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Posted by on Mar 5, 2014 in Boat Maintenance, Do It Yourself, How To, US |

Two Habits of Highly Effective Boat Wiring

Just saying no to wire nuts and being a neatnik can help you improve your boat's wiring systems.

Many boaters feel the same way about their boat wiring as I do about the wiring in my 60-year-old house: the less of it I can see the better, and as long as the dryer still turns on, it’s all good. OK, yes, I know, that’s not a great plan, but sticking your head in the sand is easy when you’ve got miles of tangled and improperly connected wires weaving their way around your boat. Luckily, though, adopting just two easy habits can help you start making headway on that spaghetti monster lurking in your engine space or bilge.

A photo of neat, clean boat wiring.

A job done right… and neatly. Photo courtesy of Concept Yachts

A photo of cabled wires.

Note how the wires in this photo are properly supported and neatly run.

1. Neatness Counts

The first—and easiest—thing you can do to improve the state of your boat’s wiring is to make sure that your wire runs are neat, organized, and properly secured. This means tracing as much of every wire run as you can all the way from the power source to whatever is being powered, and then securing and organizing everything with cable ties before mounting them to a hard surface with an appropriate cable tie mount. The American Boat and Yacht Council recommends that wires be secured at least every 18 inches.

Good places to look for trouble (and where you’ll almost always find some) include your bilge, engine space, breaker/fuse panel, or under the helm. Wires should be run neatly, and be orderly and well secured. Any good marine supply store will have a full complement of wire ties, wire tie mounts, spiral wrap, and other goodies and advice for bundling and securing the wires aboard your boat. Let your neat-freak flag fly.

A photo of wire nuts.

Search and destroy: Keep a lookout for wire nuts and remove them as soon as you find them. A proper marine-grade butt connector should be installed instead. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

2. Just Say No to Wire Nuts

You might think that someone like my late father (an electrical engineer who designed microprocessors) would have a pretty good handle on the correct electrical parts to use on a boat. But unfortunately (like many boaters), Dad used household electrical connectors, such as wire nuts, in many of his electrical projects.

Wire nuts work just fine on household electrical connections, but they are not secure enough to hold two pieces of marine wire together (nor are they designed to work with the stranded wire found on boats). Additionally, they provide absolutely zero protection from moisture and corrosion. If you find wire nuts anywhere on your boat, they need to be replaced and the wire ends rejoined with a proper marine-grade butt connector. If you’re wondering how to install one of these fittings, take a few minutes to watch How To Install Heat Shrink Terminals. The fewer wire nuts you have in your system, the happier your electrical system will be.

A picture of butt connectors.

Use marine-grade butt connectors to join wires. Image courtesy of Ancor

Your wiring system won’t magically look like something on the Space Shuttle by adopting these two simple habits, but these will help you get a handle on what you have so you can slowly start to improve it.

And if you ever feel as if you’re straying out of your comfort zone, do what I do when I have an electrical issue at my house—call a pro.