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Old 11-03-2021, 10:07   #1
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Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

As the new owner of a 1985 Contrast 33, I'm slowly working my way through the previous owner's deferred maintenance and doing upgrades along the way. Now that the weather is starting to look a bit nicer, I'm getting ready to transition from interior projects to exterior ones. The biggest one I currently have is rewiring the mast. The anchor light doesn't work (though this one may just be a burned out bulb - won't know until I get to the top on the mast). But the steaming light has a short in it somewhere - switching it on throws the breaker in about 4 seconds. I'd also like to add deck lights to the spreaders. The price I was quoted from a local rigging shop to unstep the mast for me to do the work then re-step was more than I have in my budget.

Has anyone rewired a mast in situ? I estimate the mast to be about 55 feet from the keel to masthead. I don't know for sure, but am assuming, given its age, it does not have a conduit inside. I'm fairly comfortable working aloft, so no real concerns there.

If you have any tips/techniques for rerunning the wires, or obsticles to look out for I'd appreciate hearing from you in the comments.

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Old 11-03-2021, 10:16   #2
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

No conduit? You probably should have one. Not hard to put one in with the mast off. Do the current wires bang in the mast? If not how is the wire held?
Often problems are fitting and bulbs. Especially the steaming light.
It can be a frustrating job even on the hard. How many times are you willing to be lifted in the bosun chair? I'd get it off and do it right.
Or get the basics working via checking what's wrong and waiting until you have the time to get it off.

You need a pull line for sure and 1/8" dacron cord works well, you can fish it down with a big fishing weight, like 4-5 ounces.
Enough trips up and down and it could be done. Drilling holes at the spreaders for the deck lights, etc. Lowering another pull line from the top, then trying to hook it to get a pull line at the spreaders, or to hook a pre loomed sire to exit at the spreaders.... ugh.
Also, assess if the masthead sheaves are turning well, many get frozen or nearly frozen up.
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Old 11-03-2021, 10:41   #3
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

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No conduit? You probably should have one. Not hard to put one in with the mast off. Do the current wires bang in the mast? If not how is the wire held?
All questions I don't know until I can get up the mast and see how the wires are run. I was just going by what the broker told me that in-mast conduits weren't that common on boats under 40 feet in the 80s.
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Old 11-03-2021, 10:49   #4
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

I helped my neighbour run new wires in his mast recently ... It certainly helps to have one person at the top of the mast, and one at the bottom ... but it will also depend on the mast and how the wires are run ... he had plates that unscrewed at the top and bottom of the mast giving better access to the inside of the mast. On my boat, I doubt it would have been practical, the masthead fitting is welded on, and the only access is the small hole drilled for the wires to exit, and at the base access is a similarly small drill hole.

we were running a new wire so we lowered a string down to act as a messenger. There was no conduit, but there did appear to be some foam padding inside (to stop the wires slapping?) which the string would hang up on, it needed a good weight on the end of the string, and a lot of attempts to get it down to the bottom of the mast ... once the messenger was through pulling the new wire wasn't that big a deal. You have to think carefully about how you are going to attach the new wire to the messenger string so that it doesn't come apart half-way through the pull but without a bulky knot that will get in the way, I think it's best to feed the new wire from the top so that gravity is on your side ... If you can use the old wires as messengers, properly crimp the new wire onto the old wire with a butt-splice connector to make a very firm connection.

Personally I would double-check that the problems with the anchor and steaming lights really are due to problems inside the mast before doing this ... I rewired my whole boat last year, except the mast ... hopefully the wires will last for the extra couple of years until I will need to work on the standing rigging, and the mast can come down and be rewired then.
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Old 11-03-2021, 12:41   #5
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

I rewired mine last summer. I have always pulled/dropped the mast at the end of the season so was fairly easy to pull new cables using the old ones as the runners. They all pulled pretty easy, even added an extra runner in case I need to run an extra line at some point. Ran 1 cable with 6 conductors for instruments, 4 other double conductors for various lights (steaming, deck and top of mast. Did not run conduit, used cable ties at intervals with ends sticking out to prevent any banging (read that somewhere and seems to work. Was easier I think than trying to do while mast is standing as I don't do mast climbing very well. Also much easier as my club has designed, member operated mast crane and lots of room to work on them. Did it right though with tinned everything and shrink wrapped it all. Needless to say all the stuff I pulled was not the same so it's a wonder it worked.
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Old 11-03-2021, 13:56   #6
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

Hi, Pete,

It's way easier with the mast out. And it's a bit of a hassle if it's still up, but where there's a will there's a way, and yes, it's a hassle, but if you have more time than money it is doable. Having someone who will help will make a huge difference.

