Tuesday, May 7, 2013

SmartPlug - The Real Installation Story

At this year's Miami Boat Show, Karen stayed on the boat and I drove down for meetings. At the show I had a couple of hours to look for new things for our own boat. I came across SmartPlug, winner of the electrical innovation award at the show. I talked to the company engineers and was totally hooked.

So I got the full receptacle and cable replacement kit and intended on doing a blog entry about how everything on a boat takes longer to install than you think it should. I knew our canine crew would be a big part of the installation since it was taking place in the cockpit, their standard afternoon nap place.

Here's how it went.

Step 1 - Turn off the boat power and unplug the cable. Safety first.

Step 2 - Find the package that got delivered and get a few tools together.

Step 3 - Take the parts out and look over the instructions. And let me say, the instructions are fantastic and give absolutely everything you need with clarity.

Step 4 - Remove the 4 screws holding in the power receptacle.

Step 5 - Dylan needs to inspect. It's important to point out that now would have been the wrong time to realize that you should have unplugged the power cable from the pedestal on the dock.

Step 6 - Push Dylan out of the way since he decided he had to be right in front of all the action.

Step 7 - Unscrew the wire screws and the plug falls out. I also cleaned up the old gasket and removed some sealant original to the boat that should have never been installed with the gasket. And I sanded the copper ends a little to remove any corrosion - there was some.

Step 8 - Put the gasket over the plug, push the wires into the color coded receptacles, and tighten with the included Allen wrench. It's a really beefy connection that is much more rugged than the original.

Step 9 - Make sure to not bother Dyna's afternoon nap. She's deaf so she still didn't realize I had been there for 10 minutes already.

Step 10 - Push the wires back and use the original 4 screws in the exact same holes to finish the receptacle installation. It's so nice that everything lines up perfectly.

Step 11 - Feel how it works and make sure there's no wiggle. It all feels perfect and strong.

Step 12 - Saw off the end of the cable to replace the plug with one that matches the new SmartPlug. I made sure to leave a couple of inches on the end so I could splice it if I needed to use the plug again. Most likely, it's already been misplaced and is lost.

Step 13 - My trusty wife is called to help with the last stage of cutting so as not to drop the end and wake up Dyna.

Step 14 - No luck. Dyna sensed all the commotion and now decided that she needed to lay on top of the cable being worked on and the instructions.

Step 15 - The instructions tell you exactly how much inner insulation to remove. There's also this white cotton-like material that gets cut away between the wires.

Step 16 - Prepare the plug case and put the included cone over the wires to assist in pushing the wires into the cover.

Step 17 - The instructions say to use liquid soap because it's a tight waterproof fit. This took about 5 minutes to push on because it was stiff but easy enough.

Step 18 - With all the insulation cut to instruction specifications, it all just fits together perfectly. There's a very strong strain relief part of the assembly that actually holds the cable. The wires then slip in and are tightened with the Allen wrench.

Step 19 - Slide the cover back onto the plug and screw in 4 included screws to lock it all in place.

Step 20 - Convince Karen that she can insert the cable now on her own. The plug only goes on one way and gives a positive lock with the 2 side silver latches. The receptacle cover has two more locking points and folding it over grabs and locks the plug even more securely.

Step 21 - Admire the results.

Cost of the SmartPlug kit:  $215
Extra expenses for installation:  $0

A planned 2 hour boat project that took only 1 hour:  Priceless


Charlie-Captain's Cat said...

Did you have to "tin" the wires when attaching to the new plug? Already have mine, just need to do the job in VA when we head S again from DownEast Maine in Early June.

MV Red Head said...

No, the instructions didn't say anything about tinning the wire. I read somewhere that pressing a post hard against copper wire makes an excellent connection by driving out gasses - something like that.

I'm a software guy after all...

Unknown said...

Great post Jeff. I've been a big fan of this product since it was first introduced here in Seattle. They've done an outstanding job making the boat installation as simple and safe as can be.
The larger question is how to motivate the marina industry to adopt the same proven (and vastly superior) technology at the pedestal end of the connection? That's at least 50% of the hazard scenario that has not been addressed. Maybe Active Captain can be a catalyst for this. I would think the insurance savings alone would make it a no-brainer. One wonders how many more marina fires will it take to get their attention....

Ron Rogers said...

Tinning is a no no as it makes the wire stiff and susceptible to breakage, although unlikely in a plug like this. Dielectric grease might be a thought, but not if it wasn't recommended by the manufacturer.

I have had my 30amp cable and receptacle ever since the big marina fire here at McCotters in Washington, NC. It has never felt warm and has always remained firmly attached owing to the excellent design.

Since shore connections are a primary cause of boat and marina fires (Boat US has a book on marine losses) I tried to get my insurance company and the adjustors of others to consider offering a discount or subsidy to support a changeover to this new system. That was 2 years ago and no progress.

Getting the 30amp cable to squoze into its strain relief/water seal was hard - but worthwhile.