Boat Electrical Hazard Safety Tips

A boat doesn’t seem like the best place to house electrical systems,  given that marine environments subject electrical components to punishment in the form of corrosive salt, water, heat and constant vibration.

Boat electrical safety tips

In other words, marine electrical systems are subject to conditions that can turn them into safety hazards. So no matter how big or small the vessel, boat owners and recreational boaters alike should have at least a basic understanding of marine electrical safety. With that in mind, here are some general boat electrical safety tips.

Buy safety gloves

Buy marine-grade wiring

Check For Exposed Wiring

Always be on the lookout for exposed wires and cables on a boat, as they’re dangerous to come in contact with, especially when there’s water involved. Regularly inspect wires, connectors, terminal strips and any other electrical wiring components regularly for corrosion, cuts, chafing, frayed or exposed ends and loose hardware, as these can lead to electrical shocks and boat fires.

Boat electrical safety wiring

Repair bad connections and apply dielectric grease or other corrosion inhibitors after cleaning them to help prevent future damage. Also, make sure you take the necessary safety precautions and have the proper marine electrical supplies before making repairs. These include:

Never attempt any electrical repairs on your boat without proper manufacturer instructions. If you’re not comfortable with or capable of making electrical repairs, hire a certified marine electrician.

Watch the video below to see how to repair electrical wires and connections, including crimping wires and adding heat shrink tubing to exposed connections. 

Inspect Panels, Outlets and Switches

Most people know to look out for exposed wiring to prevent electric shock, but outlets, panels and switches are often overlooked when it comes to inspecting a boat.

Boat electrical safety tips panels and switches

This equipment can get damaged and pose electrical hazards, so inspect them regularly for chips, scratches and cracks, which can leave them exposed to salt and water damage. If you believe there’s any damage that can pose a potential electrical hazard, turn off the power to the boat and get a professional marine electrician to replace them immediately.

Inspect Breakers

Circuit breakers are another overlooked electrical component that can pose shock and fire threats, so you’ll want to replace any that are loose or worn. 

Boat electrical safety tips breakers

Make sure all breakers and battery switches for both DC and AC current are off before opening and inspecting circuit breaker panels for broken or exposed wires, charred terminals or burnt fuses. Also, make sure power from the dock to the boat is disconnected before inspecting and replacing breakers. 

Check Bilge Pump Wiring

An electrical component that’s especially hazardous if wires are exposed is the bilge pump, which is located in an area of the boat meant to take on water. 

Boat electrical safety tips bilge pump wiring

Broken or corroded wires can create an electrical hazard in bilge water, so you’ll want to inspect all electrical connections to the bilge pump(s) for damage. Check the bilge pumps to make sure they have fuses with the correct amperage rating as well. Fuses being run on power that exceeds their max rating can cause them to blow. If the fuse is being run too hard, both it and its fuse box will heat up the wires, which can then create an electrical hazard in the bilge water.

Inspect and Clean Marine Batteries

Check battery terminal connections for corrosion and loose or broken wires and hardware, which can also create an electrical hazard or a boat fire from shorting the battery.

Boat electrical safety tips marine batteries

If the terminals are corroded, use a brush, a battery terminal cleaner and a rag to clean them off. However, if the corrosion is too severe, you may have to replace the hardware or the battery itself. As for replacing the wiring, use only marine-grade battery wires, which are made of tinned copper conductors designed to resist marine corrosion.

Inspect Shore Power Sources

AC inlets and plugs that provide shore power are also a common source of electrical fires on boats, and damaged cables on these power sources can cause shocks.

Boat electrical safety shore power

To inspect shore power sources, turn off your boat's main AC breaker before unplugging the shore power cord at both ends. Next, inspect the power cord for cracks, splits and chafing. Also, inspect the plugs and inlets for corrosion and discoloration every time you use shore power. Use a galvanic isolator connected in-line to the shore power connection to prevent low-voltage DC from getting on your boat.

Buy marine battery hardware

Buy marine shore power adapter

Check for Engine Electrical Corrosion

Anodes or zincs are installed on boat engines to absorb corrosion from electricity generated in the water, so you’ll want to inspect and replace them often.

If the outboards or sterndrives of neighboring boats are seeping electricity into the water, your boat’s engine will absorb it if the anodes are depleted or missing. This is known as galvanic corrosion, which happens when one metal corrodes another metal when they're in electrical contact with or in close proximity to each other in water. You’ll want to inspect the anodes on your boat’s motor regularly to make sure they’re doing their job of preventing electrical corrosion.

Practice Boat Dock Electrical Safety 

Don’t swim or allow anybody else to swim near the dock while arriving or when launching your boat, as both the boat and the dock itself can seep electricity into the water through various power sources.

Boat electrical safety tips dock

When docking your boat, keep an eye out for potential electrical hazards by checking for nearby power lines, and maintain a safe distance between them. Also, avoid using metal objects, including ladders, if you detect any electrocution hazards near your boat. Notify the dock owner of any concerns so they can shut the power off and fix the problem.