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Old 06-12-2016, 11:34   #1
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Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

So I'm trying to get our sump pump and float switch going (boat electrics novice at best) and I'm running in to some problems I thought maybe you guys would have some advice. It hasn't been working since we got the boat, and I'm not sure if it's the float switch (Rule, the one with the cover on it) or the pump (Jabsco Water Puppy 18660-0121) or both, but I was assuming it was the float switch, so I started there.

I found a troubleshooting video for the switch where someone stuck a pin through one of the wires on the switch and then poked the tip through the other to complete the circuit. There's a breaker for the sump switch on the panel so I turned that on and did the pin thing and it sparked and the wires got really hot and smelled like they were going to start burning...so there is power on the input to the switch but something else is wrong. I cut the wires at the butt connector to the switch and touched them together just to confirm the same result as the pin, and yes, same result, spark, hot wires, and burning smell. I think that means the pump is probably dead (the impeller spins freely though) and that if I held the wires together long enough the fuse would have blown or the breaker tripped (pretty sure it's a fuse) but I didn't want to risk a fire so I stopped immediately. The pump remained cold. These are the questions I came up with...

1. If the pump motor is dead, would that have caused the spark and burning smell?
2. The switch should only be opening or closing the circuit on the positive side, the negative would be from the pump to the battery directly or to the battery through the panel, correct?
3. Off the float switch there are two gray wires which are butt connected to two smaller gray wires, which are butt connected in the bilge to two brown wires, which I assume are one coming from the panel and one coming from the pump, or would they both be coming from the panel (the positive running back through the panel to the pump?)
4. If I replace the switch without replacing the pump and the pump is bad, when I flip the switch, the fuse should blow, yes?
4.1 If I replace the switch, manually lift the float, and the wires don't get hot and the fuse doesn't blow, I should be able to read the voltage at the pump (which I should have tried before I cut out the switch, just in case, but too late) correct?
5. If the fuse didn't blow and the wires got really hot, what would that mean?
6. The sump and bilge pumps are the same and are wired with the same at the float switches, and there doesn't appear to be any corrosion on any of the visible connections between the switch and the pump.
7. Have I don't something wrong? ...be nice ;-)

Any thoughts? I'm trying to learn something rather than just calling someone to fix it!

Thanks, Brian
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Old 07-12-2016, 09:55   #2
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

You may want to buy a digital multimeter for under $20 and learn how to use it. Your current method (no pun intended) is pretty crude.

Sounds like you got power at least to the float switch, if not the pump. Each are easy to test. You could hook the meter across the pump and with the breaker on, actuate the float switch. If you are seeing >12v on the meter, then it's the pump or the wire connection to the pump.
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Old 07-12-2016, 10:20   #3
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

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You may want to buy a digital multimeter for under $20 and learn how to use it. Your current method (no pun intended) is pretty crude.

Sounds like you got power at least to the float switch, if not the pump. Each are easy to test. You could hook the meter across the pump and with the breaker on, actuate the float switch. If you are seeing >12v on the meter, then it's the pump or the wire connection to the pump.
I do have one...but I'm no where near proficient at using it yet. I intended to test the float switch but I probably should have started at the pump because I actually know how to test voltage there (but too late until I reinstall the existing switch or put in a new one.)

Now that the switch is out, would it be alright to test the pump by running alligator clips from the battery to the pump to power it directly?

I guess the question I need answered is, if the float switch is working (existing or new) and the pump is bad, if I actuated the float switch with the breaker on, based on the sparking and hot wires, shouldn't the fuse blow?

Anyway, thanks for the info, much appreciated.
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Old 07-12-2016, 10:26   #4
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

Put everything back together, using trusty multimeter measure voltage at the pump with the float switch's float held up in the on position, no voltage, bad float, if there is voltage, bad pump.
Do not be real surprised if both are bad.
Wiring power direct to pump is in my opinion an excellent way to confirm or deny the pump is good.

BTW, I wouldn't trust a rule switch to pump out an aquarium, much less my boat.
Buy a decent switch, there are a few different types

By sump pump I'm assuming bilge? Or is this the shower sump? If shower, don't worry so much about quality of switch, I doubt your shower will sink your boat
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Old 07-12-2016, 10:33   #5
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

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Put everything back together, using trusty multimeter measure voltage at the pump with the float switch's float held up in the on position, no voltage, bad float, if there is voltage, bad pump.
Do not be real surprised if both are bad.
Wiring power direct to pump is in my opinion an excellent way to confirm or deny the pump is good.

BTW, I wouldn't trust a rule switch to pump out an aquarium, much less my boat.
Buy a decent switch, there are a few different types

By sump pump I'm assuming bilge? Or is this the shower sump? If shower, don't worry so much about quality of switch, I doubt your shower will sink your boat
Hey - it's the shower sump. It hasn't worked in about 4 years (overflow goes to the bilge so never bothered with it) so I'm not going to be surprised if both pump and switch are bad. I'll try to test the pump independently today.

Oddly, the shower sump and bilge are the same size pump, Jabsco Water Puppy 18660...which seems *way* too low flow (380gph) to actually do anything if we had a real problem (both Rule switches too....) So I'm going to look at adding something else for the bilge as well after I get this working. Any suggestions on switch brand?
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Old 07-12-2016, 10:50   #6
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

I already have a high water alarm so I use the Jr switch without alarm, but if I didn't, I would go this way
Ultra Pump Switch SR.

Hopcar is a supporting vendor that posts here a lot, and has a lot of knowledge. I often email him with what I think I want, and request an opinion, often he shows me something better, or a way to accomplish what I wanted for less money etc.

