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Troubleshooting

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
A couple of weeks ago, after Dana was launched, Bonnie and I took off for an overnight in one of our favorite anchorages. We arrived, found a good spot, then turned into the wind to drop the hook. In position I pressed the button for the windlass to lower the anchor. Nothing!!! The machine which had worked fine when tested the week before in the yard was now among the missing. We picked up an empty private morning while I grabbed my multimeter and dove below to troubleshoot. After a half hour of checking and rechecking, I concluded that the solenoid unit had failed because I had all the proper voltages and continuity on all the wiring except I couldn't get the solenoid to trigger the motor. We stayed that night on the mooring (lucky no one came to bump us off). Back home I ordered a new unit to replace the broken one. $185 for the part, $210 with tax and shipping, and it arrived in time for the next weekend. On the boat the following weekend I again dove below to install the new unit. The new unit was identical to the original so it was truly a plug and play affair. With the new unit installed, I eagerly pressed the button. Nothing!!! Again out with the multimeter to check the voltages. Again it showed a faulty solenoid. The damn thing is brand new right out of the box. Another cup of tea and some serious soul searching led me to the fact that I had to start removing connections to find a fault somewhere. The first wire I chose to redo was the 12V negative wire, a #14 AWG, that is the return for the solenoid relays. the connection looked clean with no corrosion. I undid it anyway and cleaned the ring terminal and the area of the connection. Slopped on some Koppercote and reconnected. About to go on to the next wire I decided to push the button again. Holy Cow Poop! The machine worked! The explanation was that the connection was corroded just enough to allow the meter to register the voltage through it but not enough current to allow the rely to pull in. I then cleaned up the rest of the wiring just as maintenance and the machine works fine again. We now have a $210 spare solenoid which will probably never go bad. Anyway, the moral of the story is that in a salt water environment the first rule of troubleshooting should involve cleaning all the connections (even if the look OK) first before ordering expensive parts. Of course I'm absolutely sure that I have learned this lesson multiple times in the past and am writing this confession to insure that I don't need to learn it again.

Jim
 

kenk

Ken Kurlychek
Thanks for sharing that lesson, Jim. It's nice to know stuff like that happens to others as well. I, myself, have forgotten way more lessons than I've remembered.
 
Thank you Jim. A good/bad lesson. I have done the same too. In another life, my family had a number of semi trucks, forklifts and other such equipment. I learned pretty quickly when my guys would report a dead battery, it was usually some other fault. Ground wires in particular, loose, corroded, what have you. I am no electrician, but have learned a little over the years. Mostly to doubt "what I know".
Glad you found the problem, but the cost hurts I know.
Mitch
 

rickdowe2

Richard Dowe
Jim, I was having issues with my well pump. I rebuilt the pump a couple of years ago. I checked the bladder pressure and that was fine 2 psi below the cut in pressure. I had purchased a new switch two years ago when I rebuilt the pump and set the pressure lower than what the switch was preset for. It was cheaper than the one that was setup for a lower pressure but it’s just a switch I’m somewhat intelligent. I fought with that for two years finally having to run down to reset the switch during a shower, I went to the local hardware store and paid top dollar for the correct switch. After installing it the switch acted similar to the old settings. What I had thought I installed originally was a 30/50 so I up it to a 40/60 psi switch. The original was a 40/60. Right back to the same issue. I shouldn’t relay on my memory. Just need to install a new pump!
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Rick
I guess running naked through the house full of soap suds will instill the notion that you need to do the job right this time. Amazing how we sometimes need that special moment to drive home a lesson. To add to my windlass adventure, the controls and wiring for the machine are located on the V-Bunk overhead just under the machine that sits on deck. In my old age I have developed a strange vertigo when I am working on my back on something above me. So not only was the problem vexing me to solve it, but I was getting dizzy and nausaus at the same time. Not my best time.
Mitch
I am (or was) an electrician. I should have heeded all the previous similar lessons and known better. My bad.

