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A questionable Rewiring job

Hi all,

I recently had a boat fire on my Morgan 38. I had just finished SO much work on the boat, and this really was kick between the legs. Luckily, insurance kicked in and covered most of the cost, but at about $18k, I'm not happy with the job my electrician did. I refuse to work with him again, so I've posted some pictures, and I'm hoping you all can answer some questions below.
Much thanks.

I've named the photos below to correspond to my questions:

"Wire connection": it looks as if my electrician just bolted to large gauge wires together. This wire is connecting my new battery monitor to my main bus bar coming off my house batteries. Should he have soldered these wires together? Is this a fire hazard? Will it cause more unnecessary resistance? Also, I have enough slack to directly connect this wire right to the bus bar. Is there any reason NOT to do this?

"Back of electrical panel": The wiring seems too exposed for my liking? Or am I just paranoid? My thought was to spray the heck out of the back of the panel with some T-9 as the electrician didn't use any shrink wrap around the connections. Or would this make more of a mess? Is it safe to do this?

"Electrolysis?": This is a picture of my retrofitted centerboard cable conduit. This is what brings it up and down. I believe my electrician cut the cables that run around the boat that seem to "ground" or protect objects like this from eroding. For example this, my through hulls, and stuffing box have this green color building on them. Is this normal? I'm not sure what the wiring system is called that was connected to all of these objects to keep them from eroding, but it seems as if it's not connected any more. The red wire in the picture is what seems to be disconnected. Sorry, I don't know much about this particular project, so I feel like my explanation is lacking.

"Water Intrusion?": After he finished all this work, I began to see what looked like a leak form on the fiberglass under the battery compartments. The fiberglass is crusting up and it is beginning to wick its way toward the sole. Is this water? Or is this left over battery acid from my old 8Ds? Is this normal wear on the boat? I've never seen anything like it.

"Bilge Pump?": This pump is right next to my engine, but I can't seem to find where the hoses lead to. Would this be a bilge pump in the engine room? Is this a common set up on Morgans, or should I take it out and proof up my pumps down in the bilge?

"What is this?": Just like the image says, I don't know what this is. Any help? Just trying to figure out if my electrician did a hack job, or if my electric IQ is just a little low.

Thanks for all the help!
 

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mpearson

Mark Pearson
Staff member
Hi Hunter - I'm sorry to hear about your fire. I don't remember if you've posted on here about it ... how did it start?
We've got some great resources on this forum like Jim Cleary (who is a bonafide electrician) so you'll probably get some good input soon.
I recently saw some photos of your boat in the Media area of this site - very beautiful! And you have a pretty cool looking dog too (!).
Thanks!
-Mark
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Hunter

You didn't say what the cause of the fire was. Has it ever been pinpointed to the place or means of origin? Is all the wiring in the photos new work?

I am not an ABYC certified boat electrician. I was a Union trained electrician in New York City for 37 years. By the time the ABYC standards came around, it was too late to teach old dogs new tricks. But I have owned my Morgan for 33 years now and have rewired 98% of the electrical systems on the boat. As I have stated many times over the years, the electrical systems on the Morgans, both 12V and 110V, were of bare minimum quality and quantity when they came out of the factory. The 110V system, by any code or standard, was down right dangerous. That all being said, most owners have replaced and rewired the electrical systems over the years.

From your photos I can make a few observations:
The wire connection with the ring terminals and the bolt is a legitimate method of connecting larger wires. What needs to be done there is for the bolt to be covered with insulation equal to the quality of the insulation encasing the wire. To do that enough rubber tape is wound around the exposed metal parts until all metal is covered with a thick layer. It is them covered with a plastic electrical tape to protect the rubber tape from abrasion and chemicals. I would replace the wing nut with a hex nut as it will allow the connection to be made tighter with two wrenches. A better way to do a splice like that would be a large enough terminal block to handle the cable and bolt size. I posted a photo of such a block. A terminal block like that will keep the connection(s) in a secure position and not prone to movement and vibration.

Something that concerns me that I can't see in your photo is the means of crimping of the ring terminals of the larger cables. I will talk more about that later . My wife and I are heading out to work on the boat now to get her ready for the water.

Jim
 

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jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Hunter

Back again. A great day working on the boat. It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day with temps over 70 degrees. Still don't know when the yard will be launching.

