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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
So my 'new' 1980 Hunter 36 has handsdown an awful wiring job. The back of the panel opens out under the starboard lazarette with no water-proofing on the back. The battery charger is located even further back! And the condenser is there as well, and rusted to hell... nothing is labelled of course

Anyone want to post their setup? And any advice where to start?
 

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Just tackled something similar myself. Terminal strips and bus bars are your friends. First thing I did was to add a ground bus behind the panel and get all the grounds off the panel and onto the bus. That took care of a lot of clutter. Then I added a terminal strip for the hots and ran a single wire from each breaker to one side of the strip and the corresponding load wire(s) to matching terminal on the other side. Use multiple strips if you need the capacity. After I had just a single hot wire to each breaker, I tie wrapped the wires down each column of breakers into a harness and cleaned and tightened each breaker connection.
 

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I know several people who would tell you to rip out everything and start from scratch. I'm pretty close to suggesting that, myself.

IStream is correct, bus bars will help you consolidate wiring, and tidy things up quickly. Start by consolidating your grounds, as he suggests.

Next, start tracing out all of your hot leads. Cut them to a more reasonable length and re-terminate them. It looks to me like you have a lot of excess length.

I've a hunch that you're going to find at least some dead wiring that goes nowhere, and serves no purpose, that you can remove. This will help clear things up as well.

Check with your panel's manufacturer to see if they offer a back box to weather proof the exposed guts of the panel. If they don't, Home Depot offers a wide variety of "project boxes" in their home electrical section. Once you get your wiring tidy, you can seal the box with butyl tape or silicone and mount the box. Some fabrication will probably be required, but it shouldn't be difficult.
 

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Yank it all out, then rebuild it one circuit at a time. Be careful to label everything first - I suggest a simple and inexpensive label printer
- it can save you a lot of headache latter on.

Start at the bottom level, i.e. getting power from the battery switch to the panel. As Mtiempo's photo shows run everything to a strip first, do ring terminals on every input - and that is where your label should be, on the bit going into the terminal.
From the terminal take it to the panel's breaker switch with just enough left over for a drip loop and a new splice (just in case). Don't forget to add in extra wire so you can run nice cable runs and tie wrap it up neatly.
If you wind up replacing any of the wiring my suggestion is you go up a size over the recommended gauge. It might be sacrilege, but I use the same size for everything so I only have to get two colors, hot and ground, one big spool. I specifically don't worry that I'm not using ABYC recommended colors for my lighting, equipment, yada yada.

If you plan it out it's not that big a project. If everything is run to a strip and properly fused then a circuit diagram is not needed - you know where it's run to and from.

Doing a rip and re-do allows you to organize the panel in a way that makes sense to you (i.e. lights in one place, equipment all together etc.) Take the opportunity and make it so.
I don't know what your budget is for this - but if it has an extra couple hundred it might be a good time to get a new panel with the proper sized breakers where you need them, complete with digital volt and amp meters and LED lights next to the switch. My panel runs in the 500 buck area, Blue Sea, custom laid out to how I want it.

My suggestion is once you get power to the panel and a ground bar properly wired you should do your internal lights next, then the boat's running lights.

If you are going to do this invest in a good set of tools for stripping and crimping. Cheap stuff just costs you in time and effort during the project and later when you are tracing down the inevitable bad crimp.
SailNet user MaineSail at Compass Marine "How To" Articles Photo Gallery by Compass Marine at pbase.com has a lot of how to's and posts here quite frequently on proper tools and methods. Use the search function here to find them.
It's easy to get in over your head, if so hire a certified wire jockey and have them visit and offer guidance. Bad wiring and electrical fires are one of the most common reasons boats are lost. Make sure you do the job safely and wisely. Have a fire extinguisher close by any time you energize the circuits to test.
 

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Yank it all out, then rebuild it one circuit at a time. Be careful to label everything first - I suggest a simple and inexpensive label printer...
All good advice above. I did this and the only thing I add is to re-enforce that the first thing to do is to identify all circuits and label the wires accordingly, then you can rip them out and organize as stated. To label, simple numbers will do at first, (the ones you buy at Lowes or Home Depot) being careful to write down what they are, then when you reorganize you can move on to more fancy schemes - Maine Sail at the link provided has a good article on labeling.
 

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It looks like a real mess, but a complete re-wire job is not a small task. Much of the wire in the pic looks like good quality stuff (tinned copper), and not in bad shape. I can't tell if the crimps are properly done, but I'd at least consider trying to figure it all out before ripping and starting from scratch.

Take chuckles' labeller (an essential tool!), and figure out the circuits. I'd label AND create a circuit diagram. With that done you can clean up, sort out, and simplify the system. A few terminal blocks and bus bars would do wonders.
 

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Yank it all out, then rebuild it one circuit at a time. Be careful to label everything first - I suggest a simple and inexpensive label printer
This is very good advice. I have tried to recover bad wiring jobs before, the time and effort would have been better spent just starting fresh...lesson learned hard way
 

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Dang, wire nuts, and duck tape. That Is definitely "Wall of Shame" material.

One of my first boats just had about 3 inches of the 2awg negative wire stripped and all the other negative leads wound around it with a golf ball sized wad of electrical tape.