For the shower sump, you may consider just a manual switch, yes you would have to remember to cut it on to pump out the sump, but its simpler and less likely to have problems

I have never heard of an ultra switch failing, and they are real simple to take apart and clean out as anything that sits in the bilge long enough, will get nasty and if they get dirty enough, it may affect operation
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Old 07-12-2016, 10:57   #7
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

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Originally Posted by a64pilot View Post
I already have a high water alarm so I use the Jr switch without alarm, but if I didn't, I would go this way
Ultra Pump Switch SR.

Hopcar is a supporting vendor that posts here a lot, and has a lot of knowledge. I often email him with what I think I want, and request an opinion, often he shows me something better, or a way to accomplish what I wanted for less money etc.

For the shower sump, you may consider just a manual switch, yes you would have to remember to cut it on to pump out the sump, but its simpler and less likely to have problems

I have never heard of an ultra switch failing, and they are real simple to take apart and clean out as anything that sits in the bilge long enough, will get nasty and if they get dirty enough, it may affect operation
Ok thanks. And great point on not needing a float for the shower sump...there really is no need for it...but then I'd have to figure out the wiring for that! The only change would be the positive output from the panel switch going back to the pump instead of the float switch with no change to the negative, right?
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Old 07-12-2016, 11:26   #8
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

I would switch the negative and run the power direct to the pump.
I prefer to switch negative as then the longer wire with the connections in it etc. if it shorts to ground somehow all that happens is the pump runs, a hot wire if it shorts to ground can be more of an issue.
But either way works, it takes both of course to complete a circuit
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Old 07-12-2016, 11:27   #9
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

Maybe a good book on electrical circuits would help, I have heard that Nigel Calder has a good one
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Old 07-12-2016, 12:10   #10
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

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I would switch the negative and run the power direct to the pump.
I prefer to switch negative as then the longer wire with the connections in it etc. if it shorts to ground somehow all that happens is the pump runs, a hot wire if it shorts to ground can be more of an issue.
But either way works, it takes both of course to complete a circuit
Ok, thanks, and makes sense. As a starting point, since this is run through the panel, I'm assuming that the negative for the pump goes to the negative bus bar, the negative from the batteries also goes there, then the positive from the pump goes to the float switch then back to the panel switch where it gets power from the battery through the 1/2/Both/Off switch, does that sound about right (probably)? Maybe this is a dumb question, I have plenty of those, but how could I tell whether the positive or the negative is running through the float switch? Does the sparking indicate anything about +/-?

I have Don Casey's book, Sailboat Electrics Simplified, but I learn better by doing and/or having someone show me, but as far as background, it's been helpful, and I should probably go through it again.
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Old 07-12-2016, 12:30   #11
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

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Wiring power direct to pump is in my opinion an excellent way to confirm or deny the pump is good.
If I use alligator clips for this, is it the same as jumping a car putting positive on the pump then positive on the battery, then negative on the battery and [here's where I'm confused] negative on the pump? Or should that go to a ground like in the car scenario?
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Old 07-12-2016, 12:45   #12
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

It sound like you have it pretty much figured out.
When you connect cable to a car you want that last connection to go to the engine block just in case that one in a million chance that a spark produced at the battery itself would ignite some hydrogen gas the battery is giving off and blow up the battery, spewing acid all over you, there is no reason electrically to not connect to the battery.

Low voltage is pretty safe, most of us learned by making mistakes.
Your biggest concern in my opinion is shoddy wiring practices one day leading to a fire, so I will reiterate please read up on this as you do it.
I'd hate to tell you to just jump into it, to later hear you lost your boat in a fire.
As a kid I had several different electronics experimenter kits, each electronic component had little springs and were mounted on a board, you connected wires to the springs and leaned how things connected together and how things work, maybe you could get such a kit?
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Old 07-12-2016, 13:01   #13
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

The pin test is a bad one. It damages the shield on the wire just where you least need damage. Down in the bilge with possibly salty water.

But more interesting is the result of the test. The wire getting hot indicates excessive current for the wire which tells me you have a short somewhere else on the system. Maybe at the pump or within the pump itself. It also suggests the float switch has likely been destroyed by the same excessive current and will need to be replaced after you have found the original fault.

A good electrical book is your friend at this point, as has been suggested. I rather like Mr Calder's books as was suggested earlier.


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Old 07-12-2016, 13:06   #14
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

BTW, the whole negative ground thing is probably not applicable to a boat. (Unless it is steel? Not sure but I would expect steel boats to be insulated from their electrics for other reasons). Most boats are made of non conducting material. (Wood or fibreglass)The negative ground thing is very relevant on cars and others metal machinery.

But I do agree with the general principle just to keep things more conventional. I put my fuses/breakers on the positive feed side of the circuit just so the boat adheres to general convention. There is no other advantage in a big plastic tub like ours.


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Old 07-12-2016, 14:50   #15
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Re: Sump - float switch and pump troubleshooting

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The pin test is a bad one. It damages the shield on the wire just where you least need damage. Down in the bilge with possibly salty water.
I intended to cut the wires shorter than where I did the pin test prior to re-connecting them, so I wasn't worried about that. But looking at some of the other connections, they don't look like they were done very well for being in the bilge anyway.

Quote:
Originally Posted by GILow View Post
But more interesting is the result of the test. The wire getting hot indicates excessive current for the wire which tells me you have a short somewhere else on the system. Maybe at the pump or within the pump itself. It also suggests the float switch has likely been destroyed by the same excessive current and will need to be replaced after you have found the original fault.
Hypothetically, if the pump shorted while the float switch was working, would it be likely the float switch would be destroyed prior to the breaker tripping? I just got back from the boat and it looks like it's breakers, not fuses (not sure where I got that idea.)
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