline float will be positioned aft of our boat.  In that location, it’s hard for others to even be sure the tripline float is our’s.


As the strength of the flow of the reversed tidal current increases, there will be a time when the chain’s weight alone can’t hold the boat, and the chain gets partially pulled back on itself; that is, pulled away from the natural chain-fall location and towards the position of the anchor.  Thereafter when the tidal current reverses again, the boat will pivot back and be pulled slightly back away from the anchor’s position.  While this is happening, the tripline float often winds up aft of, or alongside, the orientation of the boat on the surface of the water.  Occasionally, we found our float would wind up under our own swim platform, snagged on one of the support brackets.  That never actually caused us to unset ourselves, but it certainly could have.  We have friends on a Monk 36 who unset their own anchor that way, in a t’storm, in the dark, at 03h00.

Furthermore, we discovered the hard way that the presence of the float ball does not stop it from being “run over” by other boats moving through an anchorage.  We had that happen twice in the year of our “proof-of-concept” trial.  Once in Georgetown, SC, a sail boat came through the anchorage looking for a spot; 15h00 on a sunny afternoon.  The person on the bow was fully occupied sorting out his ground tackle, not at all focused on keeping a lookout.  The helms-woman probably could not see our red float ball from her cockpit helm station.  Poof, they ran over our float.  On another occasion in South Florida, we were preparing to depart our anchorage, just before dawn, in pre-dawn low light.  A neighboring boat was a few minutes ahead of us with their departure preparations.  When they motored out of the anchorage, they ran over our float.  Fortunately for us, neither of those incidents snagged our float or unset our anchor.  But no matter our good fortune, had they snagged our float, we would have been the worse for their inattention.

So, it’s only some of the time – probably a relatively small percentage of time – that having a tripline float is actually helpful to others in understanding our true swing circle.

I do not like lying over another boat’s rode and I work very hard to avoid that.  I think most boaters feel that we’d be way too close to them if we were lying over their rode.  I would not want another boat to swing over our tripline ball, because of course, that risks unsetting our anchor.

So it is true that a tripline float can reliably mark the position of the anchor in the sea bed.  Whether that is helpful to me or others is less clear to me.  There are times when it may help, other times when it does not.  The real key to seamanship in anchoring is to honor the location of boats that are already settled in the anchorage.  Stay an appropriate and suitable distance away from others in anticipation of the possibility of fast changing wind and weather conditions.  That decision requires seamanship skills, forethought and high value of personal courtesy to strangers.  Sometimes, it means moving on, which we do if we can’t be certain we have safe swing room.  After all, a t’storm in the middle of an otherwise calm overnight changes all appearances and risk assumptions.  If a t’storm were to move through when the tripline float is snagged under the swim platform, that could easily become a perfect storm of undesirable coincidence and unwelcome outcome.

Conclusion: I gave up on using the the trip line.  Ultimately, I decided the benefits weren’t worthy of the risks.