DIY upgrade could keep your boat afloat.
By Dave Osmolski
Of all the boating mishaps that can occur, sinking at the dock or mooring has to be the most common. It’s the only boating disaster I have ever witnessed, and it’s a devastating experience—even if you aren’t the boat owner.
Many factors in a marina can contribute to a boat’s sinking. One solution mentioned in the Marine Electronics course is installing a high-water alarm system in the bilge.
You can install a high-water alarm yourself for under $100 and, depending on your resources and skill, perhaps much less.
All you need is a float switch, some wire and a waterproof annunciator, preferably one producing upwards of 100 decibels with a tone that cannot be ignored. The purpose is to alert everyone that something is wrong and needs attention.
First, find a spot in the bilge to mount the high-water float switch. The spot must be accessible, free of debris and below the point at which there’s too much water to handle before the boat goes under. Usually the manufacturer or the marina where you bought your boat have personnel who can suggest the best spot and level. Don’t place the switch too low in the bilge because an alarm that activates too frequently will soon be ignored. You want to ensure the alarm goes off only when necessary.
Available at most marine stores, float switches are pricey because they must be rugged and reliable.
Mount the switch at your chosen location according to the instructions from the switch manufacturer. Use best practices to connect the switch to the wiring as suggested by the American Boat and Yacht Council.
Attach the switch to the battery’s positive (+) terminal. Run a red wire from the battery terminal, through a 5-amp fuse to one wire on the switch as shown in the diagram. Be sure to support the wire every few feet, and run it through the shortest distance possible from the battery to the switch. Do not run the wire through passageways or through living spaces unless it is inside a conduit.
Run another red wire from the other wire on the switch to the annunciator. Pay attention to the polarity on the annunciator. The positive terminal is painted red and the label shows a plus sign.
Mount the annunciator on the outside of your boat high enough to reach, but out of the way of traffic that could knock it loose or dislodge a wire.
Run a black wire from the annunciator the shortest route back to the battery and attach the black wire to the negative (-) battery terminal. Be sure to run this wire inside a conduit or inside the walls of your boat with other wiring. Support the wire every few feet.
You have many sources from which to purchase annunciators. I chose Floyd Bell Inc., floydbell.com. Having used their products before, I know they will survive harsh industrial environments and provide a sound loud enough to alert you even over the din of machinery and exhaust fans.
The company’s customer service department said the company will sell individual annunciators via credit card sales. These small, waterproof units are well suited for use in a marine environment. They produce a 103-decibel alarm that can be heard for quite a distance and is attention-getting at close range.
For a person handy with tools and wiring, this is no more than a weekend job. If you leave your boat in the water at a marina, it could save you a huge expense.
Just a note: ABYC suggests placing an annunciator in each sleeping area. I suggest you test one outside before putting a 103-decibel annunciator in the bedroom!
D/Lt/C David H. Osmolski, SN, of Charlotte Power Squadron, has been repairing boats since high school when his first boat, a canvas-covered canoe with cedar ribs, leaked in gallons per minute and required constant repair.
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