How to Bond a Portable Generator for Bowfishing and Gigging
Generators are used on bowfishing and flounder gigging boats for powering their trolling motors, lights, and other accessories. The majority of portable generators that are used have what's called a floating neutral. This floating neutral can cause your lights to flicker and other accessories to not function properly or optimally.
Contractor-type generators are typically internally bonded and will not have these problems. However, these generators are too bulky for most flounder gigging and bowfishing boats so smaller portable generators are used. Almost all of these generators, regardless of brand, will have a floating neutral. You can research your generator or reach out to the person you purchased it from to see if it has a floating neutral. There are also test kits you can purchase to find out.
The 4 most commonly used portable generators for bowfishing are Powermax, Honda, Yamaha, and Predator generators in sizes ranging from 2000w to 4500w. We can confirm that all of these generators have floating neutrals.
Why are Portable Generators Not Bonded?
Here's an excerpt from one person we consulted with:
"I discussed this very point with Honda engineering, and they 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 Neutral-Ground Bond that your RV (or bowfishing/gigging boat in our case) requires to think it’s getting properly grounded power, while your Coleman 5000 contractor generator has a Neutral-Ground bond already so it operates your RV properly. Seems crazy, but that appears to be the scenario." - RV Travel
It is our understanding that the generator manufacturer is planning on the neutral-ground bond to happen elsewhere and be done by the consumer.
Is It Safe to Bond a Generator on a Boat?
In the United States, The National Electric Code (NEC) and American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) have established sets of codes for licensed marine electricians (and boat manufacturers) to abide by. Both the NEC and ABYC require the green (safety ground) and white (neutral ground) to be bonded together at the generator (separately derived power source).
In other words, not only is it safe to bond a generator on a boat but it is required by NEC and ABYC codes which licensed marine electricians must follow.
Many large-scale boat manufacturers such as White River Marine Group (the parent company to Tracker Boats, Hatteras Yachts, Ranger Boats, among many others) abide by ABYC codes for all manufacturing. A representative from White River Marine Group informed us the generators they utilize on their vessels are, in fact, bonded generators.
What's Actually Happening?
A generator is normally going to output ~120-125V AC. The optimal path for the voltage to travel is for 120 volts to travel from live to neutral. Similar to a battery, where your voltage travels from positive to negative terminal.
What's actually happening when there is a floating neutral is there is 60 volts AC on the hot side and 60 volts AC on the neutral side. Electronics and accessories do not like receiving partial voltage this way and they can malfunction or as seen in bowfishing and gigging lights, they can flicker. The flickering is because the lights are starving for power.
The easiest way to troubleshoot and confirm this is the problem you are having is to just plug the lights into a wall outlet. Your wall outlet in your home should be grounded, so the lights will be receiving 120 volts on the hot side.
When you bond your generator, you are pushing 120 volts to the live side and the lights will stop flickering and your other accessories will run properly.
How Do I Bond my Generator for Bowfishing and Gigging?
It's actually really simple. You just connect the neutral outlet to the ground outlet.
The best way to do this is with an extension cord plug replacement end or "Edison" plug with a neutral (white) and ground (green) screws, then connect them together with a single piece of 12 gauge stranded wire.
Be sure you are connecting the ground (green) screw to the neutral (white) screw. You do not want to connect to the live (black) screw, this will stay open. I would use wire that is green, white or even bare copper to do this connection as this is the typical color and type used for electrical work.
This neutral to ground jumper plug can be plugged into one of the generator's unused 20 amp outlets and the entire generator's electrical system will be neutral to ground bonded. You can then use the other 20 amp Edison outlet or the 30 amp RV outlet to power your accessories and lights.
NOTE: 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 N-G bonding point that could induce ground loop currents and create hum or buzz in a sound system.
Here's another example from a customer who had a spare plug lying around:
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