Marinco Miami, the EEL & Precision wireless spotlight
EEL purportedly stands for Easily Engaged Locking system but perhaps more to the point are the strong and sleek eel-like jaws of Marinco’s new shorepower connector. It’s designed to work with existing screw-on-ring inlets — like Marinco’s own 30 and 50 amp models — except that now you can easily and quickly make the connection with one hand. The EEL even has a built-in LED light for orienting the blades, but just grabbing the jaws tends to orient the plug correctly anyway, so hooking up is just a matter of a little twist and then letting the jaws grab the inlet threads. There’s also a secondary lock though the product manager at Marinco’s Miami press conference suggested that it was more about peace of mind than necessity. Those jaws are apparently moray eel strong, but is the EEL a sufficient response to the Smart Plug challenge?…
Well, the EEL seems as easy to use as a SmartPlug while not necessitating replacement of a boat’s existing shorepower inlet. Then again you won’t get the thermal protection built into a SmartPlug inlet, but the EEL’s spring loaded jaws and thick gasketing look like they’ll better prevent the movement and moisture intrusion that largely cause thermal issues in the first place. Then again, the SmartPlug design has larger contact surfaces, also thermally important, but the EEL proudly carries a UL Listed mark while SmartPlug has the less well known ETL Approval. In other words, comparisons are difficult! I’m only comfortable concluding that Marinco has improved its shore cord technology while keeping it backwards compatible, and SmartPlug is offering an interesting alternative. Fair statement? If you were building a new boat which way would you go?
But just the fact that Marinco held a press conference in Miami seemed a sign of change for a company that’s long been dominant in its niche though not especially innovative (the GalvanAlert being the exception I recall). I suspect that the family of marine brands put together in recent years by the huge Actuant corporation is gearing up for the future, and I’ll share some other evidence of this soon. But also on display in Miami was Marinco’s cleverly designed Precision spotlight. That low profile is possible because the 120 degree tilting mechanism is entirely internal, which also means less work and exposure to the elements for the tilt bearings. The spot also rotates 370 degrees at two speeds, and the included wireless control permits auto panning and an SOS signal. Additional handheld and wired remotes are supported, and the 12 or 24 volt 100 Watt halogen bulb is purportedly easy to find and replace. See the detail video here. Doesn’t the Precision seem well designed and innovative for a pan and tilt spotlight that starts at about $360 in white?
If using a single cord, these new electrical shore cords work fine. However, if like me you find that to get a proper length you need to connect two cords together, this new design just doesn’t work. The old connecting collars and rings don’t fit on the new cords. Also, the new cords don’t connect to the old style adaptors. I have to use a 50 amp to 30 amp adaptor and there was just no way to get a good seal between the old adaptor and the new cord.
I contacted Marinco, and they sent me a ring that they claim would fit. The ring they sent me didn’t fit either. With boats getting bigger, why can’t someone make a shore cord longer than 50 feet in length?
But when you make the cord longer, it gets larger and heavier, and more difficult to stow and handle. This is the downside of 110v systems on boats. In Europe, with 220v systems, the cables are much lighter and easier to deal with. And, of course, their connectors are MUCH less expensive, being a standard, non-proprietary design. I don’t propose shifting everyone from 110 to 220, but I do think that this is one area where the Europeans are ahead of the US.
I installed power inputs at both ends of my boat.
It has a handy built-in light so you can see where you are on your boat when plugging it in at night. But that means the pedestal is energized and thus an arc when you make the connection to your boat. I always followed the advice that the pedestal is off until the cord is connected at both ends, then energize the pedestal. It is my understanding that the arcing on the plugs and sockets is what leads to shorts and fires. Or am I mistaken?
Indeed you should NOT have the pedestal energized. What happens, is that when engaging or disengaging the male and female blades and the electricity is ON, it causes “arcing” and this creates a dark film on the blades (technically, if no “load” were present at the boat, you’d be OK). The more arcing, the more film, and thus more resistance. The “resistance” manifests itself by creating heat…the greater the load, the more heat. I think that many of us have felt a “warm” plug. Indeed, at some point, there can be enough heat to melt the plastic and so forth. 30 amps at 110 volts is a powerful force.
(another common place to “check” for “heat” is a plug from a common 1500 watt heater. That is the maximum load for a common plug or outlook, so is a good test, home or at the boat!)
Armand and Mike have a good point about how to deploy a shorepower cord. And there’s another reason not to start from an activated pedestal: if you accidentally drop the “hot” boat end of the cord in the water the results may be bad for nearby swimmers, aquatic life, or boats.
