17. Christmas Bonfires are Best Ashore

By Tom Neale, 12/2/2004

Christmas Bonfires are Best Ashore

Christmas lights and decorations on boats on the water are beautiful and a great part of the fun of owning a boat. But they require extreme caution.

Only use high quality out door lights, whether inside or out.

Use high quality out door extension cords to power the lights. 110 volt AC current running in cords that are wrapped about your rigging and lifelines can cause many dangerous problems. Even a slight current leak can cause long term damage or injury. Marine grade equipment is preferable.

There are two schools of thought as to whether you should seal the plugs where electric lines are connected to each other. One says to wrap the connection with electric tape, the other says to leave the connection unsealed so that any moisture from rain will run out from between the faces of the male and female plugs. If you seal it, be sure that the seal is complete and tight so that rain water won’t be trapped inside.

If rain gets inside AC plugs or joints, it’s possible for the moisture to conduct current along the outside of the plug and even along the wire. This could cause severe electrolysis if the wire comes into contact with conductive surfaces on the boat, and it could cause dangerous electric shock. Be extra careful with your lights when it’s raining or snowing.

If possible, make all connections below decks out of the weather and secured from accidental separation.

Arrange your wiring so that the plugs connecting wire runs aren’t going to be underwater at any time, are suspended away from or insulated from any conductive (including when wet) material, and are secured together so that wind or motion or gravity won’t pull them apart. Some use electrical tape to secure plugs together, some use 3 wire ties: one at the base of each plug and the third threaded between the wire and the first two ties. Others tie the end of the wires together with a loose knot, joining them, so that the plugs can’t be pulled apart.

Don’t string electric wires in places people are likely to grab or fall or brush against. This includes stanchions at boarding gates. This is even more important if you’re going to have guests aboard, as for Christmas parades.

Obviously never have wires running along a deck or any other place where water can collect. Keep snow in mind. This can pile up and cover a connection that would not be covered by a typical rain fall. Freezing and melting (and remember there will be some heat generated by the connection and wire) can allow water to seep in.

Buy only fire proof tinsels and other decorations. Carefully locate your mounting points. In a house the decorations will just hang down. On a boat they may blow in the breeze or swing with the roll.

A string of lights doesn’t draw much current, but it may draw more than you think. Several strings draw much more. Be sure your boat wiring is adequate for the increased current draw in addition to the normal current consumption from regular ship board usage.

Real Christmas trees below decks can be very dangerous if extreme care isn’t used. Be sure they’re moist, away from anything that could cause ignition, away from fans or heat sources (such as battery chargers) that could hasten drying, and that they’re not interfering with access to critical areas such as circuit breakers. Be very careful with lights. Not only are there the usual concerns about lights on trees, there’s the danger of causing an arc with a connection or loose bulb should the tree sway.

Taking even a small tree below decks can knock off hundreds of needles. Bringing it back out, after it’s drier, is worse. When removing them, some people clip off the branches, put them in garbage bags, and bring up the trunk bare. This makes much less mess.

Have a wonderful season.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale