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How do I protect electrical connections?

2013 March 8

Dear Boat Doctor,
The controller, splices and fuses for my solar panels are in my aft lazarette. That works out great from a storage and wiring standpoint, but the lazarette is prone to getting wet. Everything is still working but I see a little surface corrosion from the salt spray. I'd prefer to not move the connections but I was hoping you'd have an idea of how to protect the area.
Nick Leonard
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Dear Nick,
Electrical conductors and salt water do not get along well, so it's important to protect this equipment from saltwater intrusion. I see two options, you can protect the area mechanically with an enclosure or you can protect the connections chemically.

Mechanical protection requires installing a sealed electrical box with a gasketed lid. This would require disconnecting everything and placing the splices and connections inside the enclosure. Although time consuming, this would be the best option.

Chemical protection would be somewhat easier but you'd need to service the area a few times a year. I'd start by making sure all the terminals and connectors are sealed with adhesive-lined heat shrink tubing to prevent any water from wicking up the wire into the connector. Then I'd carefully take each connection apart and coat the connecting surfaces with dielectric grease. This will prevent corrosion in the connections themselves. Alternatively, you could use a copper-based anti-seize like Permatex (www.permatex.com), which will hold up longer but is a little messier. Copper anti-seize is essentially powdered copper in a light grease base, be careful to use just a little bit or you'll be tracking coppery grease around forever. Close the connection, then spray the area with CRC Marine Corrosion Inhibitor (www.crcindustries.com), this is a light spray that dries to a waxy film that will displace water and prevent corrosion. The dielectric grease or anti-seize should last for years, but I'd touch up the CRC spray a few times a year. Both of these products are inexpensive and easy to find.

Either option requires a little work but you'll be protecting your investment in your solar system.