Crimping wires and cables correctly is very important. If not done right the crimp could end up loose which creates a high resistance and heat. High resistance will cause a higher flow of electricity, which will create heat, maybe to the point of starting a fire. Wires up to AWG (American Wire Gauge) #10 can be crimped with a hand tool. The enclosed photos are of a Thomas & Betts sta-kon crimper. Two things to notice: the part the does the crimping has a half circle on one side and a mating tit opposite. The half circle holds the sta-kon body and the tit is crushes the copper of the body into the copper of the wire. If you look at the body of a sta-kon you will see a seam on one side. The tit of the tool should always enter on the side away from the seam. the other thing to notice on the tool is that the pivot point is very close to the crimping aperture and that the handles are relatively long. That pivot point and the handles give the tool a very good mechanical advantage. For this reason I would advise this tool for crimping only up to #10 wire. The type of crimping tool that just flattens the sta-kon between two flat surfaces does not do a good job of crushing the copper body into the copper strands of the wire.

Any wire or cable fitting larger then that will require much more mechanical advantage. For that you will need a hydraulic or electrical crimping tool (Hy-Press). Unless you are the Incredible Hulk, you will not be able to apply the needed pressure to make a solid crimp by hand. I have had good success using a bolt driven swagging tool to crimp larger cables. On Dana the largest cables that were needed were AWG #2 for the batteries and AWG #2/0 for the windlass feed wires. The swagging tool did the job with the help of a small vice to hold everything steady. As I had said, if the crimp is not tight enough, you are asking for trouble.

To go along with crimping any sized wire, you need to protect the wire strands from oxidation and corrosion. If you are using marine grade tinned wire at 4 times the cost there is little you need to do. If you are using standard untinned stranded wire, it needs to be coated or tinned before the crimping process. Tinning can be done with a soldering gun to melt solder into the exposed strands of the wire before crimping. Two products that work very well for coating are called "Coppercoat" and "Penetrox". Both are available from a good electrical supply house. I don't know if Home Depot or Lowe's will carry them. I use the Coppercoat, a small tube will last a lifetime, by dipping the exposed end of the wire into the stuff before the crimp. After the crimp just wipe away the excess and your done. It will also seal where the wire enters back into it's insulation to prevent creep. Put on a stick on number, "Brady Tag", and some clear heat shrink tube over the wire, number, and the sta-kon and you are done.

Looking at your other photos the only thing I can see is that the job was not done in a neat and organized fashion. On any kind of vessel, vibration is an enemy. Loose and unsecured wires will eventually try and maybe succeed to loosen the connection the wire has with a terminal block or piece of equipment. If your boats wiring is ty-rapped, bundled and secured, any vibration will be stifled and fittings stay tight and secure. Neat wiring systems are also much easier to troubleshoot when a problem arises. That's also the reason for adding numbers on any wire that's added to the boat. Just be sure that both ends of the wire gets the same number, Don't ask me how I found out about that.

The object in your "What Is This" photo is a solenoid. It is an electrically controlled switch. The unit like the one in the photo usually is found in the automotive field. On a boat this might be used to switch a high amperage load to a windlass using only a small amperage toggle switch. I would try to trace the wires to see where they go to. Then draw out the system so that you can troubleshoot late on. I would also keep an eye on the automotive type switch, it might not be up to handling the marine environment. If it appears to be rusting, find an alternative.

I hope this helps you somewhat. I am always willing to help with questions. Just ask.

Jim
 

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Travis

Member
Hunter,

I agree it seems untidy...like the guy was in a hurry. Like Jim said, even if the wires do their job electronically, supporting and protecting them is the other half of the battle. The good news is you can pick up where he left off. I would get in there and add a few zip ties...especially near the belt in your photo labeled “bilge pump”. Here is a sketch of where I’d add them:
E5CE9E26-14E3-4749-92F2-D6779C86A9BB.jpeg

I also noticed a wire whose jacket appears to be damaged:
56AE6BA7-6AC8-4FDE-92E0-9E01BC75E49A.jpeg
 
Mark,
Thanks! We love her. And we like our dog, too, haha. The fire started after I rewired my alternator. After inspection the surveyor found that it was no fault of mine (which gave me some relief), but it was due to old wiring and corrosion. The fire leapt from the alternator, down through the engine room, and then up to the indicator panel. First time I'd ever discharged a fire extinguisher inside a boat. Hopefully the last.

