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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Lambert

AC/DC: Knowing the Electric Current on Your Boat

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Tech Tips | Electrical Current

It's not hard to look at the acronym and automatically think of the rock band. Putting on shows full of raw power, they were clever to name themselves after the abbreviation, which stands for Alternating Current/Direct Current, the flow of electricity. The question is, do you know the electric current on your boat?

Knowing the electric current on your boat is crucial as it is one of the most important systems on board. From lights and appliances to the navigation systems you have on board, electricity is needed to power them.

In this article, we are going to take a look at the different kinds of currents on your boat, and what kind your boat needs.

Knowing The Electric Current on Your Boat

Direct Current

The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Tech Tips | Direct Current

Direct Current, commonly referred to as DC, flows in one direction. This current is supplied by your boat battery, typically in 12 volts. Some systems have increased their power, starting at 24V and going all the way to 36V (generally on larger boats). This current feeds your lights, electronics, and it starts your engine. Depending on the size of your boat, your Direct Current circuit (the stream of electrons flowing through a conductor from point A to point B) will be distributed by a marine fuse panel or electrical panel board. Because DC is powered by a battery, it must be connected to an alternator or a marine battery charger.

Alternating Current

The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Tech Tips | Alternating Current

Alternating Current (AC) flow is a rotating current that switches direction every 1/120th second. This same AC current is generally 120 V, and it comes to your boat through an off-shore power cord or by your generator. This flow powers your air condition, refrigeration, and TV. Found on larger boats such as Catamarans or Yachts, uses a breaker panel that provides a path for delivering power from an AC source to the AC branch circuits.

Frequent Issue

Knowing the electric current on your boat is important because you need to know what you're measuring. The most frequent issue that most people run into on their boat is electrical, and understanding the type of current on their boat is critical. A multimeter can be used to measure voltage (volts), current (amps), and resistance (ohms). Measuring AC current whilst on a DC scale could not only give you a severe shock, but you chance destroying your meter as well.

Safety First

Every component in an electrical system plays an important role, creating an ebb and flow that keeps your boat powered on and running smoothly. Boats with both AC and DC currents can often share the same electrical panel, but it is crucial to know which current is which. It is also important to remember to never work on the panel while the AC power is still active from the dock.

The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Tech Tips | Fuse Panel

Safety features such as fuses and circuit breakers are essential to install in the electrical system. Not only do they protect from electrical overload, but they can also assist in preventing accidents or electrical fires by cutting power to a circuit.

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