Remember To Be Safe

What a great number of advantages electricity brings to us in all sorts of ways. From lighting and heating our homes to cooling them, running industrial processes and allowing the advanced worldwide communications that exist today. Where would we be without it?

It’s the same for us marine hobbyists. I recall reading about aquarists before my time (yes, that long ago) who had metal framed aquariums with slate placed underneath the bottom. The slate was to protect the underneath from the heat of candles. Yes, candles. Wow, I suppose the only temperature control was that a candle can only emit so much heat. There weren’t any marine aquariums needless to say!

Nowadays the marine aquarium in whatever form relies upon electricity for lighting, heating, seawater movement and other services such as protein skimming and calcium reactors etc. Without a reliable electricity supply the hobby just wouldn’t be where it is today, in such an advanced state.

Electricity is a wonderful servant – properly used. Improperly used it can turn full circle and be dangerous, even lethal. Manufacturers have done their best to make safe equipment, by sealing pumps in resin and using seawater proof end caps on fluorescent tubes, to name but two. There is plenty of legislation about the standard of manufacture as well.

Despite all this, it is very important for the aquarist to be diligent about safety and on guard. Though today it is more unlikely, there could be a problem and no second chance. Whenever the aquarist is dealing with electrically powered apparatus care is required. Electricity and water, particularly seawater, are very poor partners.

When equipment is being fitted to the aquarium in the set-up phase, it is a good idea to try and keep the wiring behind the aquarium as tidy as possible. This will mean less tugging, pulling and searching in the future for the correct cable. Usually the rear of an aquarium looks something like spaghetti, and it is difficult to avoid this. However, if cables are laid out carefully in sequence it is possible to improve matters. If there is one power outlet to service the aquarium then two could be created so that cables aren’t stretched or require additional lengths attached. There are also specially designed multi-attachment connectors available.

When considering fitting equipment and cables, it is necessary to ensure that the correct fuses are in place in accordance with the manufacturer’s stipulations. It is also important to loop cables where they approach a power outlet so that, if drips of seawater should run down the cable, they will fall off as the cable rises to the power outlet.

Instead of fiddling with plugs, pulling them in and out to try and find the one that is relevant to a particular piece of equipment, why not mark the plugs with a water resistant stick-on label or water resistant paint so there aren’t any doubts. A code can be used, and the code reference placed in a notebook.

Lights should be fitted correctly. It is normal to fit fluorescent tubes quite close to the seawater surface, so that maximum light penetration is achieved. This is fine as the fittings used nowadays are designed for safety. However, the tubes should always be stable and unable in any situation to tip into the seawater, a situation for which they are not designed. Metal halides are not fitted close to the seawater surface. They emit a powerful light which penetrates better than fluorescent tubes, but the main reason they are further away from the seawater surface is that the bulbs run very hot, causing any glass UV screen below the bulb to become hot also. If seawater splashed on the glass it could shatter and present a hazard to the aquarist. A metal halide unit should always be hung at the manufacturer’s recommended distance. Likewise if the light glass requires cleaning, make sure the bulbs are cold – in a ‘lights off’ period – before commencing.

Heaters too are much safer nowadays. They used to be sealed with a cork and the cork end had to be a little out of the water – not an arrangement to inspire confidence. Nowadays, they are carefully sealed on a permanent basis and usually can be completely submerged (read the manufacturer’s instructions). The aquarist simply needs to be sure that there aren’t any signs of damage of any sort to the glass or other casing, or to the area where the cable enters the unit. Any doubt, obtain a replacement. The same applies to any equipment that is within the aquarium, such as pumps and the like. In fact, any doubts on electrical equipment in or out of the aquarium should receive immediate attention.

We aquarists spend a fair amount of our time with hands in the aquarium. This is usually to do with maintenance. However, wet hands usually drip and it is possible that drips could fall on electrical items. It is unlikely that power outlets etc will be in any ‘drip area’ but care about drips should be taken nonetheless. Wet hands should always be dried as soon as possible. Straight forward spillage requires the same attention – for example transferring seawater near electrical items is hazardous.

Having hands in the aquarium and/or a faulty piece of equipment is a potential for disaster – the aquarist is vulnerable. If an electrical short circuit occurs then yes, the fuse will blow. But for the fuse to blow the fuse wire needs to heat up and burn through. This takes time, even though this time is short. It is essential that should an event like this occur the electricity is cut off as rapidly as possible. The item needed is commonly called a ‘trip’, which is a device that detects low currents caused by problems and cuts off the electricity supply nearly immediately. They are usually plug in or hard wired and are easily obtained.

A ‘trip’ should be wired in to the electricity supply for the aquarium. There is however a possible problem and this is that if the device activates it cuts off all of the aquariums electricity supply totally. This is excellent if it is saves a life. However, if activation is caused by faulty equipment and the aquarist is not there, say it was cold and the seawater cooled – an obvious threat to livestock. The way round this is to have two or more supplies from separate power outlets each fitted with a ‘trip’ so that if one activates the others are not affected. Each ‘trip’ is fitted to the electricity supply for separate devices, and, for example, if two heaters are used (each at one half the aquarium’s heating requirement) each heater is connected to a separate supply.

Talking of safety there is one requirement that is also very important – don’t assume. Assuming something is wired correctly but not being sure, or assuming that a problem will never happen because the equipment is well known and top class should not occur.

If the aquarist has any doubts then it is best to obtain the advice of a person who is known to have electrical knowledge, such as an electrician.

This is a wonderful absorbing hobby. There isn’t any need for it to be dangerous as well.