Jim,
Thank you for the input. It is definitely helpful, and I'm sure I'll have more questions.
Can I find rubber tape at a hardware store, just as I would electrical tape?
I'll move forward with the hex nut. Good call. I traced the solenoid, and you were right. It is connected to my water pump which seems to draw more as it's a bit old. The #ing is a great idea. I'm gutting all old wiring now and will add that to my to-do list.

Do you have any thoughts on what looks like water intrusion? Is that what I'm seeing cake up on the fiber glass in the picture above?
Also, I bought a can of T-9. Is it safe to coat everything behind the panel with it, or is overkill?

Lastly, I attach one last picture. It seems my electrician has cut many of what I believe are grounding wires. I see my centerboard "stuffing box" as well as many through hulls are turning green and the wires that used to be connected to them are now gone. In the picture I'll post, you'll see a red wire that is corroded and attached to nothing. It seems like there was once a system of wires that connect all through hulls. Any thoughts there?

Travis, good eye on that jacket. Thanks.
 
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mpearson

Mark Pearson
Staff member
Hunter, when you say that the “water intrusion” photo is the area “under the battery compartment”, I’m not clear what you mean. Our battery compartment floor is the inside of the hull, I think. We have lined it with plastic battery boxes to keep acid from the batteries off the fiberglass.

The white crusty stuff looks like battery acid crud like what I’d see on car batteries back in the day. Sulfation around the terminals. I haven’t seen sulfation that spread out before.

But there is a dark streak running thru the photo that looks like water? I can’t really tell where on the boat that is. Is it coming from the engine compartment? If it is salt water, could the white stuff be salt?
 
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jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Hunter
I agree totally with Mark. Could your batteries be broken and leaking. You might want to pull the batteries and check their housings. Also, where is the "Water Intrusion" taken? I can't recognize the angle and where it was taken.

Rubber tape will only be found in an electrical supply house. It's an old school product that may be a bit hard to find. An alternative to that is a product called "Scotch Pads". They are square (or rectangle) pads of thick rubber that can be moulded around a "bug" connection then covered with plastic electrical tape. While you are at the supply house, pick up "Coppercoat" to coat your wires at their connections.

That red wire near the shaft stuffing box looks too big to have been part of a ground or bonding system. I would suggest you trace that wire back to it's other end to see where it originates. The green crud on the bronze stuffing box looks to be the metals reaction to a salt water bath. If the metal was experiencing an electron loss (electrolysis) it would appear to take on a pinkish color. I would suggest you wire brush or wire wheel the fitting down to clean metal, check the color then and then coat it with a light coat of a lubricant such as Boeshield T9 or Super Lube. If electrolysis is apparent, you might want to check the electrical system on the dock where the boat is kept.

Jim
 
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The picture was taken under the boxes for my two starter batteries. I've installed 3 Series-27 batteries under the nav table for my house batteries. I used to have to 8d batts as house batteries and they were leaking and corroding with the hot South Florida weather. I got rid of them, but this looks to be left over damage. Now that you mention battery acid, that makes way more sense. I'm scraping it away and will shopVac it out.

I've traced that red wire and it leads to nothing. It looked to be hose clamped to that green-ing stuffing box (used to house my cable for lowering and raising my centerboard). I'll do what you suggest and see what I find.

I found another trouble spot today that's giving me another wave of anxiety. As I prepared to re-organize all the wiring and make it look clean and neat, I noticed many of the wires my electrician used start with a larger gauge and then connect to smaller gauge wires. Is this best practice or common? He connected them with shrink wrap connectors, but I'm noticing that near the section of wire where he connected them, there is darkening coloration. Is it excess heat burning the insulation? Am I in danger of another fire?

Jim, I also went out and purchased your suggested tools for the job. Much appreciated. They work great.
 

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jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Hunter

Now I understand why I didn't recognize the photo of "water intrusion", your boat is a Charlie Morgan 38. The mention of the centerboard gave it away. In any event, it makes no difference. The photo of the wires with the blackening marks is troubling. To me that says the crimping for the enclosed butt splices is suspect and they are allowing heat to build up. That is dangerous. Another cause may be an overload of the current flowing in the wires due to too small wires or the device they are operating is drawing too much current. The first thing I would do is redo the butt splices over properly.