Sometimes, people use bicycle chain to weight their fish lines for pulling wires through. Needs a big enough hold at the other end to get it out. Also, dishwashing detergent, like Joy or Dawn can help lubricate said wires, or use silicone spray. They do tend to get hung up, and where possible, use the old wires for the fish line to pull the new ones through. Be really careful if you feel one get hung up, sometimes it's better to pull it back up and try again. Splices must be strong, and taped soundly, but narrow. Apologies if this is too basic for you.

I hope it's all external, will save you lots of precious time.

Ann
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Old 11-03-2021, 14:18   #7
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

Is there usually a connector at the bottom of the mast?
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Old 11-03-2021, 14:30   #8
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

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All questions I don't know until I can get up the mast and see how the wires are run. I was just going by what the broker told me that in-mast conduits weren't that common on boats under 40 feet in the 80s.
Fundamental rule--never trust a broker to be right. Every 80's boat I have worked on has had conduits for the original equipment. Some conduits have room for one more wire, and some don't. The good news is that LED lights mean a lot of the original wires are oversized.

It is possible to do with the mast up, but it isn't quick and it isn't easy. Gravity is not your friend and 60 feet of wire is surprisingly heavy.

Be very careful with masts that have internal halyards that you don't wrap a wire around a halyard. If the old one comes out with the insulation rubbed off, it was fouled on a halyard, and shouldn't be used for pulling a new one.

Spreader bars can also be an issue.

With a 33 foot boat, you can usually use a small keelboat hoist to pull and restep your mast at no cost, but please don't do it on the weekend.
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Old 11-03-2021, 14:46   #9
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

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Hi, Pete,

It's way easier with the mast out. And it's a bit of a hassle if it's still up, but where there's a will there's a way, and yes, it's a hassle, but if you have more time than money it is doable. Having someone who will help will make a huge difference.
I do plan to have a helper - after all I've got to give them something to do after hoisting me to the top. Otherwise they might just wander off and leave me up there.

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I hope it's all external, will save you lots of precious time.
As do I! Looks like good weather here this weekend, so I might be able to check it out.
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Old 11-03-2021, 14:50   #10
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

So let's assume for the minute that the problem is all with the lightbulbs/housing. What's the best way to check this while hanging from the halyard? I can do a continuity check with a multimeter, that will help with the anchor light that just doesn't work. But what about the steaming light that trips the breaker? Any tests other than a visual check for corrosion, bridged wiring, etc?
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Old 11-03-2021, 20:58   #11
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

Yes, take readings while your friend down below turns the steaming light on [and off] at your request, and see how much it is drawing. You might want to change to an LED steaming light, anyway, but at least you will be able to get a clue as to what's happening.

Jim and i use walkie talkies for doing this sort of thing when he is at the masthead.

Ann
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Old 11-03-2021, 21:12   #12
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

As far as pulling wires, if there are screws poking into the mast it could be a trick. But if I HAD to do it I'd use an electrician's fish tape going down from the top with a short length of line on it that you can snag with a wire hook at the mast base or wherever the wires come out. If you make a cone of duct tape to cover the wires at the head, and then if some one can gently feed them in and someone pulls the fish tape from the top slowly, with some back and forth when it gets hung up on a rivet or screw, it may work. BUT then you still have the problem of wires free to slap the mast inside, which can be really annoying. So annoying that you may find yourself lying there one night, rocking gently in some idyllic anchorage, saying, "I should have pulled the mast."
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Old 12-03-2021, 02:07   #13
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

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... But what about the steaming light that trips the breaker? Any tests other than a visual check for corrosion, bridged wiring, etc?
With power off, disconnect the supply wire[s] at the steaming light [that trips the breaker].
Turn the power on.
If the breaker still trips, the fault is in the wiring.
If the breaker doesn’t trip, the fault is in the steaming light fixture.
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Old 12-03-2021, 08:55   #14
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

As a rule I don't solder wires on boats. Except for pulling new wires to replace old wires. Solder joints are as strong as the wire yet scarcely larger than the insulated wire. Add a bit of shrink tube to prevent snagging. Once the new wire is in place you can chop off the solder joint.
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Old 12-03-2021, 09:05   #15
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Re: Rewiring the Mast without Unstepping

Pete, my boat is from the 80s and I have conduits inside the mast for running wires. Did you check your manual if there is a conduit in yours or not? Replacing cables can be done with the mast up but it will be a royal pain, I second others' suggestions to pull the mast.

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