by Conrad & Judy Kreuter
Q: Dear Boat Talk: When I uncovered my boat this spring, I noticed many of the electrical items on the boat were not working. What is the proper procedure to make them all work again? TE, Copiague, NY.
A: Dear TE: Probably the most neglected item on boats is the electrical system. Over the winter, oxidation to the contact ends of the electrical components is a given. A thorough cleaning and inspection of this system will insure these components will work throughout the season.
Starting with the battery system, check the electrolite level in the battery making sure the fluid covers the top of the plates. Add distilled water if the fluid level is low. Charge the battery (s) with a trickle charger for at least twenty-four hours. Clean the entire battery to remove any loose dirt using a spray cleaner and rag. Also clean the battery terminals where the main battery wiring makes surface connections. If you have clamp on type battery wiring, make sure both the sides and top of the battery terminal are clean and bright. If your battery system has wing nuts, the top of the battery terminal should also be clean and bright. Use a file or the edge of a short knife blade to scrape away the dirt until a bright surface appears.
To check the battery wiring, inspect each wire terminal end. Wiggle each wire and look for loose, broken or green moldy connections. Replace the battery terminal ends on the wire if broken or loose. If the wiring is okay, clean the terminal ends and attach to the battery. If you have wing nuts, do not rely on only finger tight connections. Tighten the wings nuts with a suitable tool to insure vibration will not loosen them during the season.
Next, check the navigation lights. Turn on the navigation lights at the helm and check the bow light. If it is not working, remove the two screws holding the light and remove the bulb. Very often the bulb connections will be oxidized. Clean the bulb connections and the terminal connections by scraping or filing. If the light still does not work, measure the voltage across the connection with a Volt-Ohm meter or a simple 12V tester. Both of these devices are available at a marine supply or electronics store. If 12 volts is present on the meter and the bulb still does not light, replace the bulb. If 12 volts is not present, either the wiring or the switch at the dash is defective and must be replaced. Check the stern pole light in the same fashion. If both the bow and stern lights are not working check the fuse or circuit breaker under the dash. These, too, will get oxidized and require periodic cleaning.
Check all of the other electrical items on the boat such as the bilge pump, horn, blower, etc., in a similar fashion.
Before launching the boat, clean off the depth finder transducer paying particular attention to the bottom of the transducer. Lightly sand off the crud on the bottom of the transducer. Coat the transducer with anti-fouling paint especially made for this purpose. Make sure that the transducer is at the correct angle and is firmly held in place.
If you have a VHF Radio, tune to the weather channels in your area to make sure the receiver is functioning. Once the boat is launched, attempt to communicate with other boaters in the local area by requesting a radio check.