The butt splice joining the white and green wire may or may not be a problem. If the wires are definitely two different AWG sizes, then that is a no-no and needs to be totally replaced. Remember: each different wire size is designed to carry a specific amperage: #14=15amp, #12=20amp , #10=30amp, etc. Two different wire sizes shall not be spliced together. Then again it may be that the wire sizes are the same but the insulation on each may be different. Different insulations may be of different diameters which in your case may appear to be different size wires. If your splice in the photo is that way then the splice is fine (if crimped correctly) and the insulation value has to be judged by the lesser value of the insulation. It certainly is not a good practice to mix insulation values, and mixing wire colors could lead to confusion when troubleshooting, but there shouldn't be a danger of a disaster.

The question of the mysterious red wire is still unanswered. Grounding and/or bonding thruhulls and other underwater metals is an issue that excites as many different opinions as does the upcoming political voting. Some say you are damned if you do and others say your damned if you don't. I would like to advise you to do some research on the subject, read both sides of the argument, then make your own decisions.

Jim
 
Jim,
I was afraid you were gonna say that. I'm okay with redoing the butt splices, but I'm seeing the same issue on many of the wires, and after spending close to 20K on this job I feel I've been taken for a ride. Thank you again for the feedback. I'm diving back down there now to make a decision about how to move forward. Hopefully will have good news at some point.

I found a reputable electrician nearby, so I'm going to have him diagnose the issue and eyeball the overall project to see what he thinks. Wish me luck!
 
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Wow Hunter!
I haven't said anything yet but as you realize by now there are a number of issues. I'm sorry to hear of the troubles.
I am not a ABYC electrician by any stretch of the imagination. I do work with Custom, Vintage cars and do some wiring. Typically a complete wiring job with no computer type stuff (remember vintage) is about $1500 to $2000. And about a weeks work. I know in many ways our boats are vastly more complicated but can't imagine a wiring job like yours, and at that price. I am so sorry to see this.
I know I'm not much help and others will provide more knowledge. I hope you can get this sorted out.
Mitchell
 

mpearson

Mark Pearson
Staff member
Hunter, my advise to you (and my wife would snort if she heard me saying this) is to not sweat the small stuff. I’d have the new (and hopefully good) electrician help you find and fix anything that could be ’dangerous’. There are so many things that might not be totally “proper” but are fine, and frankly might be better than the original wiring. A “zero compromise” approach could be very expensive and might not necessarily be safer.

For example, butt splices of different size wires: if the device on the load side has smaller wire, then it might actually be conservative if the upstream wire is bigger. It might not be to “spec” but would I pay to rip it out and change it? Probably not. Here again, my wife would snort because she knows about my OCD and I can get carried away with improvements. I’d make sure the line had a fuse/breaker for the smaller diameter wire. Jim probably disagrees with this kind of a compromise, being a real (and good, I’m sure) electrican.

I guess my point is to enjoy your boat. You’ve been through 2 boat traumas: 1) the fire, then 2) the uncertainty of your electrician’s work. I’d recommend that you ensure that nothing is dangerous, but then go enjoy yourself. :)

Also, boat-based electric work is expensive, much more so than dirt-based electric work. So don’t beat yourself up too much. If our boats are rewired, I think the price you paid is in the right ballpark. Hopefully you’ve picked up on the “boat buck” concept. A boat buck is of unknown value but rumored to be around $1k, so you’ve only spent 18 boat bucks. That doesn’t sound nearly as bad as spending $18,000, eh? It is unfortunate that you need to worry about the quality too, and hopefully the new electrician can help you quickly resolve that. Then go enjoy yourself!

Keep us posted on how it goes.
Cheers,
-Mark

PS: I do recommend washing your hands and wearing a mask, even though I (might) tolerate irregular butt splices. ;) (attempted pandemic humor)
 
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jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Hunter
As Mark indicates, don't let the electrical problems overtake you and your plans. There isn't a great deal of electrical stuff needed to go out and enjoy sailing the boat. Start with the batteries and work outward. Add on systems as you go along. As you slowly work on the wiring you'll find it isn't that difficult to become proficient. What you will find is that it is a very time consuming process to do the work correctly. I couldn't begin to guess at the number of hours I have spent rewiring Dana. If I had to give myself an hourly wage for that time, it would be well below minimum wage. But we do it for the love of the boat. So do what needs to be done to make the boat safe and go out sailing.

Also as Mark remarks, boat work is a area where being a little OCD is to be considered a good thing. The posted photo is of the 12V terminals behind the panel. Shows you how bad my OCD is.

