Engine Room Electrical Outlets: GFCI Protection

It's important to extend GFCI protection to any outlet you install in the engine-room on any boat, gasoline-powered or otherwise.

21st May 2013.
By Ed Sherman

Question: I’m trying to get my boat updated with a few things as part of my spring get-ready process. I’d like to add an electrical outlet in my engine room space to make it easier to plug in drills and shop lights when I’m working down there.

I’ve been told there are some special requirements for electrical receptacles located in machinery spaces on board boats, especially those using gasoline as fuel, as mine does. Can you give me a clue here?

GFCI outlet in the head or galley area

You can use a GFCI outlet in the head or galley area to connect to a conventional outlet in the engine room.

Answer: Sure can. The photo above gives you one clue, and that is that the ABYC recommends GFCI protection in machinery spaces. They also recommend it for outlets that may be up on deck, in galleys, and in head compartments. This all makes sense, since the GFCI devices are intended to minimize the risk of electrical shock when using electrical equipment in damp environments.

The problem here is that the GFCI receptacles typically used by boatbuilders or even marine electricians are not rated for ignition protection, as required for electrical devices installed in spaces where gasoline engines or tanks may be located. Ignition-protected components are available but at great cost; they’re used in hospitals and medical facilities areas where oxygen might be in use. The last time I priced one I think it was about $90 for one outlet.

The good news here is that there is a really easy out to all of this. Most boats will typically have a GFCI receptacle already installed in the galley area or the head compartment, or in both. What’s needed is simply to install a conventional outlet in the engine room space and connect it to the GFCI outlet in the safe location, either the galley or head.  The YouTube video below will give you some important tips on how this should be done.

Just keep in mind that the video is showing a land-based situation. On your boat the wiring will all be stranded, and it is going to need to have terminals crimped on before attempting to connect the wires to the new receptacle. Don’t use wire nuts!


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About the author:

Ed Sherman

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Ed Sherman is a regular contributor to boats.com, as well as to Professional Boatbuilder and Cruising World, where he previously was electronics editor. He also is the curriculum director for the American Boat and Yacht Council. Previously, Ed was chairman of the Marine Technology Department at the New England Institute of Technology. Ed’s blog posts appear courtesy of his website, EdsBoatTips.
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http://www.EdsBoatTips.com

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