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How do I avoid wiring issues?

2017 May 1

Dear Boat Doctor,

I recently had to connect some bare stripped wires to a terminal strip, the kind where you put the wire in the hole and tighten down the screw. That seemed easy enough but it snowballed into two days of frustrating work. My first problem was that one of the connections was loose, that was easy to find. The second involved a stray strand that jumped from one terminal spot to the next, and I searched for that problem for days. How do I avoid this kind of headache in the future?

Barrett Gillespie

San Diego, California

Dear Barrett,

I have been there myself. One little strand can be hard to find, especially when the terminal is in a dark location buried in some locker. Thankfully there is a solution and it doesn’t cost much. 

Wire ferrules are little tubes that you slide onto the wire and crimp in place. In effect it makes a stranded wire into a solid one that will slip right into a terminal strip. The set screw on the terminal will bite into it positively, and the ferrule will keep the strands in check.

You can get a nice little kit, with a variety of ferrules and a crimper, for about $30. 

While I’m on the subject of wire and cable management aboard, I am going to use my soapbox to make a plea for proper labeling of cables. I have spent many an hour digging through piles of unmarked cables trying to figure out how things are hooked up. Perhaps it serves me right that I was responsible for some of the messes I have been forced to sort out.

Please label any connection that you make on your boat. It may seem obvious when you’re hooking it up that the two-conductor wire from your radio to your chartplotter is the NMEA0183 connection providing AIS data from the radio to your plotter, but it may not be to the next guy (or you, a year from now). Labels on each of the cables, and even a notebook with diagrams, will be really valuable in the future.

There are some nice labelmakers on the market and you can pick one and some tape up for less than $50.

And why not label some other things while you are at? Do you know what all your through-hulls are for at a glance? Does everyone on your crew? Labeling the compartment where you store your safety gear is a good idea too. 

With everything labeled, an emergency sheet is a great idea. Make a sheet showing the location of all the through-hulls, electrical shutoffs, fire extinguishers, ditch bag, life jackets and other safety gear and mount it somewhere obvious. Your crew will really appreciate it if and when the time comes.

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