I haven’t held the new EEL in my hand yet, but based on what little I can tell from Marinco’s flashy online videos, I’m not impressed. It seems like they are trying to respond to the Smart Plugs inherently better design by making their 100 year-old one “sexier”. Unfortunately, it’s a step backward in my view. As you and others have pointed out, the light can only be active if the cord is hot, which is a huge no-no when connecting/disconnecting shore cords. The fact that this design even saw the light of day shows that Marketing is driving the show over there, not Engineering. Further, I don’t see how the connector is supposed to “clamp” onto an existing threaded connector, without eventually screwing up the threads! Sooner or later you are going to need to attach a conventional cordset to that connector, and the threads are going to be a mess from repeated clamping/unclamping. Making that fine-threaded connection is difficult enough under normal circumstances without cross-threading them, which is one of the reasons too many boaters don’t “bother” with the collar in the first place.
I sympathize with both companies. Marinco is saddled with a clearly outdated design that is ripe for improvement, but they don’t want to abandon their huge installed user base. SmartPlug has a clearly superior design – but even if they can convince folks to upgrade their boat connectors, they still have virtually 100% of the marinas with the old design connectors on the pedestals – where 50% of the connection problems are likely to occur! There is no easy answer – but the best answer is probably for Marinco to just acquire SmartPlug and move everyone to the new technology, including a retrofit program for the marina industry. Getting one major boat manufacturer or a couple of big marinas to take the first step would be a good catalyst. At some point, you have to acknowledge a superior design instead of trying to put “lipstick on a pig”. And I’m sure you’re aware that the only reason the SmartPlug doesn’t carry the UL certification is an outdated quirk in the UL spec that requires that the actual terminals be capable of mechanical locking, while the SmartPlug achieves superior locking characteristics thru the design of the plug and socket itself. As is common in many areas, I would expect regulation to catch up with technology eventually.
You asked if “… Marinco has improved its shore cord technology while keeping it backwards compatible, and SmartPlug is offering an interesting alternative” was a fair statement. I would argue it hasn’t improved its product at all, and I would rate the SmartPlug as much more than just an “interesting alternative”. I don’t think you would have retrofitted Gizmo if that was the case, would you? If I was building a new boat – no contest.
This is the same problem we/Marinco have with 12volt cigarette lighter plugs….it’s not a good system but it is what is commonly used on all sorts of devices.
I’m glad to see others picked up on the fact that the cord must be energized for the led on the boat end of the cord to operate. I saw a full page ad for this product posted by West Marine in last month’s Canadian issue of Pacific Yachting and emailed the editor about my concerns…never heard back though.
The way to do the connection with the LED would be to open the main AC breaker on the panel, connect the power. check polarity before closing the C/B.
Avoids any possibility of arcing and check polarity/proper ground at the same time.
That might help with the arcing issue, but you’re still walking around the dock carrying a hot shorepower cord, which is never a bright idea – dropping it in the water is just one example of problems that can lead to, as Ben already pointed out. The power at the dock pedestal should NEVER be turned on until both ends of the cord are connected – which makes the LED feature useless.
Try the Charles 75′ 30 Amp 125V CWR-26012. It’s not cheap at around $230 but it solves the problem.
I agree that the UL Spec is outdated in terms of the requirement for NEMA twist-lock terminals, but until or unless that changes, boat builders will likely adhere to incorporating UL and ABYC approved designs. One of the scary down sides to the SmartPlug is that the thermal protection automatically resets itself every couple of minutes when it trips. So, its a situation where it gets hot due to electrical loads on the boat and terminal corrosion causing higher resistance; then it trips to open the circuit; then it resets itself and heats back up. That sounds like a band-aid to me. I also found out that the thermal switches are only protecting the electrically hot conductor and not the neutral side. Well, that’s an accident waiting to happen. If the dock is wired with reverse polarity, which is all too common, and the SmartPlug thermal switch opens, then the stuff inside the boat goes dead for a few minutes. But in this situation it’s only opened the neutral line. Now imagine someone opening a panel on the load center or an appliance to figure out what’s wrong. That person will be messing around with something that looks dead, but actually has an energized hot wire. Look out!
The new Marinco EEL is cool looking and a step in the right direction because it solves the age old locking ring issues, but it is still held hostage by the UL spec. Too bad.
I took another look. Marinco’s lit actually states that the light is to let someone know if there is a live cord on the dock. So if someone has the cord attached to the ped and left it on the ground, you know because the light is on. That whole find your way in the dark is secondary.
Michele is correct. The Eel overview brochure identifies the LED on the face of the connector as a:
“Proprietary built-in cord light
– Added safety—alert light indicates if
you are still plugged in at the dock
– Emergency ﬂashlight to lead your way
back to the dock”
It was me who came up with the idea of using it to make the inlet connection, so Marinco shouldn’t get the blame.
“Emergency flashlight to lead your way back to the dock?”
OK, so if you trip trying to find your way back to the dock (boat?) and fall in, you are holding the live end of a 250V 50A AC power source while you flail around in saltwater.
