Boat Wiring: Distribution Panels and Circuit Protection

Clark July 9th, 2015

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The wiring phase of this project started with re-terminating cables and adding big fuses, then moved into battery switches and distribution. Now we’re into the final leg, which is the main distribution panel.

In the photo above you’ll see what I went with. Most distribution panels in the marine world use breakers, like this:
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That’s what I thought I was going to end up with, and the exact one above would have been just peachy, but I ended up going with glass fuses in fuse blocks for a few reasons. First, they’re way cheaper. Second, I’ve already got so many things aboard that take glass fuses that I’m pretty much stuck with them anyway. I’ve got this blast-from-the-past sub-panel with nine circuits, original equipment from England in 1967, which still works great:
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I built this new instrument panel, which has glass fuse holders for all the switches, which is often the done thing with instrument panels. And the bilge monitor console, on the left side? Glass fuse:
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In fact, all bilge pump consoles seem to have glass fuse holders:
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And there are lots of other glass fuses hidden here and there throughout my boat – in the autopilot, in the HF radio – so I figured if I was going to be carrying a bunch of glass fuses anyway, I might as well go big and continue to use them on my main distribution panel. Also, the breaker-as-switch function on breaker panels is often unnecessary, and is in fact unnecessary on all the circuits on my distribution panel. If you’re going to turn on, say, your spreader lights, then the breaker-switch on the panel makes perfect sense: It’s providing your switch and your circuit protection all in one. But if you want to turn on a cabin light the “Forward Cabin Lights” or “Starboard Lights” switch on the panel doesn’t need to be there as a switch; it just needs to provide circuit protection. IE I don’t want to have to flip two switches when I can just switch one to turn on the bloody light.

Ergo, the glass fuse panels: When the batteries are turned on, everything served from the panel is energized, just the way I want it. If I need to do maintenance on a circuit I can just pull the fuse.

Finding quality fuse blocks proved a challenge and I ended up with my old friend the Blue Sea Systems 5015 and 5018, which I’ve recommended as an electronics sub-panel before in this article for SAIL:
5015

The 5015 has a negative bus and the 5018 doesn’t, so I used two 5015’s and one 5018 because some of my circuits just needed in-line fuses, like the ignition feed to my regulator. I like these products because they are tinned, and seem to be the only tinned glass fuse blocks in the industry. Rather than buy an untinned fuse block with the right number of holders, I daisy-chained two of these together to give me 12 circuits with positive and negative. This whole arrangement was less than $100, where a breaker-switch panel would have been around $500. It goes without saying that I will build a beautiful teak cabinet to house this arrangement, and on the front of this cabinet will be my new Victron battery monitor and other gauges and switches, but for now it’s functional and inside the main cabin, which was the whole point of this exercise:
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1 Comment »

Comment by DeWayne Enyeart
2017-10-16 06:30:20

I am considering installing a Victron pure sine wave inverter/charger on a 34’ trawler. Would you update your experience the Victron equipment? Thanks.

 
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