A few days back I was asked to do an inspection on a new boat that I will politely say “has issues”. One of the items I discovered is fairly common, especially on boats coming into the US from other countries. In reviewing the CE standards that apply to AC electrical systems, actually ISO Standard 13297 I can see that there is really no mention of the need to install AC switches and outlet receptacles into approved boxes to protect the high-voltage terminals from coming into contact with anything that may sneak up behind the outlet. This is something that is really easy to do in a typical boat wiring situation. The two photos below show what I’m talking about here:
Free Air Once Removed. No Box!
In the case above the back side of the receptacle faces into a really crowded space behind the
boat’s instrument cluster. The steering chain and gear mechanism is also really really close to the terminals. Without an intervening, non-conductive box isolating the AC terminals, if this outlet were switched on and the steering chain ever broke and came in contct with it, anyone touching the stainless steel destroyer type steering wheel at the same time would light up like a christmas tree if they were standing there barefoot in a wet bathing suit.
OK, so you might be asking yourself, what are the odds of that all happening? Not high, granted. But I’ve seen this same type of installation where the backside of the live outlet faced into a cabinet in a galley where the likelyhood of tossing a metal pot in the cabinet is quite probable. Short that out on the back of a live AC outlet and then reach in to grab the pot to cook some soup. It’ll wake you up for sure.
The bottom line here? Embrace the ABYC Standard (E-11) that says all of this stuff needs to be installed inside a UL approved box. I think they are under $1 at the Home Depo Electrical department. Cheap insurance in my book. Box it up people!