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Not again! Power Hungry and all COLD!

Not even 48 hours after we bragged on TV about how great it is to live on a boat in the winter in Chicago, Kevin arrived home to a powerless boat.  It was 38 degrees inside and there was no power to anything other than the A/C circuit.  If you read our previous blog Power Hungry and All Wet you know we lost power earlier this year and we traced it to a faulty power inlet.  We have two power inlets on the boat, one that supplies our "Shore" power and runs the fridge, lights, battery charger, stove, and all the other accessories on the boat, and another input that is solely for the A/C units.  Our A/C units (which also do reverse cycle heating) were still operational.  Kevin tried messing with the electrical panel after noting the main breaker had been tripped.  He turned on the main, but whenever he switched on any individual circuit the main would trip again.  After inspecting all parts of the boat for a short of some kind it wasn't long before the power inlet seemed to be the culprit...again.

Not YOU again!
So there we were on a Thursday night standing on a snowy and slick swim platform trying to pull the cord out of the inlet, except it just wouldn't budge.  The cord had melted and fused to the stupid inlet. There is a word that starts with "F" that was thrown around quite a bit that night.  We knew that at 9PM on a Thursday there wasn't going to be a fix made that day.  We coincidentally had planned to stay the weekend at Kevin's boss' condo just a block up the street since it was going to be sitting empty for a few days, so at least we had a warm bed to go to.

Friday morning Kevin skipped work and was outside West Marine as they opened their doors for business.  This was a somewhat futile attempt to get the part we needed since we know that our boat uses an old style inlet that most places don't carry, so as he waited for the store to open he also got on the phone and called Chicago Yacht Yard to see what they had.  CYY had replaced the inlet in the summer but it took a couple days to order and receive the part.  Kevin was hoping they ordered a spare for their stock, which of course they did not.

Kevin found that West Marine doesn't stock the part, but it just so happened that a customer had ordered the exact part at the Fox Lake store months ago and never came to pick it up.  A trip to the far northwest suburbs had the part in Kevin's hand and he was back aboard Cygnet with all the tools a few hours later.  He had to cut not only the massive power cord but the wires leading to the back of the inlet since the Hubbell brand inlet that CYY installed has no way to release the wires like the Marinco that he had in hand.

The culprit

Do NOT let those wires fall through the hole.
After a struggle getting the too short wires into the new inlet in the ridiculously cold weather Kevin was able to use the spare power cord and plug back in.

Careful with those amps!
Kevin was very cautious building the amps back up.  He stupidly left the engine room lights on all night and had drained the batteries to almost nothing so the battery charger was on full throttle, so was the hot water heater and fridge.  He had learned from the nice gentleman at West Marine that despite the boat's inlet saying "50 Amps" and the pedestal output saying "50 Amps" and using a 50 amp cable that we really don't have 50 amp service.  We actually have only 30 amp service since we have the old style inlet that only has three wires.  The new style has four wires so there is an extra wire to carry higher voltage which allows for more amps.  Our marina actually has been having an issue with voltage drop lately and some of the other boaters are saying they are only getting voltage in the 90-100 range, which means you draw more amps to use the same amount of power.  We have always strived to keep our amp usage under 30, but sometimes we hit 40 if things are kicking on.  We do things like turn the space heaters off if we are cooking to reduce our amp draw.

What bugs us about this most is the fact that Carver set the boat up this way to begin with.  I'm sure a boat used purely for summer fun in ideal conditions would do alright with having one shore power line and one solely for A/C, but this summer we had no power for an entire week and Thursday we had no heat since we couldn't just switch the power over.  We are looking into changing the way Cygnet uses power, maybe putting a switcher (like we have for our batteries) that we can select where the inlets feed to.  We also ordered a spare inlet that will arrive today - just in case.

So, water we thinking about the latest trouble?  It required a day off work, a few hundred dollars, and the heat is struggling to build back up inside, it was 58 degrees this morning.  We need some sunny days in the 30s to get it warm again in there and it will be very cold in Chicago the next few days so we are going to be a bit chilly for a while.  It's not the end of the world, so we are still enjoying the life!