Jim
 

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Jim,
That might be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen haha. It really does look great, and well done.
I appreciate all the words of encouragement. I'm far from frustrated and still in love with Arawak, but I will have a word with the electrician once this is all sorted. I have an appointment for next week and am looking forward to what he will tell me and what I will learn. I will say, I've been learning so much, and I love it. I'm thinking I'm about to an AA now; hopefully I'll wind up with another Master's.

Mark,
I think that sounds like a sound plan. I hope NOT to rip everything out. Maybe it'll just be proofing up a few spots here and there, and I'll be on to the next project in no time. And then, to go sailing!

Not sure how many Morgan owners are down this way, but Arawak plans to be in the Florida Keys for most of the summer (God and electrician willing).
 

mpearson

Mark Pearson
Staff member
Oh my gosh, Jim, those terminals are a thing of beauty! I’ve been telling Suz I wanted to do something like that and you might have just fired up my OCD. Wow, all the numbers and zip ties. Amazing!
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Mark

Thanks. And I always thought I was the only one with creative OCD. Bonnie believes I'm crazy but she lets me run with it.

Jim
 

dave_a

Dave Ahlers
You ARE crazy Jim. God bless Bonnie.
But I'd like to buy your boat when your done with it. " Loved and done right" is rare in the used boat market.
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Dave

Thanks. With sincere apologies to Keefer Douglas and his family, Bonnie and I have decided to hold on to Dana for a few more years. But when we do decide to let her go, we'll post it here first on the Board. We may not have any real long journeys left in us but we are looking forward to getting back up to Maine again. This summer looks to be a lot of local gunk holing and just hanging out with good books, good food, good wine, good rum and maybe some other good stuff. Hopefully we'll be able to share it all with good friends.

Jim
 
Haha, when the day comes that Dana finally does change hands, I will be first in line to congratulate whoever that lucky sailor may be on money well spent!
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Keefer
Thank you. I want you to know that I feel bad that the timing didn't work out for making a transaction at the time.

Jim
 
Update on the wiring situation:

I had another electrician come over to take a look. Turns out he is a friend of my father and will do a lot of work with me and teach me along the way. Secondly, he found that most of the work was not done to ABYC code, so he will write a report that I can use to attempt to recover some of the money I spend from the previous electrician. I'll be installing a new breaker panel, rewiring some of the shoddy connections, installing new bilge pumps, and continuing to clear old wiring. Hopefully I'll have a picture like Jim's with a beautiful set up soon enough.

As a side note, my new neighbor has a Morgan 38' 1969. Same boat as me! He's much wiser and has some years on me, so I've had a great time comparing boats and talking shop with him.
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Hunter
Sounds like you have someone who can give you solid advise and can lead you out of your difficulties. If I could make a suggestion? Since you are going to build and install a new panel, Plan on installing a good number of fuse holders with switches in your panel to be used for your electronics. The smallest 12V circuit breaker is usually 5 amps. Your electronics rarely needs more the 1 amp rating for circuit interruption. On Dana's panel (photo) the bottom row are all fuses for VHF, Depth sounders, Radar, Instruments, chart plotter, stereo, usb plugs, etc. All the rest are circuit breakers for pumps, lighting, refrigeration, heat, autopilot, etc. The fuses will better protect your finer loads.

Jim
 

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Jim,
I like that idea. I do have quite a few fuses on my current panel just like that, but I've already ordered a 12 position DC Breaker Panel. Not sure if I can configure that in the panel, but I'll have space to add if needed along the side of the panel. I think that's where I can fit the fuses. I worked for a few hours with my father today on installing some new bilge pumps and after talking with him and re-reading our thread here, I'm feeling a bit better about the situation. All that wiring looking like a rat's nest was overwhelming and maddening at first, but I've learned more about it and for that I'm thankful. I'll hope to have some updated photos to share in a couple weeks once everything is here and work begins.
 

rickdowe2

Richard Dowe
Jim, I was admiring the fuse panel. I don’t recall looking at it when I was on your boat but than again there was so many interesting things to look at. What do the different color indicator lights mean?
Rick
 

jimcleary

James M. Cleary
Hi Rick
Before the project I ended up with a collection of idiot lights, in three colors, from a commercial switch gear rebuild. The main thought was that any circuit that was to remain on through the night, cabin lights, water pump, bilge pump, stereo, etc, have a red light. That way there would not be a vision destroying light in the cabin at night. The green lights were designated for the electronics and the yellow for things that were only used short term. It works out well because I can check with a glance to see that only the five red circuits needed are on before turning in. Again another example of my creative OCD.

Jim
 
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