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Alternating Current system not working


1985 E30+, San Francisco, CA
The ac outlets on my 30+ stopped working. I had flipped a few switches back and forth on the electrical panel (out of curiosity) earlier in the day, and perhaps this caused it. The panel service light illuminates haltingly, and two of the breaker lights turn on when the main breaker is turned to on. One of the two that does not go on is labeled 'outlets'. Toggling it back and forth never causes the light to go on or the outlets to start working. My use of the outlets is fairly minimal.

Also, I discovered that a green wire connected to the engine is taped to the AC panel and exposed. This wire actually gave me a literal shock. I assume it is the engine grounding wire? I don't thing it's supposed to just be exposed like this, right? What is the right thing to do with it? Does it indicate a problem that it shocked me?



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Frank Langer

1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
Hi Evan,
From your pics, it looks like the electrical connections on your boat have not had much maintenance recently. In the marine environment corrosion sets in quite quickly, often the cause of electrical problems. The green grounding wire does not look to be hooked up, which could be serious - - I'm not surprised you got a shock from it.
I do most of my DC electrical work myself, but usually leave the AC problems to a marine electrician to fix, as I think AC is more dangerous. I would suggest hiring an electrician to survey your system, give you recommendations and maybe do the repair while there. You may also want to buy a book on marine electronics like Boatowners Illustrated Electrical Handbook by Charlie Wing, which can help you figure out your electrical systems, diagnose problems, and converse with an electrician more easily.

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Personally, I'd hire an electrician. I'm not competent to judge AC grounding, wire runs, AC charger issues, stray current, bonding, dock wiring and so on. DC I'm willing, but not AC.


Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
I would not try to diagnose an AC system from a few pics on the internet. Someone who knows what they're doing needs to look at it in person. But yeah, if you are getting a shock from the safety ground, Something Is Not Right. Especially if it is not hooked up to the panel! Looks like you've got grounds and neutrals wired up all together. This is not correct. You've got parallel neutral current flowing somewhere to the engine block. In a branch circuit like the boat, there should be a neutral bus and a ground bus and a hot bus and never the three shall meet!
There is much debate on whether the AC ground should be bonded to the engine (DC ground) or not. ABYC code says yes. But NOT if it's also bonded to the neutral!!!

If you've got a GFI in the outlets circuit (hope you do) I'd doubt that it would stay set. Maybe tell Santa that you want an all new AC panel with ELCI protection for Christmas!

I would shut the system off and disconnect the shore power cord until it is corrected. This can also create a lethal condition for swimmers near your boat, especially in fresh or brackish water.

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Evan, is the first AC outlet (closest to the AC distribution panel) a GFCI type outlet? Like the ones in your kitchen at home it will have a little reset button on it. If it's like the ones in our '88 boat, that outlet will protect the other outlets 'downstream' from it. I had to replace ours a few years ago when it started tripping without cause... the device was past its working life.

And, yes, unplug your shore power cord when working on those AC circuits!
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Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
Sorry for being blunt, but regardless of whether or not the outlets work, the AC current coming off the engine block (if that is indeed what is happening) AND that mess of mixed neutrals and grounds are BOTH unacceptable conditions. If one wanted to probe into it a bit more deeply, one might (with shore power DISCONNECTED) disconnect all the stuff on that free-floating terminal block and use a multimeter to determine which wire(s) has continuity with the one coming off the engine block. That way likely trouble lies.