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Electric Light Orchestra

Posted by on June 17, 2012

We have had an issue in ERIK of late, made worse by the deepening dark of these winter nights.

Whenever we fire up the DVD/media player, or the refrigeration kicks in, the lights dim and flicker horribly. It started off as a mild phenomenon, hardly worth commenting on. Last night it was so bad the boat was plunged into darkness.

Today, I pulled out the tools to get into the distribution panel:


I really dislike opening this up. My reasons are many:

  • The screws that hold the panel in are dome topped stainless machine screws with slot drive. They are pokey, fiddly, easy to cross thread into their copper barrels, and slotted heads don’t “stick” to the screwdriver.
  • The panel is made from 2mm 25yr old laminex, it flexes horribly, cracks easily, and deforms under the weight of the switchgear and gauges attached to it.
  • It wobbles and flexes so much that connections come loose in the wiring. Every time I open it, I spend a bunch of time getting something working again.
  • I’d guessed the the problem with the dimming lights is due to a poor (or high resistance) connection. I worked myself up to opening the panel (carefully) and having a look.

    The first obvious thing is that each row of switches has its own positive feed (confusingly, in black wire). This common feed supplies each fuse, which in turn supplies the switch. Checking the resistance on the lighting common feed to the bus bar showed some resistance, about 20 ohms. The others were zero. Next I checked the feed from the battery isolation switch to the bus bar, some resistance there too, about 10 ohms. No resistance from isolation switch to battery.

    Isolating the panel, I pulled the positive feed off, and saw that it wasn’t seated well, and had corroded on the underside. A bit of sandpaper sorted that out.

    Next I checked the common feed, and saw that the screw connecting it to the bus bar was loose. Tightened that. (thinking back on it now, I should have put a stainless spring washer under it).

    Checked resistance; close to zero!
    Switched every light in Christendom on, fired up the refrigerator; no flicker!

    Yay! All fixed.


    Now to put the bloody panel on again…

    First go, the anchor winch indicator LED let its blue smoke out. They don’t work very well after that.

    Second go, the bilge pump came on, stayed on. Obviously a short, off came the panel to fix that.

    Third go, the indicator light showing the bilge pump is on auto fizzed out. Sigh. I can live with that.

    Gawd I hate this panel. One day soon I’m going to build a new one and replace it.

    Anyway, to cheer me up, I listened to “Mr Blue Sky” by the band this post is named after… Quite appropriate for today!

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