Ken an Electrician? Nah…

I’ve not been doing the blog this week because I’ve been taking a Marine Electric Certification course, given by ABYC. My goal between now and when we start our circumnavigation is to identify those areas where my skills are weak and work on them. Once we leave the U.S. I’ll have to do most repairs myself.


I knew going into this course that it was going to be tough going. The course was intended for people who have worked as a professional electrician for more than three years, and I have exactly zero training as a Marine electrician (or, any kind of electrician). The class consisted of 15 electricians – and me.


Unless the economy keeps spiraling downwards, I am unlikely to ever work as an electrician, but I do think the knowledge learned will be very handy, and I would encourage anyone who is serious about international cruising in a powerboat to take the time to learn the basic skills. I remember arriving at the marina in Marbella (Spain) and being handed a shore power adapter when I checked in. There was no cord attached, just the connector. It was assumed that I would know how to take apart my existing adapter, and rewire for this new adapter. I hadn’t the vaguest idea what to do, or if the power was even compatible with my boat, and the instructions, in Spanish, weren’t much help. This same confusion was repeated often as we moved from marina to marina. Usually, I gave up and just ran the boat off a combination of batteries and my generator. Even on this most recent trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, there were times when I had electrical problems, and had I known then what I know now, I might have been able to get some systems operational instead of just being frustrated.


The course finally finished today, with a 200 question exam! I won’t know how I did for another week, but am optimistic. It was a much tougher test than I was expecting. I’m usually good at tests, and told Roberta to expect that I’d be home in a couple of hours (from the testing). They allowed 3 hours for the test, and I wound up going down to the last minute.


Other skills that I want to develop over the next year include learning much more about the boat’s hydraulic system, and the diesel engine… I’ll be in Mexico for most of the next six months, so attending class won’t be possible, but I noticed that the ABYC has the study guides for the courses available to be ordered. I just ordered their courses on engines, systems and a/c systems. It won’t be the same without an instructor, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to learn, but necessity has a way of making things possible, so “maybe”.


-Ken W

3 Responses

  1. David and Chuck:

    I read Nigel Calder’s book a year ago, and it was the best I’ve read, by far. It was because I took the time to study Nigel’s book that I was able to do the advanced course.

    That said, and with 20/20 hindsight, I probably would have been better off with the easier course. The course I took was for working professionals who wanted an independent party to “certify” that they know what they are doing. Assuming I passed the test, which I “think” I did, the big reward will be a patch I can put on my coveralls. Unfortunately, I don’t have any!

    While the rest of the class needed certification, what I really needed was education. I did ok because I’m good at studying and a fast learner, but it isn’t something that would work for most people. Because of the pressure of the course, I took very seriously studying electricity before and during the course, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise, so I did achieve my goal — but, had I gone to the course hoping to be taught electricity, I think I’d have been disappointed.

    The good news in all of this is that I am infinitely smarter about electricity today than I was a couple of weeks ago. I also must compliment both the instructor (Joe Derie — who was awesome!)and the students in my class. There is certainly some humor in the “fish out of water” story of me, a software developer, in a room full of electricians. But, there really weren’t a lot of humorous moments. Mostly, everyone worked their tails off. These guys were very serious about obtaining their certification, and were a smart group. There were a few fun moments, but not that many. Overall, this was a group of guys, any of which, I’d be honored to have working on my boat.

    OK .. I’ll tell one “story” about class. It was never explicitly said, but I definitely got a sense of the “pecking order” amongst marine professionals. At the top of the heap are the “professional mechanics” who are the ones who make boating possible. Next down on the ladder are the captains, who aren’t a bad group of guys, but don’t really know how to fix things. Then, at the bottom of the heap are the “owners.” Owners are the ones who don’t know cr*p about their boats, but think they do, and who generally screw things up. I kept thinking I was screwing up all the good jokes and stories that would normally be told about “owners,” but couldn’t be, because I was in the room.

    And, because I’m in the mood .. one more story…

    At the end of the class, everyone was required to fill out a demographic survey. One of the first questions was: How long have you been working as a professional electrician? 1-3 years, 4-7 years, 8-15 years, 16+ years? I cheated and put 1-3 years. The next few questions asked where you received your training as a marine electrician. I answered “None of the above.”

    And, of course.. there’s always one more story to be told…

    On Thursday as we were going to lunch, I was walking out to the car alongside one of the other guys, and said to him: “You know, I think we’re all in really good shape. Perhaps after lunch we could lobby Joe [our teacher] to let us take the test today instead of tomorrow.” He looked at me like I was crazy: “Sure. I guess we could do that, and then instead of class tomorrow, we could just go to work. Remind me again why would that be good?” I didn’t have an intelligent answer to that question…

    -Ken W

  2. Ken,

    Obviously you’re very knowledgeable about boats and their systems. If you weren’t on a short time line for your voyage departure, and a busy schedule, would you have preferred to have taken the first couse in the series to have a better foundation, before taking the second class?


  3. You should purchase, if you don’t have it already the book written by Nigel Calder. I think the name is “Boat owners Mechanical and Electrical…”. This is a really good book, easy to follow, in laymans terms, and is invaluable on my boat.

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