What Are NEMA Enclosure Ratings?

What Are NEMA Enclosure Ratings?

What Are NEMA Enclosure Ratings?

Electrical enclosures protect sensitive equipment from harsh environments. They are crucial in shipbuilding and manufacturing environments where systems constantly face moisture, salt, and potential impacts.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) sets standards for NEMA enclosure ratings that define the level of protection offered. Knowing these ratings helps ensure the safety and longevity of electrical systems.

What Are The Environmental Considerations for Electrical Enclosures?

Dust and Debris

Shipyards generate debris that can easily infiltrate enclosures. For example, sandblasting operations create fine dust that can damage circuit boards, while welding and cutting processes produce metal shavings that can short-circuit components.


Saltwater spray, rain, and waves threaten electrical systems on ships. Even a small amount of saltwater inside an enclosure can lead to corrosion and premature failure. In rough seas, waves can wash over deck-mounted equipment, requiring enclosures with exceptional watertight seals.

Ice Formation

Ships operating in colder climates face the risk of ice build-up. Ice can hinder the operation of switches, doors, and latches on enclosures. It can also put undue pressure on seals, leading to leaks.


The salty, humid environment on ships rapidly accelerates corrosion. Enclosures must resist corrosion to maintain their structural integrity and prevent electrical faults. This is useful for enclosures housing critical navigation or communication equipment.

Preventing Sparks

In environments like engine rooms, fuel storage areas, and other sections of ships where flammable gases, vapors, or dust may be present, NEMA ratings can help determine which enclosures should be used. Specialized enclosures are engineered to prevent sparks from igniting potentially volatile substances.

Benefits of Using NEMA-Rated Enclosures

NEMA-rated enclosures offer several advantages in the shipbuilding industry:

Personnel Safety

NEMA-rated enclosures protect shipyard workers from contact with live wires during maintenance or construction. They also shield the ship’s crew from electrical hazards if water leaks into an enclosure or if equipment sustains damage.

Equipment Protection

NEMA-rated enclosures safeguard sensitive navigation systems, engine controls, and communication equipment from salt spray, moisture, and debris. This ensures reliable operation and prevents costly breakdowns, especially during critical maneuvers or in severe weather.

Code Compliance

Regulations like those from the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) or the U.S. Coast Guard often specify minimum NEMA ratings for electrical equipment in different ship locations. Using correctly rated enclosures streamlines the approval process and prevents costly delays.

Decoding the NEMA Rating System

NEMA ratings follow a specific format to give you clear information about an enclosure’s protection level.

The rating consists of the letters “NEMA” followed by one or two numbers and sometimes a suffix letter (e.g., NEMA 3R, NEMA 12X).

The first number indicates the general protection the enclosure provides against:

  • Contact with energized components inside, protecting workers during maintenance.
  • Ingress of solid objects like metal shavings in a fabrication area or sand during blasting operations.

On the other hand, the second number denotes how the enclosure protects against the ingress of liquids:

  • Dripping or splashing water is common in engine rooms or near bilge pumps.
  • Water from powerful washdowns during deck maintenance, or direct spray from waves.
  • Temporary or prolonged submersion of enclosures containing critical equipment located below the waterline.

Lastly, suffix letters offer additional information:

  • X: The enclosure resists corrosion from the marine environment.
  • R: The enclosure provides extra protection against rain, essential for deck-mounted equipment.
  • S: The enclosure’s mechanisms (latches, hinges) operate even when covered with ice, important in cold climates.

Common NEMA Enclosure Ratings and Applications

Let’s look at some of the most common NEMA ratings and their typical applications in shipbuilding:

Indoor Use NEMA Ratings

NEMA 1: General-purpose enclosures

These protect control panels for ventilation systems in crew quarters or administrative offices.

NEMA 2: Drip-tight enclosures  

These prevent condensation from damaging electrical junctions in engine rooms or protect against water leaks in pump rooms.

NEMA 5: Dust-tight enclosures  

These keep fine dust generated during welding or sanding operations out of electrical distribution equipment.

NEMA 12: Indoor dust-tight enclosures with protection against dripping liquids 

These protect equipment in shipboard machine shops where water-based cutting fluids are present or where frequent washdowns occur.

NEMA 13: Indoor enclosures for dust, spraying water, and non-corrosive coolants 

These protect equipment in areas where deck washdown equipment is located or where strong cleaning solutions might splash onto enclosures.

Outdoor Use NEMA Ratings

NEMA 3: Weather-resistant enclosures   

These shield traffic signal controls on piers,  junction boxes on exterior bulkheads, or control equipment for dockside cranes.

NEMA 3R: Rain-resistant enclosures   

Similar to NEMA 3, but usually lacks protection against wind-blown dust. These work well for dockside meter pedestals or lighting controls mounted in semi-protected deck areas.

NEMA 4: Watertight enclosures   

These protect shipboard lighting fixtures, pump controls on exposed decks, or electrical panels exposed to frequent washdowns.

NEMA 4X: Watertight and corrosion-resistant enclosures   

These withstand the harsh marine environment for applications like panelboards in shipboard waste-water treatment areas or enclosures housing chemical dosing equipment.

NEMA 6P: Submersible enclosures for prolonged submersion  

These ensure that critical equipment like bilge pump controls or junction boxes in low-lying compartments remain operational even if temporarily flooded.

Hazardous Location NEMA Ratings

NEMA 7: Explosion-proof for hazardous gases or vapors   

These protect lighting fixtures in fuel storage areas, pump controls in fuel bunkers, or engine room ventilation controls.

NEMA 8: Explosion-proof for flammable gases or vapors   

Similar to NEMA 7, but designed for more volatile environments like chemical storage areas on tankers or processing areas on factory ships.

NEMA 9: Explosion-proof for dust   

These prevent ignition of combustible dusts found in grain handling areas on bulk carriers or in flour processing areas on factory ships.

NEMA 10: Enclosures for mines  

These meet specific requirements for mining applications and would be found on mining vessels or ships with enclosed mineral processing areas.

Important Considerations When Choosing a NEMA Enclosure

Consider whether the enclosure might be exposed to direct wave impact, dust accumulation, or the potential for submersion. Select a NEMA rating that provides the level of protection required by those conditions.

Then you need to choose the right size and material. The enclosure needs to be adequately sized to house all necessary components, wiring, and any required ventilation. Moreover, the material must withstand the environment. General applications might only require steel, but the harsh saltwater environment of shipbuilding often demands stainless steel or corrosion-resistant composites.  

Additionally, consider ventilation needs, as heat buildup can damage components. For enclosures containing power equipment, ensure they are designed for proper ventilation or incorporate specialized cooling mechanisms.

Finally, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for mounting and sealing the enclosure to ensure it maintains its NEMA rating. Plan the installation with maintenance in mind and consider the best locations for conduit or cable entries.

Find the Right NEMA Enclosures for Your Shipbuilding Project

Knowing the NEMA enclosure ratings helps ensure the safety and longevity of your ship’s electrical systems. Choosing the wrong enclosure can lead to equipment failures, safety hazards, and costly downtime. By considering the environmental factors, installation requirements, and maintenance needs, you select the right enclosures to protect your shipboard systems.

Research enclosure ratings, assess your specific needs, and consult with qualified professionals to ensure you make the best choices for your project.

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