Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: Attwood Float Switch

Any cruiser knows the only way to survive in places where no help, parts, and materials are available is to be self-sufficient. When lacking the conveniences of major hardware stores and chandleries broken equipment must often be jury-rigged using whatever is at hand. A cruising boat is filled with all sorts of equipment being put to use in a harsh marine environment, making failures and breakages of equipment not at all uncommon. It is, however, unfortunate when an item unnecessarily fails due to a poor quality of construction.

I could almost forgive a bit of gear that is poorly constructed if it is able to be repaired with common and available parts. Unfortunately that is not the case with the Attwood Float Switch, model 4202A.
These float switches are often used to activate extremely important bilge pumps, keeping a vessel dry and afloat. Fortunately for me, it was only being used in a sink sump box when it failed, but the situation could have been much worse.

The float switch was merely a month and a half old when it failed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. One day I noticed that the bilge pump inside of the sink sump box turned on and ran continuously. Upon further inspection it was clear that the float switch had flooded, causing an electrical short within the unit. While this was only a headache for me, it could have possibly burned up an integral bilge pump if that is what it was wired to. Nevertheless, it had to be fixed before the sink would drain properly.

Rather than manufacture a quality product
they just tell you where to buy more!
For an item to be worthwhile on a cruising boat, it must be able to be repaired. Attwood, the maker of the float switch, obviously was not clued in to this important aspect. The molded plastic housing encasing the electrical switch mechanism was pressed and glued together, making disassembly and repair nearly impossible. Clearly this float switch was not designed to be repaired, the company’s solution was simply to put a sticker on the sump box detailing the exact phone number that could be called to replace it! They’d rather you spent more money, and gave them more business purchasing another flawed product to replace the previous one. Even if I could call and have them deliver one to the middle of the ocean, I would rather opt for a quality product.

With the float switch opened up the low cost materials used
in the manufacture of the float switch can be seen

I eventually fixed it using a combination of rice (don’t ask), a fine toothed hacksaw, marine adhesive/sealant, and liquid electrical tape. I would however, advise anyone sailing a long distance from replacing this flawed unit. The seal is of a poor design, it’s difficult if not impossible to fix, and it is awfully expensive for two bits of plastic and a lightweight switch. As a replacement I would highly recommend a Rule float switch. I have always had good luck with Rule products and all of the ones I have on my boat are going strong.

1 comment:

  1. Hear hear !
    I took a shower on board yesterday and noticed the sump pump hadn't emptied the sump. The 4202 switch wasn't contacting at all, so I jiggled it about for a bit and then it began to contact only going downwards if I held it a little above the bottom of its stroke.
    This allowed me to run the pump to empty the sump, but it's totally useless as a bilge-pump switch, and I'm not going to bother opening it up, I'll just replace it with some other make.