Checking Electrical Hookups

Two electrical plugs tied up tight  |  photo by Larry Clinton  |  post by Peter Hudson

Only a lucky few can claim that their house won’t work until they plug it in. A floating home is unique because its electricity comes through a free hanging cable into the house. Every houseboat connects to the main power through some type of electrical outlet dockside. If you are not familiar with your electrical hook up, take a moment to follow the black (sometimes blue) cable from the electrical box on the side of your home. What you may find at the end is a gray plug inserted into a dock-mounted receptacle.

Conventional wisdom may have been that a removable plug would make it easier to disconnect the house in an emergency. But as it turns out, what was thought to be a convenient way to plug in houseboats can now become quite an inconvenience. The problem is that these plugs get old and corroded and some begin to slip out of the receptacle.

I remember waking up one post-storm winter morning to eerily dim lights in the house, much like you would experience during a brown out. Looking out my window, I noticed our electrical plug was just about to fall into the bay. It was easily fixed, but others have problems worse than a temporary morning brown-out. Sometimes the plug slowly slips out of the receptacle until the plug’s two grounding connectors disconnect before the hot ones do. This sends 220 volts surging through your house, playing havoc on televisions, appliances, and computers, all of which usually enjoy a comfortable 110 volts. A loose plug has led many homeowners to tie the plug to the receptacle to keep it from slipping out (see photo above). On your next dock walk, look to see how many electrical plugs and receptacles there are and then count how many are held in with rope, wire, or straps.

As it turns out, in both Waldo Point Harbor and Kappas Marina, the homeowner is responsible for the plug and cable, and the harbor is responsible for the dock receptacle. Both plug and receptacle are rather pricey, suggesting a reason for the deferred maintenance.

But for now, here are a few things you can do:

  • Check your electrical plug to make sure it is all the way into the receptacle and if there are locking clips, make sure they are secure.
  • Never (!) try to reinsert a plug into the receptacle without first turning off the power at your meter and the breaker switch in your house.
  • Check the cable that runs between your dock and your home to make sure it is hanging freely (not crimped) and not rubbing against anything, such as a float or piling.

If your plug is slipping out, or if it is secured with rope, wire, or bubblegum, consider replacing it. A licensed electrician (must be licensed!) should be happy to remove the plug and receptacle and replace them with a hard-wired connection within a water-tight, secure electrical box (see photo below), which, by the way, can be easily disconnected if you find yourself wanting to up and float away.

Secure electrical box  |  photo by Peter Hudson