You drive up to the lake, put your boat in the water, turn your electric trolling motor on, and put your fishing poles in the water. Then you hear that loud click, and your boat is dead in the water because of a tripped circuit breaker. The first question I ask myself is, why is my electric trolling motor circuit breaker tripping?
Defective Beakers are the leading cause of a trolling motor breaker tripping, followed by your motor getting jammed. A breaker’s primary function is to prevent fire from a circuit that has gone above-rated amp capacity. Issues that may cause this can include broken wires, loose wires, corrosion, Undersized wire gauge, and undersized breakers.
This article will cover some top reasons that might be tripping your trolling motor’s breaker. Additionally, by following some best practices, you can avoid having this issue.
Note: most links in this article are Amazon.com Affiliate links, see Affiliate Disclosure, thank you.
What is a Trolling Motor Breaker?
A breaker is a switch that disconnects the load(electric trolling motor) from the power source(battery). This process is called breaking the circuit, hence the name “circuit breaker.”
A circuit breaker’s primary reason for being is to protect from fire due to overheating or arching. When a wire carries too many amps for its rating, it will overheat and can catch fire. A wire that becomes damaged, broken, or disconnected can short the battery, causing a battery fire or explosion.
All of these issues are dangerous and, at the minimum, will ruin your day out fishing.
How does a Trolling Motor Breaker work?
Most trolling motor breakers are thermally responsive bi-metal blades. The metal strips bend due to the heat generated by the moving electrons. Once the metal strips bend enough, the breaker will trip and can’t be reset until the metal strips have cooled.
Other types of circuit breakers can be used, but the thermally responsive bi-metal blades are the most commonly used for electric trolling motors. In addition to other types of circuit breakers, many people use fuses.
For more information on fuses, you could read our article about in-line fuses.
Top Reasons a Trolling Motor Breaker Trips
Many things can cause your breaker to trip. We have listed the top reasons in order. Electrical issues are a process of elimination, go through these items and eliminate each possibility.
- Defective Breaker – over time, your breaker can wear out with regular use. Another possibility is your breaker could have internal corrosion that increases heat resulting in premature tripping.
- Jammed Trolling Motor – fishing line or weed can wrap around your propellor or propellor shaft jamming or increase resistance. The motor will naturally draw more power to compensate until it exceeds the breaker rating.
- Grounding Out – a broken wire can touch grounded parts of the boat or the ground(negative) wire and cause the battery to ground out. This condition will cause the breaker to trip instantly.
- Loose Wire – A loose nut or loose wire terminal can easily affect the flow of electricity. The initial effect is for voltage to drop and amperage to increase, causing the breaker to trip.
- Corrosion – over time, most boats will have some level of corrosion. Corrosion can form around terminals, crimps, or wires. As the corrosion increases, the voltage will be impeded, and amperage will increase, causing the breaker to trip.
- Wire Guage – any size wire can pass a simple voltmeter test, but problems become apparent when using a wire under full load. If the wire is close to the required size, it will slowly heat up. Hot wires will cause voltage drop and amperage to increase, resulting in the breaker tripping.
- Undersized Breaker – An undersized breaker might perform fine when brand new. However, after a long day of high use, the internal temperature could increase, causing the breaker to trip. Also, an everyday event like a tangled propellor could trip the breaker. Once a breaker trips once, it is prone to tripping at a lower point.
Tips and Best Practices For Trolling Motor Breakers
There are a few simple things you can do to avoid problems and quickly solve fundamental issues.
- Check the amperage of your trolling motor. You can find the maximum amp draw in your user manual or manufactures website. Add 10 % to the maximum amp draw to size your breaker and wires of your wiring system.
- Eliminate extra wire. The length of the wire makes a difference in the wire’s ability to carry current. There are many charts online, such as Blue Sea systems. The Bluesea systems chart is a very safe guide and recommends larger gauge wire than the trolling motor manufactures. We recommend no more than 12 inches of extra length to prevent voltage drop.
- Check your trolling motor. Sometimes a simple trolling motor tuneup can solve your problem. Removing your propellor and checking for fishing line or other debris should be on your list of maintenance. After you have checked your propellor shaft, make sure it moves smoothly, or you could have a problem inside your motor. Lubricate all other moving parts, motorized and non-motorized. Performing these tasks will reduce resistance on your motor, requiring less power to run your motor.
Selecting the Right Size Breaker for Trolling Motor
When picking a breaker for your trolling motor, start by consulting your user manual for the proper size. If there is no clear recommendation, take the maximum amp draw of your motor and add 10%. Take the resulting number and round it up to the nearest 5.
Example: max draw = 51 amps x 1.10 = 56, round up to 60 amps.
Then check your wire gauge to make sure it will handle the 60 amps on the manufacturer’s website or a site like Bluesea Systems. If not, you should upgrade your wire to the proper size.
Recommended Breakers for Trolling Motors
Many manufacturers of breakers are suitable for trolling motors, but we will only cover a few that we have put our hands on and tested. When narrowing down your choice, amps are the main factor, and then the voltage is the secondary factor. Almost all breakers for trolling motors will support all three standard voltages, but remember to check the specifications.
The Minn Kota 60 amp breaker is industry standard and a well-known brand. This fully waterproof breaker is compatible with all standard voltages and has a 0ne year warranty. Consider that even though it is Minn Kota brand, it will work with any brand motor as long as the amp rating is correct.
Blue Sea Systems is one of our favorite companies for marine products and reference information with a large assortment of quality products. This breaker is rated up to 48 volts and for marine environments. Though we have not used it, this product can also be purchased in a panel mount for easy use.
The Tocas 60 Amp breaker is a generic brand that has passed our test and is currently in service on a system. This breaker is waterproof marine rated and has a UL rating. The maximum voltage is 48 volts, so it is suitable for all electric trolling motor systems. There are many sizes available, offset terminal, one side terminals, and a panel mount is also an option. We tested the surface mount 60 amp breaker.
A breaker is a piece of safety equipment that every boat should have to protect it and you. In most cases, your circuit breaker will sit quietly unnoticed other times, and it can save the day.
Like any other part of your boat, this unsung hero will sometimes die off and need to be replaced. Checking all the different points of failure can generally be done with an easy visual inspection. Then, replacing your break is only a few nuts and a screw to complete the job.
Does a Breaker protect your Trolling Motor?
A breaker does protect your trolling motor in some cases. However, the main function of a breaker is to protect your wiring and other electrical system components from fire. As for your motor, if it were to get tangled with weeds, fishing line, or get caught on an object, your motor would draw more amps. The result can damage wires, brushes, or control boards inside your electric trolling motor. When your trolling motor draws more amps than the circuit breaker is rated for, the breaker will trip. Shutting down the power to your motor will save it from catastrophic failure and allow you to correct the problem.