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Old 10-18-2015, 09:15 AM   #1
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GFI breakers appearing on Docks - get ready

I ran into this last summer in Alaska, and I expect it's the beginning of a trend that will sweep through all the states sooner or later. Boaters can be well served by addressing this before you arrive at such a dock and find that you have no shore power. Here's more....

Alaska appears to have passed a law requiring dock power breakers to be GFI and I think also RCD (residual current device). As towns upgrade their dock power, these breakers are appearing everywhere. It's a good safety measure, but can catch boaters by surprise.

If your boat has an electrical problem, these breakers will trip when you plug in and leave you with no shore power. This was a bit of a fiasco for transients in AK.

I think boaters would be well served to test for this in advance and fix any problems before encountering such a marina. I'm not sure what the best test would be short of plugging into a GFI/RCD receptacle and see if it trips. Anyone have any ideas? And has anyone seen this at other marinas?
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Old 10-18-2015, 10:28 AM   #2
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This season our marina added a GFI requirement to 30 amp twist lock/15 amp adapters (shore power to regular household plugs in other words), so now we need one of these:

http://www.westmarine.com/buy/marinc...tion--10066835

But I can't get too crabby about that - too many boaters were dropping 110v extension cords into the water and tripping the big breaker for all the boats on the dock. Problem now is that lots of boaters just run extension cords from inside their boats.
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Old 10-18-2015, 10:40 AM   #3
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Yes, I mentioned it on the TF South Florida winter gathering thread. Here is the procedure on our dock. Before connecting to power the first time turn off all individual breakers. Turn the dockside breaker on. Turn the boat selector to shore power. Then turn on the individual breakers one at a time. This should locate any circuit that is problematic. That way you can isolate the problem circuits, leave them turned off, and take care of the problem later. At least that's how it works on our dock. YMMV.
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Old 10-18-2015, 10:42 AM   #4
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Has any one ever been killed due to a ground fault in a dock's power supply? Open grounds maybe, but I doubt if there have been any deaths due to leakage from neutral to ground.

I have had several experiences with GFCI's on dock power. My buddy has an old CHB trawler and its electrical system is just as old and no doubt has some leakage between ground and neutral.

We docked at a town dock on the Erie Canal last summer. Plugged in and immediately tripped. Called the dockmaster and he said that this was a common problem. Their electrician claimed it was required by code. But he bypassed the GFCI and we had power.

Later my buddy plugged in to a crappy marina in NC. The electrical system in this marina wouldn't meet any electrical code with exposed wiring, no conduit, etc. But it had 20 amp GFCI protected outlets and yes it tripped when my buddy plugged in. We replaced that outlet with a non GFCI protected outlet and all was fine.

So does the NEC or any local code require GFCI's on shore power outlets? ABYC and NEC require GFCI outlets in the galley and head just like your kitchen and bathroom. But your whole house isn't GFCI protected, so why should your boat.

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Old 10-18-2015, 11:11 AM   #5
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David, I have been a voting representative to the International Building Codes Conference. Manufacturers lobby hard for their new product to be required by code. There are many floor fights over useless crap being put into the codes.

Some manufacturers will even pay to send union members, firemen, and the like to vote at the conferences. Common sense doesn't always win.
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Old 10-18-2015, 11:22 AM   #6
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Don's method worked great for me as our marina has gfci plugs too. We only ever bother doing it if the dock receptacle trips.

For those unaccustomed to them should buy one of these before cruising an area that has them. YELLOW JACKET, GFCI Portable Plug-In Adapter Black, 2762 at The Home Depot - Mobile

By all means if your boat trips a gfci do the rest of us a favor and fix it. Mine turned out to be a loose wire that could have caused a marina fire.
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Old 10-18-2015, 11:36 AM   #7
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Discovered this at the State Docks in Okracoke this summer. No issues with my boat, but certainly some with another that caused all sorts of problems for for us and others on the same dock..
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Old 10-18-2015, 12:16 PM   #8
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Do a search plenty of articles on electrocution deaths in marinas, especially fresh water. For example..

Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) Explained - Seaworthy Magazine - BoatUS

I like having isolation transformers on the boat.

As an aside, I also like that Hatteras put GFP breakers on the front of each 120v panel so all 120v outlets on board are protected, so no issue plugging an extension cord into any outlet for using a tool or other device outside or in the bilge. For boats not so equipped, it is easy enough to install a GFP outlet first in line on any master 120v circuit.
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Old 10-18-2015, 12:16 PM   #9
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So is there a test one can perform on the boat's electrical system to see if you have a problem before you get to a dock with GFI shore power?

Ted
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Old 10-18-2015, 12:44 PM   #10
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David- It's not leakage from neutral to gnd that trips it, it is leakage from hot to gnd. The way it does this is measuring current on both neut and hot, and if equal all is good. If more current in hot than neut, current is going somewhere else besides back up the neut. Which means leakage to gnd... somewhere. Now if neut and gnd are tied together, then that screws up the whole works. Neut and gnd should be separate on the boat.

