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Old 14-12-2009, 17:40   #1
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Wired by a Kindergartner

I'm in the process of preparing my boat for a 2yr South Pacific cruise, and one of the (what I thought was minor) items on my "to do" list was diagnose and repair a problem with the starboard reading light in the salon.

The problem ended up being that the wiring to this light was unsecured as it ran behind the main bulkhead, and the wire chafed and shorted. The chafe point was a second wire, which I opted to replace as well. Herein lies the rub...

That second wire required removal of my breaker panel, and I'm in absolute shock - it's a total rat's nest, complete with duct tape, lose wires (that apparently are no longer being used, and are attached to nothing), red wires heading to ground, literally 13 grounds piggy backed and not a bus terminal in sight.

So, looks like I've got tens if not hundreds of hours of unforeseen work as I completely rewire the boat. I don't see any other alternative (but would love to hear one )

I'm not sure if I've got a specific question, but I'd welcome any general advice. Any hot tips that might save me some time? Specifically, any great advice on how to trace wires that disappear behind panels and (as far as I can tell) do nothing? I'd like to remove unused connections, but I'm not sure how to trace to the other end of the line to verify that, in fact, it's unused.

I know my way around a mulitmeter (don't need advice about checking for continuity, etc), and have done a bit of wiring in the past but nothing like this.

The attached picture isn't of my boat - mine looks twice as bad.
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Old 14-12-2009, 17:55   #2
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Holey rusted metal, Batman! The ground. It's all metal. It's full of holes. You know, holey. -

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Old 14-12-2009, 18:05   #3
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I feel your pain!

Only thing I can tell you, based on the experience of many others, is that it's generally MUCH easier and faster to rip out ALL the old wiring and start anew, using a well-developed plan.

Trying to clean up a PO's mess -- especially one like this -- can only be an exercise in high masochism! Worse, even if you like beating yourself up, it won't likely turn out well.

Do yourself a favor. Bite the bullet. Start with a paper and pencil and be sure you know what you want to wind up with. Then, invite a couple of friends to a wire-pulling party. Be sure to save the old stuff. It's copper content will be worth something.

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Old 14-12-2009, 18:18   #4
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I agree with Bill to a point but not sure I would just yank the old wiring without some clue as to what you are doing. In the past I have disconnected everything and then one by one checked each wire as I figured out what it did and labeled it. Label the ones that do nothing. make a list of all the equipment on board lights and all and make sure you have at east all those wires accounted for. Them you can start pulling.


Before you pull an old wire out thru a hard to access place attach a pull string to it. Then if you have to replace it it is not so hard.

Now with just the working wires left make sure they are in good condition, the right size and the right color. Fix what is practical. Install proper buss bars and such.

keep us posted we like to suffer together lol and I'll be over here fixing you a rum

Wayne Canning, AMS
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Old 14-12-2009, 18:57   #5
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Yeah, that's gotta go. If one wire chafed through, how far behind are the others? Are they corroded beneath the insulation, waiting to start a fire? Even ignoring that, if you had another electrical problem, how hard would it be to troubleshoot with that mess in the panel?

The only other suggestion I've got is that if the panel is under the companionway I would take the opportunity to relocate it, beside the nav station (most of your electronic gear is probably there anyway).

It's always a good idea to open & check inside an electrical panel- it can be a rough indicator of the overall electrical system. If everything is labelled, routed at nice right angles & secured with wire ties, everything else should be well maintained too... in theory.
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Old 14-12-2009, 19:00   #6
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I just did this on our boat a few months ago. I started with the obviously disconnected wires and just removed them completely one at a time. After tracing a few of them I got a good look at all the rest of the wires and decided the original wires were installed fine it was just all the add on stuff was done haphazardly. Once I got the "not in use" stuff out I could fairly easily see what I had and replaced only what I needed.
This made things a lot easier as I had lights and refrigeration, etc every night when I got through. I second the thought of tying a string on things when you pull them out if not easily accessible.

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Old 14-12-2009, 19:15   #7
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Dang KB,

Sorry to hear/see this. I just finished re-wiring my C25 (simpler boat, I know) and I've also rewired several automobiles including a DeLorean. I actually wish I was near you, because I really feel that I could help.

Definitely tie the string, and I have one other important word for you: wire looms. When you run wires behind bulkheads or anywhere else that they might chafe, run it through/wrap it in a wire loom. It's simply a plastic tube that you can buy at auto parts/marine stores. Usually they're split length wise, or they're spiral cut so that you can easily wrap them around the wires you're trying to protect.

Other stuff you may aready know:

-Braided, not solid core wire.

-Ensure that you install a gauge of wire adequate for the electrical load you intend to place upon it.

-Use electrical protection: Fuses or breakers.

-When terminating the ends, there is considerable debate between soldering and crimp-on. I'll let you decide. BUT- there shouldn't be any debate about sealing the wire/terminator joint with liquid tape and a wrap of self-vulcanizing tape around that to keep the end copper from corroding in the marine environment.

-Unlike a home, the boat is a moving, vibrating environment just like an aircraft or a car. Consider that when routing your wire and mounting your fuseblocks and grounding bars. Absorb vibration where ever possible, avoid temperature extremes (engine heat), ensure adequate strain relief on the end of your wires.

