Marine Electrical Systems Handbook Introduction and Table of Contents
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Marine Electrical Systems Handbook
Part 1, Connections

by Cameron Clarke

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We at know you find the Marine Electrical Systems Handbook very helpful. Whether you own a sailboat or a power boat you will learn the importance of good electrical connections and how they affect your vessel's electrical system operation and battery charging. Apply the knowledge here and reduce battery charging time and increase marine battery life. It is our aim in the following pages to provide useful information that will save you time and money.

The easy-to-follow material in Part 1 of this resource helps you understand and troubleshoot your boat's electrical system. Learn how to increase your battery charging system efficiency with simple wiring changes.

May the winds and electrons, be with you on all your adventures.

Cameron, S/V Second Star


Part 1 examines proper wire size for amp loads, use of ring terminals, connections, resistance, and losses in the wiring system. This is some of the most important material in this handbook. Concentrate on learning this part as it sets up the understanding for all the following material.

We begin by defining a few items. A ring terminal is a preformed copper piece, often with zinc or solder plating. It is placed over the end of a prepared (insulation striped back to reveal copper) wire and crimped with a tool to make a tight connection to the wire.


The end of the terminal has a hole, not unlike a washer, that is used to attach to something usually by a screw. The screw will keep the terminal captive, unless of course the screw falls out of the hole. A fork terminal is similar, except there is a slot in the washer portion, which allows the terminal to slide over or away from the attaching screw without removal. A ring terminal will prevent a wire falling off and causing a short. For this reason, I recommend them over spade (slide on/off) and fork terminals. Fork terminals sometimes have bent up ends to eliminate this problem. They are a good substitute for ring terminals when you might inadvertently lose the screw in the bilge.

Figure 1, Examples of Terminals

I define a connection as any point two metallic conductors are made to touch, i.e. "connect". Connections can be "crimped" or squeezed together via a special tool. Please do not use pliers. Connections can be soldered (heated with an iron and a lead-tin alloy is melted into the air space), or made by any mechanical means (two or more wires or terminals held together by a nut and bolt, etc). If two wires are connected in a manner where each wire has a crimped terminal, then I count 3 connections, one for each crimped terminal (2) and one for terminal to terminal (1), or 3 total. Perhaps this seems a minor point, but I shall elaborate as to why it is important for you to consider this detail. By counting and examining connections in a wire path, you will solve many problems.

Continue >
  • Learn how to decrease your charging time and increase your battery efficiency with simple, do-it-yourself wiring changes.
  • Learn about your batteries. What types are best suited to your application? Gel-cell verses liquid electrolyte. Also learn about Ni-cad and alkaline batteries. How to care for each of these.
  • Learn about battery charging devices. What is good, bad, and how are they different? Includes alternators, generators, shore power chargers, wind power, and solar power.
  • Learn about regulators and other charge controllers including internal/external regulators, multi-state, by-pass, and shunt types.
  • Learn about "electrolysis", its causes and cures.
  • Learn how to trouble shoot electrical problems with your multi-meter.
  • Learn preventive maintenance for your electrical system.

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