That's my understanding, anyway. I think...

And yes, sales of isolation transformers will probably go up.
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Old 10-18-2015, 01:00 PM   #11
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So is there a test one can perform on the boat's electrical system to see if you have a problem before you get to a dock with GFI shore power?

Ted
I use these circuit testers. The pattenr of lights will tell you the problem on a circuit. Also by pressing the button on top it should trip a GFCI circuit.

GFCI Receptacle Outlet Tester / Analyzer with Ground Fault Circuit Test -5 pack

Any one want to buy a couple of cases of bad arc fault protective circuit breakers? We have changed out oodles of them.

The circuit testers are about 8 bucks at Lowes.
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Old 10-18-2015, 01:46 PM   #12
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So is there a test one can perform on the boat's electrical system to see if you have a problem before you get to a dock with GFI shore power?

Ted
The article I linked goes into some detail.
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Old 10-18-2015, 03:16 PM   #13
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So the bottom line is a clamp on amp meter is required to test the boat's electrical system and the GFI outlet tester to check the GFI outlets themselves.

Ted
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Old 10-18-2015, 04:14 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by djmarchand View Post
So does the NEC or any local code require GFCI's on shore power outlets? ABYC and NEC require GFCI outlets in the galley and head just like your kitchen and bathroom. But your whole house isn't GFCI protected, so why should your boat.

David
Yes, NEC requires GFCI for any outdoor outlet, which a dock outlet certainly is. There might be exemptions for outlets over 20A, hence no GFCI in the past at marinas, but that's just a guess.

And I honestly don't know whether NEC codes have changed, or if AK has passed a State Law, or if certain AK cities have passed local laws, or if it's a municipal liability fear with no law requiring it. I just don't know.
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Old 10-18-2015, 08:36 PM   #15
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Disconnect shore power at your inlets.
Turn off inverters
Set selector to shore power
Turn on all AC breakers
set your multimeter to ohms
Measure from neutral to ground prongs at the inlet, you should see no continuity between ground and neutral.
if you see continuity, turn off all breakers then turn them on one at a time checking the meter each time to identify the bad line or appliance.

I took a four day ABYC "Corrosion Analysis" course back in March taught by Kevin Ritz (the discoverer of Electric Shock Drowning)

You cannot learn anything about corrosion analysis without getting heavily into this area, they are very much inter-related. I don't pretend to be an expert as those four days taught me how much I didn't know. What I did learn is that playing with this stuff if you don't know exactly what you are doing can be lethal. So unless you are an expert do yourself a favour and hire an ABYC certified Electrician to sort out your problems. If you are tripping dockside GFCI's there is something wrong on your boat.
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Old 10-18-2015, 09:08 PM   #16
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Disconnect shore power at your inlets.
Turn off inverters
Set selector to shore power
Turn on all AC breakers
set your multimeter to ohms
Measure from neutral to ground prongs at the inlet, you should see no continuity between ground and neutral.
if you see continuity, turn off all breakers then turn them on one at a time checking the meter each time to identify the bad line or appliance.
Thank You! That's what I was looking for!

Ted
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Old 10-19-2015, 01:12 AM   #17
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I ran into this last summer in Alaska, and I expect it's the beginning of a trend that will sweep through all the states sooner or later. ?
Yes, we noted this too. I talked with the electrical contractor in Juneau who did work on the new docks and he said the requirement came from the feds who have provided funds for the tens of millions of recent multi marina AK dock work. Just one of the many stipulations and requirements associated with getting state and federal funds.

Several hundred isolation transformers have been purchased by commercial and recreational vessels during the past few years to insure compatibility.
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Old 10-20-2015, 01:59 AM   #18
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A comment as to a couple of reasons in support of GFI. As to any deaths, there have been some fires attributed to not having it. It's also not unknown for it to surface as a house issue outside the kitchen and bath. I knew someone having an issue in his garage where the phone/fiber optic/internet people had connected. Now their wire from the outside had exposure to water. A second issue is simply the number of boats encountering electric problems as well as rapid deterioration of zincs. The issues of death of swimmers has been more of a fresh water problem. This could improve the quality of wiring at both docks and on boats and ultimately lessen the number of electrical issues significantly.
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Old 10-20-2015, 08:28 AM   #19
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Electric shock is one thing that GFI/RCD outlets protect against. But they also protect against a whole host of other faults that can lead to fires. I suspect a significant percentage of boats have dangerous wiring of one sort or another, and if GFI/RCD shore outlets can keep those faults from turning into a marina fire, I'm all for it.
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Old 10-20-2015, 09:48 AM   #20
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Thing is, if a boat has trouble in wiring that trips the GF, then owner solves the issue by installing an isolation transformer, that removes the GF protection except for the wires between dock and transformer. GF no longer checking boat wiring.

I could see using a GF on a boat shore cord outlet that has a higher trip threshold than one used next to a bathtub.
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