I was ABYC certified as an electrical
tech for 10 years and then gave it up after I knew I wasn't going to be working full time professionally again. The standards set a high mark in some regards but a low mark in others. As noted they were originally organized by boat builders for boat building.
One of the problems at the time was that new boats were rapidly developing bad reputations for quality and safety
. Potential customers were reading or hearing about problems. The boat builders looked around and found out they were the culprits, or at least some were, and they were poisoning the well. Bayliner was one of the biggies that got it started. Bayliners, true or not, were getting a bad rap.
The standards were, and are still today, only recommendations that even boat builders do not have to follow to the strict letter of the sections. As noted, it seems that the courts and insurance
companies are viewing them more and more as standards and not recommendations. The insurance
companies want to be able to underwrite boats profitably and having anything goes makes that incredibly difficult. Of course they want to fight claims and use the standards against litigants. But they also want to have some additional assurance that boats are safe and seaworthy
. This enables them to offer insurance at a lower cost as the boat builders and owners have to help protect their investment.
Having said that, I have not always followed the ABYC standards 100%, but I did (and do on my boats) to the degree that I could. Some of them are so esoteric that I really didn't have the knowledge or wherewithal to make the boat conform.
But in most cases, it is readily apparent what safety
issue is being addressed and why it is a good standard, especially regarding electrical
and other fire hazards, e.g. propane
systems. For those of who are not boat builders, many of the standards address items that we cannot address without building our own boat. To implement some of them on an old boat would just mean scrapping the boat. But buying
new boats is no guarantee that every recommendation has been followed.
I proudly displayed my certification
, as did the owner of our boatyard. It certainly gave additional information to prospective customers as to the quality of our work. I would often go on to a boat with a customer and point out the differences of following one recommendation or the other, or not. I would never continue working on a boat where the customer insisted that I cut a corner on a significant safety hazard, e.g. using undersized battery cables
or unsafe wiring
circuit design. Other times it was not so clear cut.
For example, fusing was an area where the standards are not, even to this date, not always followed. The standards say you must have a fuse both at the alternator
and at the end of the alternator
wire were it joins the battery
system. This is because you are protecting the wire from overheating
. When the alternator is charging
it is creating electricity. If the fuse at the battery side blows, the wire is still hot the whole length of the wire to the fuse at the end. On the flip side, if a fuse is only at the alternator side of the wire, then the wire can carry full battery current
until it burns up if it shorts out at the engine
at the end.
I would say that most boats do not have fuses
at both ends of alternator wires. Note: small runs may not require two fuses
per the standard. My current
boat does not but I did put it on on my first boat. But it can be very difficult to find a suitable place to put a fuse at the alternator. Putting one in the middle may not add that much more protection so I have left that situation without two fuses at times.
But in cases where I installed new propane
lockers I would only install them to the letter of the standard. The hazards are known. They have resulted in loss of boats and lives. Putting a locker on the flybridge sometimes is more expensive if you have to run a long vent line so propane cannot spill into any boat compartments below. Not a place to go cheap
. Or on wire types or wire sizing. Or AC systems. Or inverter
installations. Etc etc etc.
As far as ABYC being overly powerful, I think that is a poor description of the intent and usefulness of the standards. The over powerful part is from the courts and the insurance companies. And I guess in a sense, to people like me who insist, in many cases, that the standards be followed on boats that I work on. I had to worry about insurance too.
But my conscience was totally clear as the standards are clearly beneficial even if that is not totally clear to a typical boat owner. I never used an ABYC standard to bump up the work on a boat just to make more money
, although I have seen that happen. Knowledgeable boat owners should take the time to get a good explanation from the builder
and/or the boatyard and/or tech as to why a particular standard is for.