Electrical issues (understandably) freak a lot of people out. I've done it for the Navy, my civilian job, and for my hobbies. Don't let it intimidate you, it's just tedious.

Good luck!
Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?
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Old 14-12-2009, 19:22   #8
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Oh, my, my! Reminds of a '67 E-Type I helped re-wire, once. About a third of the way through an attempted patch job, we gave up and just decided to do it all over from scratch. I still think we saved time in the long run.

While I would like to say that Wayne's right and maybe he is and you can salvage some of it, you are about to start on a very long cruise. Do you really want to have the nagging doubts 1000 nm's from anywhere? You know the ones, "bad wiring means high resistance, means heat, means..." In that light, I've got to agree with Bill.

Start with an inventory of every electrical consumer from bow to stern, keel to masthead. Go, slowly, through the boat, noting the consumer, colors and gauges of wires, any intermediate junctions (oh, my god, I can just imagine the splices you'll find!), and bus bars. If at all possible, find out the service requirements for each consumer. Don't be surprised to find undersized wire -- if it is, even if it looks good, you'll want to replace it.

Label the conduits (you do have conduits, yes?) (If you've got multiple conduits terminating together and it isn't obvious which is which, you can take a small blower -- like a hair dryer (NO HEAT) or dinghy pump, tape it around one end and then when blowing go to the other end and feel for the air coming out.)

If you've got a CS schematic to compare your "as built" with, that might be a big help in starting an organizing plan for your new schematic. If you don't have one, then contact CS and see if they can scrape one up. This is like an archaeological dig, at some point you'll scrape away the trash and find the original plan. Having that schematic will help you recognize it.

By the way, this is a great time to do any upgrades you've been thinking about. Might as well factor them in, too.

You might as well just count on completely replacing your panel, breakers and bus bars. If they're original, you'll find the new stuff much more convenient and your breakers probably won't meet spec anymore, anyway.

Once you have (1) your current inventory, (2) any additions you want to make, and (3) the underlying original schematic, then I'd highly recommend hiring a marine electrician for a couple of hours to come aboard, survey the situation, and then show you various tips and good practices to get you on your way. The advantage to this is he will be able to lay his eyes directly on your situation and give you specific advice and a recommended plan. Also, if you should run into a trouble spot you can't solve, you'll have a contact already familiar with your boat to help you through it.

Doing these jobs (I've personally done several cars and two boats) is really not all that technically challenging once you have developed good practices and have a well organized plan. Set yourself up some reasonable goals for a day's work and work on circuits that are in the same general area of the boat. E.G., today we're doing instruments. Tomorrow, forward cabin and bow nav lights. The next day, windlass. Write out your plan, with checklist of tasks and before you know it, you'll have it all done. A couple of buddies, fish tape, pull strings (don't forget to always pull an extra one) and a discount at your favorite supplier will see you through it.

Don't be surprised to find that you have a lot of orphaned wires. Just pull 'em and get 'em off the boat. (You might even find that old 8-track somebody installed way back when!) If you leave them, they'll just confuse you and throw doubts your way when you least need them.

Do you have 110, too? Is that as bad?

Good luck, keep us posted.

Intentional Drifter

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Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.--Ben Franklin

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Old 14-12-2009, 19:26   #9
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Buy a ratcheting crimp connector tool
Buy your connectors in bulk
No electrical tape/wire nuts
Buy wire by the spool.

Find out what works and what doesn't

As you get frustrated....just think...."I could be paying somebody $85.00 an hour to do this"
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Old 14-12-2009, 21:14   #10
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Always leave a pull string behind. If you're pulling out old wire, use it to pull in a string. If you're pulling in a new wire (using string or not) pull in a new string with it. If you're pulling out a string, pull in the new one with it.
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Old 14-12-2009, 21:24   #11
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I am in the same process but at the pencil stage where can I find a chart for color codes for bilge pump, nav lights, blowers for engine compartments and that such stuff.
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Old 14-12-2009, 21:48   #12
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Old 14-12-2009, 21:55   #13
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out standing thanks
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Old 15-12-2009, 06:40   #14
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Judging by how expensive marine wire is (not to mention the expense of the assorted connectors, terminal ends, fuse holders, etc., etc., etc., I don't believe that I'd be in any hurry to rip out what was still perfectly serviceable, as long as its still perfectly serviceable.
I've apparently got the opposite of what you've got. Somebody did a nice neat wiring job on my boat with new main shutoff switch and breaker panel, so I've just needed to add fuses and whatnot to the things that I've added, mainly another depth finder and several 12v outlets. The problem is that they appear to have used regular stranded copper wire for the wire job instead of marine wire, which is a least on the wires that I've had a need to alter/inspect. Of course I used marine wire for my stuff and put it all in wire looms and all I've got to say is marine wire is not cheap.
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Old 15-12-2009, 08:32   #15
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I think you got some pretty sound advice.

It pretty much sounds like you need to design a new electrical system on paper. Remove the hack wire job. Keep the wire that is original and still sound. I would not keep any of the "kindergartners" crimped connections.

Although expensive, I like the crimp connectors that come with heat shrink. I think they are pretty much mandatory for moist areas. For larger crimp connectors, I always use heat shrink to seal out potential corrosion. You will also need to purchase or borrow one of the crimpers with the approximate two foot long arms.


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