That doesn’t sound too brilliant to me, but it might light things up for a second or two.
I like the light as an indicator that the cord is live, but it should not be bright enouugh for someone to attempt to use it as a flashlight. Make it red and flashing.
Egads! Marinco should not even be providing adaptors to link two cords together. If you double the length of the cord you need to double the diameter of the wire inside the cord, or halve the maximum current draw. Since there is no way to do either reliably, you should not risk it.
I know that we have all done it but we shouldn’t. Your circuit breaker will not protect you from the fire that you can cause by splicing cords together.
That is not true nor accurate. It’s true as the cord length increases, resistance increases and a larger gauge wire MAY be necessary, but doubling the cord does not mean you automatically have to double the gauge or halve the current draw, due to the fact that the cord in it’s “acceptable” usage range could be anywhere from 0 inches to X feet long, and anything in-between is still within the range.
For example, a 25′ 10 gauge shore power cord will have about a 1.3% voltage drop at 25′. Put three together and you end up with 3.8% drop, which is still completely acceptable. And this is running the full 30 amps through it, which most boaters of course do not do.
If you stepped up due to length, you would also not double the diameter, the first longer cords would be #8 instead of #10, which has a .1285-inch diameter versus the #8’s .1019-inch.
Not that it’s particularly good policy to attach cords to other cords… 🙂
Actually, Michelle/Ben are not entirely correct. A Marinco/EEL brochure I received and kept from the Miami Boat Show states, “This easy to use cordset features a built-in cord light which ensures easy accurate connections in the dark and serves as an alert to boaters when the cord is left plugged in.” It’s sitting on my desk currently as I’m writing exactly what it says on the brochure. It wasn’t until after the Miami show that Marinco changed it’s advertising regarding the cord light, after learning of the non safe issue of plugging in an energized cord. Marinco’s new EEL system has 2 power indicator lights, one on the dock end and one on the connector end. With 2 “POWER INDICATOR LIGHTS”, why would you need a 3rd? And another note…while visiting the Strictly Sail Pacific Show in Oakland a couple of weeks back, I went to the West Marine booth where they were advertising the EEL System. As I was playing with it, looking at it from an engineer stand point, I noticed when you plugged it in, the power indicator light went out. That in itself didn’t make a lick of sense to me. SmartPlug has identified all the issues with the twist lock standard and improved on all of them. The pin contact surface area alone is a great reducer of resistance and the locking body discourages the pins and clips to work themselves loose causing contact arching, as they inadvertantly do on the twist lock.
I don’t think the NEMA L5-30’s lack of contact area is the issue, it’s how they are used. Twist-lock (a brand, actually) receptacles are used repeatedly in industry without major issues. You stick plastic outside though, people leave the cords hanging off the pins, corrosion sets in, pins get loose, etc… and you’ve got trouble.
EEL attempts to fix the major issue – waterproofing and strain relief (the existing locking ring standard), while still using a standard on boats and marinas everywhere. The existing locking ring works well to fix the issues of L5-30R in a marine environment, it’s just a pain to use.
The SmartPlug has some good points, but it’s a made up electrical plug – standardization is something we’re trying to move towards, not away from. Marinco chose to use the existing NEMA standard which I applaud. When NEMA or NMEA decides on a new waterproof plug format and competition is abundant, I’ll switch.
My shore power is very well maintained and I have no concerns about it – if there’s a fire, it’s from the dockside receptacle I’m not allowed to change, and the same would happen with the SmartPlug. 🙂
I noticed the same thing at West Marine’s EEL display at the Miami boat show and brought it to their attention. As it turns out, the problem was the way that the display was wired. In reality, the EEL power indicator light comes on when it is plugged into the dock, and stays on regardless of whether or not its plugged into the inlet. So the problem was in the display, not the sore power cord.
I had to buy a new cord and got an EEL, the only thing they had at West Marine. And as Karl noted in the first response above, the weather collars/rings do not fit the new style plugs. I have a Y adaptor with one old style Marinco cord and one new style that I cannot now seal. I also have a new Marinco 30a-15a adaptor and it does not connect tightly with the new EEL power cord. What garbage. How can they take something that moderately works and in an attempt to improve it, make considerably worse.
Bad news about the new EEL power cord is when the weak locking end falls off you can’t get another one making the new design worthless.
Another twist I just learned about these cords: There is now a newer style shore side plug that is a slightly smaller diameter and has a different LED. Significantly, they also changed the collar for the weather sealing ring so the normal 30A ring fits with no need to get a 50A ring anymore. At one marina, I did have an issue getting the older EEL cord in the socket so the smaller diameter plug is an improvement. The local West Marine had both the older and newer cords on the shelf so, you may need to look if closely if you want the newer model.