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4 Keys to Building Seaworthy Yacht and Boat Switch Panels

Last Updated: September 26, 2019

Today’s yachts and recreational boats have a ton of wired equipment, and many boat owners add custom components. This can lead to a mess of wires, switches, and panels in some parts of the vessel with controls for things like lighting, navigation, and speakers. For boat owners and manufacturers alike, there is a true need to outfit these vessels with panel systems that are easily accessible and effective. 

When it comes to building or modifying seaworthy vessels there are a lot of considerations, from American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) certification standards to local laws and regulations. Finding and working with trustworthy and knowledgeable suppliers and subcontractors is vital to achieving a compliant build. In addition, familiarizing yourself with the important aspects of a boat panel build from beginning to end will help you achieve the best possible solution, regardless of your role in the process. Here are a few key factors involved in the design and sourcing of yacht and boat switch panels. 

1. Understanding the Underlying Electronics

4 Keys to Building Seaworthy Yacht and Boat Switch Panels

Marine system manufacturers offer many electrical and switch panel options that can be integrated into boats. It can seem like there is an almost endless stream of unique designs and custom requirements. Having at least a basic understanding of the core vessel systems and how they are connected to the various operating panels can teach you a lot about how to configure effective switch panel systems. 

Looking at the various above deck panels, below deck panels, and some of the related accessories will give you a complete overview of available common configurations for these systems. Further, consulting with an expert or reviewing regulations regarding the marine electrical layouts of outlets, battery management, switches, and metering will help inform decisions about wiring and panel placement within the boat or yacht. It’s always a good practice to review your boat’s documentation and schematics for any additional ideas, as well.   

2. Documenting the Vessel Requirements

The main utility of switch panels on a vessel is to provide an easy and accessible way to turn components on and off. Thinking through the purpose of each panel, ergonomics, and the use-case for individual switches can inform the decisions about groupings and location for the panel. There may also be limitations based on your existing vessel hull and deck structure that need to be factored into panel sizing and number of switches. 

Other important considerations are the required durability of the panel material, readability of the various labels, any unique schematic or orientation needs. By planning out these requirements and having a complete list of the intended components for panel integration, you can make an informed decision between any ‘off-the-shelf’ panels that may work for your needs and having a custom switch panel designed. 

3. Working With the Right Manufacturers 

The ‘right’ manufacturer for any boat switch panel is the one that can balance your requirements with federal and local regulations, as well as ABYC standards and other best practices, to deliver a seaworthy product, plain and simple. One of the best ways to compare suppliers is to talk to other boat and yacht owners regarding their experiences sourcing switch panels. In the case of custom panels, each job can be truly unique and requires a thoroughly knowledgeable partner to work with. In openly sharing your requirements and getting feedback on their ability to deliver you can make decisions.  

4. Proper Panel Installation and Maintenance 

4 Keys to Building Seaworthy Yacht and Boat Switch Panels

Compliant switch panels won’t do much good without proper and safe installation into the vessel. For any boat or yacht, this can be done by knowledgeable owners or using a third-party installer. Given the number of wired components and potential for electrical hazards, this is an important aspect of the build to take seriously. Finishing off the design with durable custom labels will keep all switches and panels clearly marked. 

Planning a switch panel build for yachts and boats can end up being a far more complex project than it may look like from the start. Knowledgeable shipbuilders and owners alike should take the time to do all the proper planning before moving forward with a final design. Factoring in safety requirements, design constraints, ergonomics, and flexibility for future updates is no easy task and requires a good amount of diligence to get it right. By remembering the key points from this article and working with competent manufacturing partners, you can ensure that you end up with yacht and boat switch panels that are truly seaworthy.

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