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× General Boating

Portable AC Generators: Safe for Boats?

  • David
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1 year 4 days ago - 1 year 4 days ago #7129 by David
You often see these construction site generators for sale at boat shows, but they are potentially quite dangerous when used onboard.

Question: I am curious if a standard portable construction-type generator could be used safely on a pontoon-style houseboat by grounding the generator to the hull. Would there be a difference between that and a built-in generator? Are there any other safety considerations here?

Answer: Glad you asked! The short answer is that the use of portable generators of any make or model on boats is not recommended, since they can potentially be quite dangerous. I found it interesting to note that when looking over the Honda Power Equipment website I couldn’t find any reference to marine applications for their product line. Good on them! That said, I’ve seen these and other portable generators for sale at many boat shows.

The ABYC really discourages the use of these generators in on-board applications for two very important reasons. The first reason is electrical. The ABYC requires that for 120-volt AC systems, the neutral conductor and grounding conductor be joined at the source of power (the generator in this case) so that in the event of an electrical short circuit at an appliance, the fault current will get carried directly back to the power source and trip a breaker. Portable generators often keep the neutral and grounding conductors isolated from one another on the device. This is internal to the unit and not easily modified.

The second reason to discourage use of portable generators on boats is the high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Most of these units run on gasoline, and the generators often get mounted in locations that can trap exhaust gas and create a deadly situation for the people on board

Reducing the Risk
How to test and bond the neutral in a portable generator so it can power an RV or Boat safely. Read more in the No~Shock~Zone book www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00L2DWBD8?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Contractor-type generators such as a Coleman 5000 are generally G-N bonded internally, which is why it runs your RV or Boat just fine. However, many portable inverter generators from companies such as Yamaha and Honda have floated Neutrals (no internal Ground-Neutral Bond) since they expect an external G-N bond to happen somewhere else. And while RV or Marine-approved generators may have an internal G-N bond, it seems that many of the most popular portable inverter generators from Honda and Yamaha have floating neutrals. Honda engineering , confirmed that their inverter generators have floated Neutrals and simply say that you should follow all local electrical codes for bonding-grounding.

So your EU3000 isn’t providing the Ground-Neutral Bond that your RV or Boat requires to think it’s getting properly grounded power, while your Coleman 5000 has a Ground-Neutral bond already so it operates your RV or Boat properly. Seems crazy, but that appears to be the scenario.

Its pretty simple to wire a special “Ground-Neutral Bond” jumper cable for your Honda or Yamaha generator which will allow you to power your RV through its voltage protection device. You can obtain or make a dummy 15 or 20 amp “Edison” plug with the Neutral (white) and Ground (green) screws jump together with a piece of 12 or 14 gauge wire (see photos below). This G-N jumper plug can be plugged into one of the generator’s unused 20-amp outlets, and the entire generator’s electrical system will be N-G bonded. You can then use the other 20-amp Edison outlet or the 30-amp outlet to power the RV.
Just be sure to mark this plug specifically for its intended purpose. It won’t really hurt anything if it’s plugged into a correctly wired home outlet, but it will create a secondary G-N bonding point that could induce ground loop currents and create hum or buzz in a sound system.
So this is a generator-only G-N bonding plug which should be only plugged into a portable generator while powering your RV or Boat.
References - Credits

1990 Sunray Infinity
Twin 5.7 Cobra's
Last edit: 1 year 4 days ago by David.

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