Wiring a boat

Last weekend’s tropical storm gave me the excuse I needed to hook up the trailer and haul the skiff out of the water for an overdue scraping and power-washing. On Saturday, as the last traces of Dorian scudded overhead, I decided to fix a bunch of things, the biggest being a rewiring of the navigation lights.

I don’t do much boating at night, but come September and October I do like to do some night time fishing for striped bass and the massive bluefish that invade Cotuit Bay every morning just before first light. Running around a dark harbor in an 18-foot motorboat with nothing but a flashlight is illegal, even if there isn’t another boat on the water. I like to think I run a fairly tight ship so along with working navigation lights, I’m good about having, life-jackets, signal flares, a horn and fire extinguisher aboard just in case I get boarded for a spot inspection by the harbormaster or coast guard.

I’m generally pretty good about electrical work around the house and when I was a kid I aced the science classes about parallel and serial circuits, resistance, grounding, positive/negative poles, volts-amps-watts and all that stuff. Yet wiring a white stern light, a bow light and the compass powered by a 12-volt boat battery to a three-pole switch (off, navigation, and anchor lights) kicked all memories of my 9-year old smarty-pants self out the door. The confusion began with a Google search for a schematic wiring diagram and degenerated into a moron’s temper tantrum as I tried to trace the old wiring and tag everything before replacing it.

The schematics called for a single red wire from the battery’s positive (red) terminal to the switch, and a black wire to a “ground.” I don’t know where said “ground” is on my boat. Some diagrams showed a “ground bus,” others vaguely suggested the engine was the ground. All I knew is that a boat floats and is only aground when it gets dragged onto the beach. Anyway, that wasted an hour.

Six hours, two claustrophobia attacks, and a dozen crimped terminals and connectors later and my boat had lights, didn’t blow a fuse, and had two modes: on and off. I had planned three modes.: everything on, stern light only, and off. But the fish were calling my name, the days are growing short, and soon there won’t be any fish to chase in the light or the dark.

So I launched her back in the water and went out fishing.

Spanish Mackerel and me

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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