Chris Dolan from Marina Electrical Equipment Discusses the Importance of an Efficient Marina Electrical System

Editor’s Note: Chris Dolan, manager of sales and customer relations for Marina Electrical Equipment presented at the virtual Docks Expo in December. This article is based on that presentation with a few additional questions from Marina Dock Age editor Christi Kleiner.

Can you explain the basics of a marina electrical system and what the top concerns marina owners/operators should consider if they are planning to incorporate a new electrical system into their facility?

There are four basic considerations when it comes to a marina electrical system:
1. Is the system operationally efficient? Making sure the marina is providing the right receptacles, and voltages required for boaters is key. This requires an understanding of what types of boats are in marina.
2. Is the system user friendly? Providing the electrical amenities the boaters want is critical.
3. Is the system safe? Providing a safe electrical system is important on many levels. Boaters want to make sure what they are using is safe. Owners and operators want to provide a safe environment for peace-of-mind, liability, and overall marketing reasons. New ground-fault codes are often required now to move the marina industry into a safer space.
4. With the previous three considerations in mind, is the marina electrical system affordable, and in some cases, profitable? What upgrades are marketable? What components make the facility safer? And ultimately, what can the marina afford?

Why is it so important for a marina to understand its boating population before determining what type of electrical system to install?

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It comes down to basic consideration #1. Does the marina provide boaters with the receptacles / connections they need? If boaters cannot plug in, they will go somewhere else, which leads to lost revenue for the marina. Or, they will use a splitter, leading to a less safe connection for the marina.

As more marinas retrofit or renovate their facilities to accept larger vessels such as megayachts, how can owners/operators be better prepared to handle this boating population?

Megayacht requirements vary by manufacturer and captain preferences. Providing a variety of receptacles and hardwire connections is beneficial for these vessels.

Why is it important to avoid using adapters and splitters?

Most “Y-Adapter” cord sets are not listed products and do not provide the proper circuit protection for a safe electrical connection. By code, all products, including cord sets, that are used in marinas must be safety lab tested and listed by certified testing facility – UL, ETL, CE, etc. These cord sets often do not contain the proper circuit protection and can lead to overheated connections and potentially fires.

With the increase in new boaters on the water, how can marinas educate this novice group about electrical systems, both on their boats and at their facilities?

A very good question – when you find out, let me know! There are a variety of very good resources out there for electrical systems: NFPA 303, NEC 555, ASCE 50, ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council), Electrical Safety Foundation (, equipment manufacturers, etc.

What kind of maintenance plan should a marina develop and how often should it inspect its electrical systems?

Systems are required by code to be examined (and documented) at least once a year. However, basic visual inspections can occur on daily basis. If something looks off (or smells funny) then take the item in question out of service and have it examined by an electrician.

Ground-fault monitors are widely used. Ground-fault monitors typically measure if the amount of electricity going out is coming back to the source (electricity is one big cycle – it goes out, powers whatever is connected and returns to the source). If what is going out does not come back, the monitor recognizes that and sends out an alert signal. That signal can do multiple things – sound an alarm, send an alert, such as a test message, or turn the system off.

What does the 2020 National Electric Code require for marina electrical systems and what are the testing requirements marinas should follow?

If a facility has more than three receptacles for boats, it must have the ability to test each individual vessel for ground-fault leakage. If a vessel exceeds a 30mA threshold, that vessel is not allowed to plug into the marina electrical system. This is for every boat – full-time, seasonal, transient, etc. and is recommended annually. It should also be documented.