First, a couple of definitions: According to my dictionary, electronics is the technology of electrical circuits which involve active electrical components such as transistors, diodes and integrated circuits. It is distinct from electrical technology which deals with the generation, distribution, switching and conversion of electrical energy into other forms (e.g. light and motion) using wires, motors, generators, batteries, switches, relays, transformers, resistors and other passive components.
Now read that again, slowly please. It says, in other words, that electronics is the knowledge of how individual components work and how to assemble them together to make a working device, while electrical technology is the knowledge of how to connect together different devices to turn electrical energy into useful stuff like heat, light and motion. When applied to model boats this means that anyone with a basic knowledge of what I call 'bells, batteries and switches' can install the necessary electric circuitry to make the model do what he (or she) wants it to do without having to understand how the clever electronic bits in that circuit actually work. I’ve been challenged by the Editor of this magazine to write an article to illustrate and explain model boat electrics for the non-technical reader, so I hope what follows is at least halfway towards that goal. There will be a few slightly technical bits here and there but no complicated mathematics will be used! You can treat this article as a reference work, that is to say, diving into it for the bits of information you need, or sit down and read through the whole thing just so that you know what’s in there for when you might need it later.
The very simplest electrical circuit involves a power supply, conductive wiring, a load and a switch. The circuit is dead until the switch is moved, at which stage a current of electricity flows through the wiring of the circuit and energises the load. The load does whatever it does for as long as the power is supplied and can be anything which consumes electrical energy such as a bulb, a sound unit or a motor. When the switch is returned to its original position the circuit becomes dead again and the load stops whatever it was doing. Simple enough so far? Good, then please see Figure 1
. So let’s now deal with the elements of this circuit, one at a time.