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Jan 23rd, 2013
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Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! #13608532 06/26/20 03:52 AM
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GeeDub Offline OP
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I’m experiencing a strange problem, strange to me at least. I noticed today when I’m running my single power pole up and down, a small wire that runs to the negative post of my starting battery is getting hot and putting off smoke. To clarify, the heat and smoke seems to be coming from what appears to be an in-line fuse connection (not the entire wire) located just before it attaches to the battery post. The connection is covered in electrical tape. It was getting late so I quit troubleshooting before removing the tape. The small wire comes from a much larger black wire/cable that appears to be coming from my three bank onboard battery charger. The only time the wire gets hot and puts off smoke is when I’m running the power pole up and down. This is a completely new problem. Up to today, everything has been working correctly. My three batteries (one starting and two for trolling motor) are all less than a year old. I did experience two graphs powering down by themselves this afternoon, which is abnormal. I powered them both on and they worked ok the rest of the afternoon. Could this be a sign of a bad in line connection that requires replacing or a sign of something more serious? Any help/ideas would be appreciated. Thanks.

Last edited by GeeDub; 06/26/20 04:31 AM.
Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: GeeDub] #13608622 06/26/20 10:48 AM
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hopalong Offline
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trace the smoking wire first, figure out where it comes from.

if it is a ground with a fuse it most likely is the charger lead, pull all and clean reinstall and make sure connection is good and tight. most electrical problems in our boats is a bad ground, always the first place I look.

if it comes from the power pole it may be a loose ground or the pole has started drawing a lot more power for some reason, does it work like it should?

best I got from the info posted.

Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: GeeDub] #13608634 06/26/20 11:06 AM
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Flippin-Out Offline
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You're experiencing a common problem, actually - a sloppy wiring job. This common problem often originates with an owner who did a DIY install when he should not have. Electrical tape in a boat is a neon sign for "I don't really know what I am doing, so I want to leave a clue for whoever works on this later."

I'm thinking some of your info isn't quite right as it isn't making sense for what you describe. Wires from a battery charger to a battery have no reason to heat up when you use an accessory, in your case a Power Pole. I'm going to guess that you might be wrong on where that smoking wire goes. Power poles pull a good bit of amperage, but don't do it very long. I suspect the smoking fuse holder is an add-on for the power connection to the Power Pole.

Go to the Power Pole Pump. There should be a black wire and a red wire coming off the pump motor housing. Follow those to see where they go. Also note if you're dealing with a single piece of wire for each color (the way it came from the factory), or if more wire has been added with a splice to reach farther. Hopefully, the black wire goes straight to the Negative terminal of the starting battery. But, you've already mentioned a fuse holder. There is absolutely NO REASON to have an in-line fuse on the black wire coming from a Power Pole pump assembly. If you do, whoever installed it was an idiot, and nothing they did should be trusted.

Take photos when you get the tape off. I'd like to see what you've got before I continue.

Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: hopalong] #13608646 06/26/20 11:22 AM
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Originally Posted by hopalong
trace the smoking wire first, figure out where it comes from.

if it is a ground with a fuse it most likely is the charger lead, pull all and clean reinstall and make sure connection is good and tight. most electrical problems in our boats is a bad ground, always the first place I look.

if it comes from the power pole it may be a loose ground or the pole has started drawing a lot more power for some reason, does it work like it should?

best I got from the info posted.

Hop, he says it gets hot only when the Power Pole is running. So, I think he is mistaken about the smoking wire being a battery charger wire. (Yes, I agree that many chargers have fuses on both + and - leads, and there's a reason for that). I think he's mistaken on something he told us - because I can't think of any reason a battery charger wire would have high current flow only when a Power Pole is running. Unless he's running the power pole back home while the charger is plugged in, and he didn't say he was, so I assume he wasn't.