P.S. Colette and Kevin will be manning the River City Marina booth at the Chicago boat show on Saturday January 17 from 10AM until 2PM.  We'll write a short blog reminder on Thursday about it. Stop by to say hi!

Comments

  1. Collette and Kevin, thank you for letting me live on a boat vicariously through your entertaining and informative blog. I used to work near LaSalle and Randolph, so your pictures and descriptions of the city are appreciated, too. But after 35+ years of working outside year-round in the Chicago weather, my husband said "enough", and we now live in Florida, from where I send you wishes for a year filled with mild weather and better luck with lines, electricity and all things mechanical and nautical.

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  2. Thanks! I'll take a Chicago winter over a Florida summer anytime, is that crazy?

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  3. That receptacle cord set certainly looks like a 50a setup. If you have a 50a 125v shore power arrangement you should have three wires going into the back of the power inlet. One hot, one neutral and a ground. With that you'd use a 50a shore power receptacle and cord. The determination of whether you've got 30a or 50a shore power would be the breakers on the pedestal. You referenced using 40 amps which points towards having a 50a breaker. Electrical standards call for not loading a breaker and circuit past 80% sustained usage or in this case 42 amps. If Cygnet were using 50a 125v / 250v shorepower, as boats starting about Cygnets size on up will typically use you'd have 4 wires into the inlet. Two hots, one neutral and a ground. I suspect this is what the guy at West Marine was trying to get across. It's worth noting two things, one 125v 50a isn't overly common, most smaller boats are setup with 1 or 2 30a 125v shore power inlets while larger have one or two 125 / 250v 50a inlets. It is unusual to see boats below about 70 feet with the ability to freely distribute power between the inlets. Every boat I've owned or looked at have no ability to switch between the inlets.

    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you've gone through two shore power inlets in relatively little time. Something is concerning here about why that keeps happening. It sounds like it's coming from heat. Heat is resistance and can quite dangerous if you get extreme heat or arcing current. My guess is this is probably caused by the condition of the shore power cords. Did you replace the cord after the first problem? Or at least the end? With Cygnet being your home it would really stink to lose it to an electrical fire.

    Ben

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  4. Ben,
    Thanks for the info. I do have 3 wires on the back of the inlet. I know I have the old style 50A/125V and not the new style 50A/125/250V. I am using a different cord now, I had a backup which is older but seems to be in good condition. As you can see in the picture above the first cord I used is fused to the inlet so I cut the end and will put a new end on and keep it as a backup. I did notice a little bit of corrosion on the wires as you might also see in the photo of the wires extending out of the hole.

    My hope is that I might be able to run new wires without too much difficulty. I would have cut and stripped them back further than I did but they are becoming very short and barely seat fully in the new inlet. The Hubbell inlet that was installed this summer didn't let me take the wires out, I had to cut them off the back. What is in the new inlet is wire that was within the old insulation so it's in decent shape.

    I'm no electrician so this is somewhat new to me. For now we are working to keep everything under 30 amps except for brief spikes when turning things on.

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    Replies
    1. At least for a little while I'd get in the habit of putting your hand on the cord where it enters the boat. It shouldn't be hot or even warm. Heat = resistance. I think you will find that a very small ($30-50) in an infrared non-contact thermometer would be very helpful. I use it all the time including to periodically check the temperature of my shore power cords at the pedestal.

      For chafe protection your shore power wiring through the boat should be secured every few feet. Assuming that's the case you're going to need to get access to the areas where the wiring runs. Hopefully that's not too hard to find. If you can get access you should be able to replace pretty easily, but given the amount of electrical work you've already done I think you know that.

      Ben

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    2. I've been checking the temperature of the cord and inlet often. Seems fine, it's cool or cold to the touch in all areas.

      I'm not sure how easy it'll be to get to the wiring, it is behind a bulkhead in the aft cabin so some wood will have to come down probably. Shouldn't be too big an issue, just more work than I'd like to see/do. I really need to get schematics and an architectural plan for this boat, that way I can see where things go and better trace wiring and water lines. Otherwise there is a lot of guess work.

      Delete

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