My approach to mess's like that has been to track down and label it all. Once you have it inventoried so to speak, start at the battery/supply side and see if what you have is the correct size for your application, if it the right wire type, terminations are correct, and if its run the way it should be. Adjust or replace as needed and move on to the next circuit.

Taking a list of what you have and drawing it out with an eye on setting it up for future expansion will help you decide how much of what you have is ok and just needs to be cleaned up or if the tipping point has been met and a rip and replace scenario is better. I've done it both ways and I'll tell you that tossing an arm full of tangled, undersized, poorly terminated wires into the cockpit does feel good.

Good luck.
 

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Yank it all out, then rebuild it one circuit at a time. Be careful to label everything first - I suggest a simple and inexpensive label printer
- it can save you a lot of headache latter on.
What is known about the longevity of these labels in a typical boat environment? How long do the labels survive moist/freezing/above 100F conditions? This pertains both to the ink (fade?) and the glue that holds them together and in place.

I have used such a machine in an office environment where none of these is a problem but a boat is different. Does anyone have experience or data over many years on this?
 

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What is known about the longevity of these labels in a typical boat environment? How long do the labels survive moist/freezing/above 100F conditions? This pertains both to the ink (fade?) and the glue that holds them together and in place.

I have used such a machine in an office environment where none of these is a problem but a boat is different. Does anyone have experience or data over many years on this?
This is a good article on labeling:

Wire Labeling Photo Gallery by Compass Marine at pbase.com
 

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I use a brother P-touch that uses the TZ tapes. I've had pretty good luck with the TZS(extra strength adhesive) tape in the marine environment. I have a box of single use alcohol prep pads that I clean the wire with and I have the labeler set to flag, so the label wraps around the wire and sticks to itself.

For bigger wires I use Mainsails method of using the label and then sealing with clear heat shrink.
 

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Be careful to label everything first - I suggest a simple and inexpensive label printer
- it can save you a lot of headache latter on.
Agreed. See the link to MaineSail's article on labeling above. You'll be happy you did. The ONLY heat shrink I use that is NOT adhesive lined is the clear stuff to shrink over labels.

If you are going to do this invest in a good set of tools for stripping and crimping. Cheap stuff just costs you in time and effort during the project and later when you are tracing down the inevitable bad crimp.
SailNet user MaineSail at Compass Marine "How To" Articles Photo Gallery by Compass Marine at pbase.com has a lot of how to's and posts here quite frequently on proper tools and methods.
Agreed. MaineSail has provided a tremendous benefit to the cruising community. See Marine Wire Termination Photo Gallery by Compass Marine at pbase.com for the specific page on wire terminations.

What is known about the longevity of these labels in a typical boat environment? How long do the labels survive moist/freezing/above 100F conditions? This pertains both to the ink (fade?) and the glue that holds them together and in place.

I have used such a machine in an office environment where none of these is a problem but a boat is different. Does anyone have experience or data over many years on this?
See the MaineSail article above - clear heat shrink solves many problems. See Insultab 3002500C1A5 HS-105 1/4", 125' Clear Polyvinylchloride Heat Shrink Tubing


Oh - you may want a set of these: http://www.sears.com/craftsman-3-pc-screwdriver-set-finger-bit/p-00941390000P .
 

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What is known about the longevity of these labels in a typical boat environment? How long do the labels survive moist/freezing/above 100F conditions? This pertains both to the ink (fade?) and the glue that holds them together and in place.

I have used such a machine in an office environment where none of these is a problem but a boat is different. Does anyone have experience or data over many years on this?
I label the wires with a machine like that and then cover the label with clear heat shrink tube. Lasts a looong time.
 

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I was in a similar boat recently. Our newly purchased 1983 built vessel had absolutely atrocious wiring. Corroded, messy, worn out switches and a either a distinct lack of fusing in critical places or fuses scattered randomly all over the circuit. I have in the past ripped all the wires out of a boat and redone it entirely (3 times in fact!). If you haven't rewired a boat before you will be surprised to discover that it is one of the most complex and time consuming tasks you can do during a refit. It can also be an expensive exercise by the time you buy all the shiny new bits and pieces.

this is what I was dealing with:


That was five months ago. I needed to deliver the boat home so just patched it to make it safe and get everything working. I've since added a whole heap of replacement and new circuits but it's still a work in progress. I've promised myself to tidy up the wiring behind the panel and to replace all the original wiring that's still left "one day".

In regards to making the panel look tidy, I'm not a fan of having neat, aircraft style, bundled wires. Why? I do appreciate the professional look, but it makes it difficult both to trace an individual wire in the bundle and also to add new wires/circuits at a later stage whilst trying to retain that whole look of perfection. Instead, I prefer slotted trunking conduit to achieve the look of neatness, along with split loom tubing:


The trunking is great, although it does need more space, because it supports and hides the wires, allowing them to lay loose inside. Much easier for trouble shooting and running new wires. The non slotted stuff is good for runs as well. I use Sikaflex to glue it to wood or fibreglass.

I have used labels and those slip on numbers on wires, but I prefer to use label ties with an ultra-fine sharpie marker because I find them quick and easy to use, especially when I'm folded in half at the bottom of a locker:
 
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