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Old 18-10-2015, 16:29   #1
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Electrical Issues

Trying to figure out how to repair wiring issues. I have a 1975 is seafaring baja 31'. It has 2 chevy 350's and the wiring is just all wonky. Both engines run, but gauges are not so great and I can't seem to figure it out. I had an old engineer working on it, but he has made it worse. I am ready to bite the bullet and I just want to rewire the whole thing. One engine has been wired directly to the battery bypassing the solenoid. I have two drive stations. I can start from one, but not the other.

I either need to hire someone or do it myself. I have some understanding of electronics, but not enough to figure it out from this point without just starting all over.

Where can I find a boat electrician?

Any advice would be great

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Old 18-10-2015, 17:18   #2
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Re: Electrical Issues

Do you have an operator manual with a wiring diagram? Probably not but thought I'd ask, after 40 years it's probably going to be a bit different than factory anyway. You can either itemize all of the electrical issues you need to fix but with original wiring there is a good chance that a new batch will pop up shortly after you get the existing ones taken care of, so if it were my project I'd seriously look at an extensive rewire.

If you feel up to it, this would be a good winter project but I see you are in California so I am guessing you don't have to park the boat from November to April.

Anyway, a good place to start would be post a picture of your dashboard and then you wouldn't have to write out all of the guages and switches you have.

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Old 19-10-2015, 09:34   #3
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Re: Electrical Issues

SO MANY places could need work on your engines to get it sorted out. It is not terribly hard to do but it seems to be too confusing for a lot of novice electricians. You may or may not need new panels. You may or may not need new sensors on the engines. Both engines should be wired the same I would think but may be there was a reason they are not. Hiring a competent tech will not be cheap but I would not ask any one who has not done this before to do it. For one thing, gas engines require better wiring than diesel as you do not want any sparks in the engine room - ever. So you need to make sure that any devices you install are rated for gas engines. Normally you would not be doing anything that would spark but it depends on what you are doing - exhaust fans being the prime example.

Without actually seeing and evaluating your particular situation no one will be able to give you any detailed advice. I have completely rewired gas engines before. It takes a lot of work and you have to have a basic understanding of electrical work and common practices for engines and panels and wiring harnesses. The backs of panels just blow away novice DIY people most of the time. They really are not that complicated but there are a lot of wires for grounds, lights, sensor leads, starting and ignition. Two stations doubles the work if you need to do anything with the panels (or not). But you really need to look at the engines as each being separate from the other (except the "ignition on" may be shared but the start cannot be shared). And with dual panels you will need to make sure you have the right engine senders/sensors/gauges for oil pressure, temperature, etc. as they are different for dual stations than for single (in general).

Check around with other boat owners in your marina for advice on good boatyards and technicians. I suggest only hiring someone who has two or more solid recommendations.

You may want to start out by googling boat wire panel circuits and get a feel for how they are done. And there are some good marine electrical books too. Good luck.
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Old 20-10-2015, 04:32   #4
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Re: Electrical Issues

See also:
Basic Engine Gauge Theory and Testing
Gord May
"If you didn't have the time or money to do it right in the first place, when will you get the time/$ to fix it?"

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Old 20-10-2015, 05:57   #5
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Re: Electrical Issues

Hi ffeldy.

Sorry to hear about your problem. I admit electrical problems can be frustrating but at the end of the day, 99% of them are pretty straightforward and fixable. It is mainly a matter of breaking the problem down into small pieces and working it out in simple steps starting at one end of the system and following through to the other end. If the wiring hasn't been butchered too badly by the previous owner and mechanics a lot of the problems in older boats can be fixed by cleaning and tightening connections on the various terminals and electrical equipment.

I do admit that some boaters don't have the patience, ability or motivation to develop this skill set. It can be very time consuming and, on a boat, frustrating as much of the wiring can be hidden inside conduits, behind bulkheads and cabinets but it can be done. You can hire a pro but for the reasons stated the job could cost a couple thousand or so for a complete redo.

If you're willing to invest that much in this boat call the pro. I'm sure there are plenty in your area and someone from this forum can recommend a local for you. If you don't want to put that much into the boat and have the time then you should give it a go yourself. The 12 Volt Doctor's Practical Handbook is a good place to start learning. I believe this book is in the public domain and you can download it free on the internet. Here's one place
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Old 24-10-2015, 09:00   #6
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Re: Electrical Issues

Originally Posted by skipmac View Post
It is mainly a matter of breaking the problem down into small pieces and working it out in simple steps starting at one end of the system and following through to the other end.
In general, this is good advice for problem-fixing, but in the situation of the OP (old engine wiring "all wonky"), it can make you crazy. Marginal wiring can create intermittent faults that are difficult to isolate. You find one problem, fix it but there's still no joy because there's now another fault revealed. Etc etc. I think that for old engine wiring, a different approach is sometimes advisable; establish the optimum engine wiring, then strive to achieve that.

Whoever does this (owner or hired electrician):
- you need the correct electrical drawings for the installed engine and panel, or enough serious experience with engine wiring and panels to be able to analyze what's there and draw it up. Either way, you start with a master plan.
- whether from experience or research, you know what good wiring practice is, and aim to redo or replace any connection or wire that is not properly done
- now, with this plan, you set about checking and fixing the existing wiring to determine where it's missing or altered (or defective).
- It might make sense to take the control panel to the workbench and test/rewire it as a unit.

I've only participated in one complete gas engine rewiring on an old boat. In this case, there was so little to work with we opted to do a complete rewire, including running conduit and a new wiring harness from the helm to the engine compartment.
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Old 24-10-2015, 10:00   #7
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Re: Electrical Issues

Another electrician and I helped renovate an older, sweet Bertram (I seem to remember it was 31' but can't remember for sure). It had twin Chevy motors. We took off every wire to everything - engine, pumps, electronics, and put in all new. New panel. The motors were original though and pretty stock so they didn't seem to have any idiosyncrasies. Pretty much what you would find in an older car.

We also put in FloScan fuel monitors since the owner never wanted to run out when he was 50 miles offshore. The rewire was a complete success. The new gauges all worked, engines started immediately and ran fine. He stopped using the boat so much though. It cost him a small fortune to fill the tanks. Those engines just sucked it up like crazy. Pretty boat and it got up on a plane instantly. Each salmon and tuna he caught must have worked out to about $1500 each considering what he put in to the boat. The Floscans were a mixed blessing because they showed him real time how much it cost him to throttle up those engines.

But I agree with Lake-Effect. A plan and organized approach will be a big help. And use different color wires wherever possible for the different functions. It will pay dividends not only during the initial rewire but every time you have to troubleshoot anything. I would be tempted to put in all new senders too. They aren't very expensive and you have to be there anyway when you do the wiring.

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