Jim
 

rickdowe2

Richard Dowe
Jim, The koppercote you mentioned is that an antisieze? I have tried googling it and that’s all I come up with even different spellings.
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Rick
It's like an anti seize. In the electrical industry there is the problem of electrolysis between two different metals. We always coated the metal with Koppercote or Penetrox. It also enhances the conductivity between copper and aluminum fittings. I haven't seen the brand Koppercoat in quite a long time. It may not be available any longer.

Jim
 

terry_thatcher

Terence Thatcher
I also own a "spare" windlass control box, bought when I thought my relatively new one had failed. Instead, it turned out to be a less than perfectly tightened wire (a big one in this case). Windlasses must be particularly susceptible to such minor voltage drops. Thanks for the reminder, Jim.
 
Jim, The koppercote you mentioned is that an antisieze? I have tried googling it and that’s all I come up with even different spellings.
It is more common to use a dielectric grease, available at any autopart store. I put it on everything electrical on my boat, from my navigation lights, to screw terminals, to the USB plugs on my laptop. Incidentally, dielectric grease is a silicone grease, and also can be used for toilet and faucet o-rings etc. which call for it.
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Warren
Exactly! A dielectric grease, or any product that calls itself dielectric, simply means that the product itself will conduct electricity.

Jim
 

jose santin

Member
Jim, I believe a dielectric grease is electrically non conductive, it is used to keep moisture out of connectors, but the connection itself is the conducting path, not the grease.
 
Jim, I believe a dielectric grease is electrically non conductive, it is used to keep moisture out of connectors, but the connection itself is the conducting path, not the grease.
Correct. Dielectric is insulating and non-conductive. Dielectric grease is a non-petroleum grease so it won't react with plastic connectors or wire insulation. Dielectric grease displaces moisture and seals the metal to prevent corrosion. But, it doesn't conduct, or it could accidentally create a short. Also, where there is higher current, dielectric grease prevents tiny arcs that burn connectors.

Jim, I looked up the product you used, which is a petroleum grease, and contains zinc. It seems to be directed more towards dissimilar metals.
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Jose & Warren
I believe you both are correct. I looked up the dictionary meaning which is: a medium or substance that transmits electric force without conduction; an insulator. My use of any kind of dielectric in the field was to insure that any connection made, whether dissimilar metals or not, was made to reduce the chance of corrosion and to make the connection electrically sound. I always thought that in doing that the dielectric itself was a conductor. I stand corrected. Thanks.

Jim
 

dave_a

Dave Ahlers
One of the challenges of troubleshooting electrics is that a multimeter measures only one thing at a time. Volts (pressure) doesn't necessarily get you Amps (flow) if a contact is corroded. Amps get the work done. Voltage tells you that the potential to do work is there...if the hose is big enough to flow enough water....or amps. You need both.
Nothing beats pulling it apart and looking at the connections
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Dave
Very true. In this case the connections ability to allow the meter to read through and not the proper amount of amps to pull in the relay fooled the hell out of me. Thanks.

Jim
 

dave_a

Dave Ahlers
One of those "clamp on" ammeters might be a handy tool. I never did buy one.
But I've killed a few multi meters trying to measuring amps tho!
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Dave
I have a clamp-on amp meter. It is really made to measure large amp loads. I've never been successful trying to measure the tiny amp loads on the 12V systems. I have a Link 10 system on the boat that can measure the small amps but that is fixed and not handy for on site trouble shooting.

Jim
 
Great tool to have, avoid leaving batteries in them when not in use. I have seen more than one ruined by leaking batteries. Avoid Blue Seas Systems, or the really cheap bargains you will find. This is the last one I bought, it will read down to milli-Amps.

Important note: that page shows 3 different meters, and only one of them will work for DC. Whatever you buy, confirm it works with DC, as the cheapest ones do not.
 
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