Last edited by Flippin-Out; 06/26/20 11:35 AM.
Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: GeeDub] #13608660 06/26/20 11:46 AM
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Why would a ground ever have a fuse? I know MK puts one in their trolling motors with built in transducers, but I have never seen one any other place on a negative. Educate me Flippin.

Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: grout-scout] #13608717 06/26/20 01:00 PM
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Originally Posted by grout-scout
Why would a ground ever have a fuse? I know MK puts one in their trolling motors with built in transducers, but I have never seen one any other place on a negative. Educate me Flippin.



on board chargers have them to prevent reverse hookup problems, neg to pos will blow the fuse if you hook one up bassakwards, ask me how I know. grin

as for the smoking, if the ground is bad and he hits the high amp draw of the pole you could have arcing across all connections and possibly smoke a too small wire for the load. same with intermittent problems, ground will arc and make the connection till power is lost then has to arc again to reconnect. common problem if a terminal vibrates loose.

just my best guess on the smoking from the info provided.

Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: GeeDub] #13608812 06/26/20 01:47 PM
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I was speaking specifically to the OP's statement about the connection to the AC battery charger. Many multi-bank chargers I've seen have fuses on both leads for each battery. The Pro-Mariner Professional Series charger I used for years had them. So does the quad-bank "Dual Pro" I just removed from my Ranger 521. I took a look at Minn Kota Precision chargers, and they appear to have fuses on all battery leads also.

I believe there could be multiple reasons why multibank charges have fuses on both battery leads. An obvious reason to me is safety - that under no failure scenariio do the designers want to allow any excess current to reach any battery post, whether positive or negative. When the risks are fried harnesses, exploded batteries, or personal injury, every scenario needs to be covered. If a circuit of a failed state could be completed via two ground wires from the charger, then fuses on the positive leads may not help. Remember that the positive lead of one bank is connected to the negative lead of the next bank when connecting those banks to batteries that are installed in a series configuration. A circuit might be from the Neg of one bank, through the battery, out the post onto the jumper to the next battery, where it flows back into the charger on the negative lead of the second bank. If at least one of those negatives isn't fused, further damage could occur (beyond the charger failure that initiated the problem). A fuse on every lead covers every possible case.

Hopalong pointed out the double fuses were related to reverse connection, though I'm not sure why one fuse isn't enough in that case. If I saw the schematic, the need for dual fuses when reverse connected might make more sense.

An little tidbit on unforeseen failure scenarios: I was once assisting with the debug of a beast of a processor board, plugged into a backplane supplied by a 150A DC switched power supply. The roughly 18x20 inch board was oriented vertically. A technician was counting pins on an IC to locate the correct one to probe, using a common pencil. The small span of graphite required to close the gap between fine pitch pins was low enough in impedance to allow high current to flow when the "right" two pins were shorted via the graphite. Because the board was vertical, solder flowed downward due to gravity, shorting something else, and an instantaneous avalanche of failure began. I witnessed a catastrophic meltdown of immense proportion right before my eyes in what was probably 2 seconds. It was already too late when a fast-reflex tech hit the power switch. Witnessing that made us go rethink how power distribution was implemented.

Last edited by Flippin-Out; 06/26/20 02:03 PM.
Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: GeeDub] #13608964 06/26/20 03:43 PM
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GeeDub Offline OP
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Thanks to everyone for their comments and suggestions. I hope to do some further troubleshooting this weekend or early next week and will report back.

Flippin-Out, something you said caught my attention. When I noticed the wire smoking while running my power pole, the onboard battery charger was indeed plugged into AC. I keep my boat in a storage facility at the lake. I had finished fishing for the day and put the boat in the shed and plugged the charger in. I was running the power pole up and down looking for the source of some leaked power pole fluid when I noticed the smoke.

Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: GeeDub] #13609055 06/26/20 04:53 PM
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OK, this is very good info that will allow me to give an assessment of what's going on. I want you to understand that heat in a wire means there is resistance. (Think toaster oven elements, designed with resistance intentionally to generate heat). When you want to transfer power, you don't want heat. You want a good (low resistance) path for electrical energy to flow. Examples of things that cause resistance (and therefore heat) are corroded connections, loose connections, and wire that is too thin in diameter for the amount of current (electrical amps) being demanded.

I need to know what charger model you have, or if it tells you the amps per bank on the case, tell me that. I also want to know what size fuses are in the holders on all the battery leads from the charger.

When the charger is plugged in, it attempts to charge the battery. If one or more of the battery leads have resistance (so heat also), then you also get a voltage drop. This means you are not charging the affected battery as good as the charger is capable of charging it. Part of the energy that the charger tries to send to the battery is lost along the way by the high resistance, so the battery is only partially charged. This loss impact happens all the time when there is resistance, not just when you do something that makes the wire smoke. When it smokes is when things are really bad.

The charger can't sense the battery as well with the resistance, but when you have the charger running, AND you kick on the Power Pole, you are creating a brief heavy load on the battery. The attached charger can sense this, so it tries to send a lot MORE energy to the battery. The problem is that the resistance blocks that energy from getting to the battery, and the heavier amps starts heating the wire significantly, resulting in the smoke you see. Don't make it do this anymore. You are damaging the insulation covering the wires when you do, and you may have already pushed them to the point of needing replacement.

Unplug the charger from AC. Take photos of the connected charger wiring before you disturb anything. Then, remove tape wrapped on any of that wiring. Electrical tape is never part of any wiring system in a boat. It's presence alone is concern for alarm. I need to see what's underneath the tape - what type of connection, and whether or not it looks properly connected. (We already know something is not; we just have to go through a process of finding exactly what it is.) Take photos of the connections at the battery, particularly the wire that smokes. Take photos of any connections on that wire, and compare whether they exist on all the leads. In other words, I'm looking for a "bubba repair" that was done incorrectly.

Does the wire in question have a ring terminal on the end that goes on the battery stud, or is there just a bare wire connected to the terminal stud? Take a photo of the terminal stud connection. Wing nut? No good, they vibrate loose. You need stainless steel nylon locknuts. (Most marine batteries now use 5/16 inch hardware.)

Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: GeeDub] #13609608 06/27/20 12:49 AM
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The power pole ground lead is stacked on top of a corroded negative battery charger lead. The power pole has to pull current across that dirty charging lead. The extreme resistance is causing amperage to spike and high heat. Clean all connections at their terminals and the terminals at the battery post.

Problem solved.

Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: GeeDub] #13609720 06/27/20 02:50 AM
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I appreciate the feedback. The starting battery is less than a year old. The posts appear to be clean, although I’ll certainly verify. I’ll be digging into the issue further early this coming week and will report back my findings and solution. Thanks all.

Re: Electrical help needed. Hot, smoking wire! [Re: SteezMacQueen] #13609772 06/27/20 04:48 AM
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Originally Posted by SteezMacQueen
The power pole ground lead is stacked on top of a corroded negative battery charger lead. The power pole has to pull current across that dirty charging lead. The extreme resistance is causing amperage to spike and high heat. Clean all connections at their terminals and the terminals at the battery post.

Problem solved.

Steez, if it were the PP wire that was smoking, I would agree with your scenario. However, it's the charger negative lead that starts smoking - but only when he is running the Power Pole. It turns out this is "back at the barn" only, and is observed only when the charger (a 3-bank Dual Pro Professional Series Charger, 15A per bank) IS PLUGGED IN and charging. What I suspect is happening is that the charger lead has excess resistance for some as yet undetermined reason, but it's not bad enough at low charging amperage to make the wire heat up and smoke. Running the PP will add an immediate heavy load to the charger that will cause it to pump out more amps, resulting in the smoking wire. I suspect a corroded connection in the fused charger lead that is causing this. The boat is close by; I'll actually get to put eyes on this one.

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