The Anderson Power Products Company makes a family of electrical connectors with the registered trademark name of Powerpole®. Now that we have established that, we’ll skip the ® symbol from now on.
Powerpole connectors come in several sizes and colors. Housing size depends on current rating, from 15A up to monstrous 350A and supporting wire sizes from 20AWG wire up to heavy 3/0 cable using different connector contacts.
Hams in the US, and particularly within EmComm groups such as ARES, have adopted the 15-45A Powerpole product as the de facto standard for 12VDC power interconnect for amateur radio equipment. These connectors are gaining popularity world-wide as well, so you will see more and more usage of this flavor of Powerpole connector being used everywhere.
Besides the convenience of a high-current quick-connect, having a standard means one ham’s equipment can be plugged into another’s power source. This is particularly important in emergency communication situations. Additionally, a standard drives greater availability of commercial products that support it.
One reason Powerpole connectors are growing in popularity is that they have some unique advantages over other electrical connectors:
- High Current Capacity
- Relatively Low-Cost
- Stackable / Modular
- Low-Resistance Self-Cleaning Contacts
A single connector pole consists of a polycarbonate housing and a genderless, spring-loaded curved contact inserted after wire termination:
The 15-45A housing is the same; only the contact changes to match the wire gauge and current capacity. 15A contacts mate with 30 and 45A connections so you can freely mate up any arrangement of connector sharing the same housing.
A mated connection looks like this (with promotional features added):
Of course, single wire connections are useless as they do not allow for a complete circuit so a second connector pole is added to provide supply and return paths. To distinguish polarity, different housing colors are chosen, typically red (+) and black (-), although a ham might choose other colors for their own purposes.
Because Powerpole housings are modular and stackable they can be mounted in various configurations. To address this, a standard orientation which some refer to as the “ARES configuration” was established by hams to promote commonality and prevent mis-mating or disastrous reverse-polarity issues. The ARES standard Powerpole pair looks like this:
Commercial Powerpole distribution blocks, wiring harnesses and other such accessories come with this ARES standard arrangement.
Housings slide together in dovetail joints and generally stay attached firmly but if more security is desired a pair can be locked together with a roll pin. Locking pins have been known to fall out, however, and some people prefer to fix the black and red housings together using something like cyanoacrylate adhesive (Super Glue).
It is best to arrange the red and black housings in the proper orientation before inserting the terminated wires.
Mated connections can be locked together as well using a retention clip (AKA locking shunt) to prevent inadvertent disconnection:
Mechanical crimping of Powerpole contacts onto wire ends is the preferred method of termination but they can also be soldered. However, soldering tends to make the wire end stiff and more subject to breakage and also increases the likelihood of contact insertion trouble due to physical interference (the terminated wire end dimensions are critically tight). Quality ratcheting-type Powerpole crimpers for the 15-45A contacts can be purchased for as little as $30 on eBay, and simple pliers-type tools for 15A contacts sell for even less, so don’t believe the hype about “expensive” crimpers being needed.
W2AEW has an excellent video showing how to crimp contacts and insert them in housings, along with proper orientation of the contacts and red/black housings.
There are many online sources of information and instruction regarding Powerpole connectors and ham radio. Here is a short list of some of the more useful references:
30A sets of 8 pairs (Red housing, black housing, 16 contacts) run about $10-12 and gets even cheaper buying larger sets and/or as individual parts. So cost is really not very high. Bonus is that many pairs are glued or welded together already in the ARES configuration.
In addition to the connectors themselves, power distribution accessories featuring Powerpole connectors in the ARES standard configuration are widely available from various sources. This makes using Powerpole connectors for radio, battery and accessory wiring even easier:
Here is a list of some of the more obvious sources of Powerpole products:
In summary, get familiar with the ARES Powerpole® connector standard and consider using it on your own 12VDC equipment. When you’re ready to take the plunge, buy a crimp tool and some red/black zip cord along with some connector kits (housings and contacts) and terminate your own connections. You won’t regret using them!