So. Boat wiring. Why would brand-spankin’ new boat owners without an ounce of experience decide to tackle boat wiring? Well, we’ll tell you: because we’re both first-born, A-type, compulsive, control freaks. And the one thing that drives us both nuts is chaos, especially when its hidden behind salon cushions and under cock-pit lockers.
State of the Wiring
Admittedly, Blue Nun’s electrical problems were minor. The greatest offence (in our opinion) were the rat’s nests of wires in various locations, probably complements of almost 40 years of tinkering. Second up were the light fixtures, which didn’t match and would be much cooler as LEDs. And of course the thought of making any changes led us to look at the device panels, which could be a lot better organized. Finally, we new from the boat survey (which the previous owner provided to us at time of purchase) that the battery charger need to be relocated as it was installed directly above the batteries (which can produce corrosive gases that will damage the charger, apparently).
Adding a “Distribution Hub”
To improve the organization at the device panels, we decided to add a “distribution hub”. We started by installing a plywood panel with a negative bus and terminal blocks mounted on it. This allowed us to organize all the wires, and group items on the same circuit. Then we just ran one single wire to each switch/fuse on the panel, which we hope will make replacing the panel in the future much easier.
You’ll see in the picture that the bus-bars look a little under-utilized. There may have been some small miscommunication during the planning and ordering phase of the project: Lindsay didn’t realize that bus-bars are specified by the number of connection pairs not the total number of connection points. So, we ended up with twice as many terminals as we needed. Oh well, live and learn. In the end there were one or two circuits that used more connection points than planned, so bigger was better.
Getting Rid of Old Wires
While tracing wires we pulled out about 10 different wires that weren’t attached to anything, which were great to be rid of. The project took a lot longer than we anticipated, for a few different reasons. First, we were interupted by the realization that the keel needed to be repaired before the boat was launched in the spring. Second, between work, kids activities, and other commitments, we could only manage to spend an hour or two on the project at a time. Third, we ended up opening up a lot more panels than we anticipated and the chaos we found sent Lindsay into a catatonic state that seriously impeded productivity.
Once we had all of the panels off, we also wanted to redo some of the vinyl-covered plywood panels, and we ended up needing to replace some water damaged panels (covered in this post%).
I used the Blue Sea Circuit Design app to size the wires (in combination with current ratings either on the devices, or in specs found online). We ordered most of the parts online for selection and cost reasons, and the rest at our local chandlery. This guide% was quite helpful in determining how to terminate the wires. I ordered this wire stripper%, and this crimper, and have been quite happy with the quality. We decided to replace our lights with new LED-specific fixtures, since ours weren’t in great shape, and we liked the idea of reducing the load on our batteries. We got them here – seemed be be decently priced, while still being able to handle the voltage fluctuations of a marine 12V system. And their customer service was great when they sent the wrong colour fixture, and I only ordered one reading light instead of two.
The first task was to trace all the wires to from panel to device, so we could get them organized. It was pretty straightforward to remove the panels we needed to get access, once the trim came off it was just a few screws (or nails in the case of the companionway panels). Initially we weren’t going to remove many trim pieces, and since Lindsay enjoys puzzles, Les didn’t bother to label them. Once we had everything off, and we looked at the pile of trim, we realized that may have been short-sighted: We would strongly recommend labeling them (and talking lots of “before” pics), if ever you tackle a project like this.
Once we had sufficiently disassembled the interior of our boat, we mounted the distribution hub. Then came the tedious (but satisfying) part: Organizing and labelling. We then disconnected the existing wiring from the panel, added new terminals, labels, and heatshrink, and connected them to the distribution hub. Next was running wires for the new fixtures (main cabin fan, v-berth fan, 12V accessory port/USB port combo for main cabin and v-berth). Once those were all run and tidy, we ran wires from the distribution hub to the panels (power comes directly from the battery switch to the panels).
Connecting the New Fixtures
Hooking up the lights for the head, and above the chart table were pretty easy. The lights in the v-berth were another story though. We are quite happy with the lights we chose, but they had very little room inside for the connections. Initially we tried crimping butt connectors, but that prevented the lights from being mounted. We ended up joining and soldering the wires, and covering them with heatshrink.
We also replaced the battery charger as part of this project. The old charger was a rather dated automotive charger, and it was mounted directly above the batteries, which isn’t a good idea because the fumes from the batteries can damage the charger. This was picked up in a survey done by the previous owner, and he had purchased a new charger, but hadn’t installed it. We put the new distribution hub in the location of the old battery charger, and mounted the new charger in on the other side of the wall in the cockpit locker. There was an existing hole in the bulkhead that we were able to run the wires through, so that part of the project was quite easy.