|This is, literally and figuratively, *not* cool.|
Yes, we'd do everything we could to prevent a fire on our boat.
Fast forward to five years and over ten thousand nautical miles later, we are living on the dock in beautiful Tortola, BVI. Ever since permanently relocating here (and being permanently plugged into shore power to run our boat's AC systems like refrigerator, freezer and air conditioning) I've been markedly more worried about the prospect of fire. That's a lot of load on a single cord and AC power freaks me out. Voltage irregularities, moisture intrusion, aging systems, shoddy wiring, and a damaged cord are all things that - in the perfect-storm scenario - can combine to cause a fire. One week I had such strong premonitions about our boat burning down and the fear weighed so heavily on my mind that I started Googling "how to prevent a boat fire at the dock" in earnest. Three days after this rather baseless (yet very driven) search we unplugged our shore power cord to find it charred and burnt. The connection to the boat was also deep-fried. Not cool.
After talking to my seasoned marina-dwelling friends and professional boat workers about our issue, I learned that a) chord charring is not as dire as it seemed (most likely it would just fry the cord and that'd be the end of it) and b) fried and burnt shore power cords are far more common than I thought. "We replace our cords at least once a year" one fellow live-aboard friend told me, with several others agreeing. Even armed with this knowledge, however, I felt uneasy. We have very precious cargo in the form of three adorably squishy little bodies on our boat and I want to ensure they are as safe as can be.
According to Boat US data about 17% of boat fires are due to the AC system and many of those are due to cord damage. Seaworthy Magazine has an exceptional article on the intricacies of shore power and cord care in "When Your Shore Power Looses it's Cool" and this article does a far better job at explaining the issues than I ever could. Long story short: cord damage happens, it's dangerous, and it's up to you to be diligent and monitor it. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
After some research and a whole bunch of suggestions from friends who have converted, I decided we'd upgrade to the SmartPlug*. I purchased two SmartPlug 30-Amp Inlet Connector Combo Kits to retrofit our two 30-Amp connection ports. This conversion is not cheap (at the time we spend $175 on each) but, to us, anything that will keep our family safe and (possibly) save our boat and all our worldly possessions, is worth it.
Why SmartPlug? Well, first and foremost it's simply a huge improvement on the old-style cords. The Smart Plug's design prevents overheating and provides "greater protection against loose connections and corrosion - the leading cause of shore power failure and fires." How do they do this?
- Spring loaded multi-point push lock (much stronger connection to boat)
- Weatherproof sealing (much better at keeping moisture out than older style cords)
- Straight blades that offer much more surface contact (better connection which protects from overheating and arching)
- Ease of installation and use (uses existing holes, easy conversion and no awkward "did it really connect?" twisting involved once in)
We converted two outlets and cords because we also figured that perhaps the reason for our charring might be that our single 30-Amp cord was overburdened by our systems and we decided (since we had the real-estate) to put our refrigerator and freezer on one cord, and our air conditioning on another. These measures, plus our new SmartPlugs mean we sleep a little better at the dock.
*We have no affiliation with SmartPlug