I spent pretty much 2 days solid getting my electrical and electronics installed. The previous owner(s) took very creative license with the way things were wired. In the 12 years we've owned Soñadora, I hadn't really looked that much at the electrical systems. Each time I considered it and looked, I was afraid it would have made me insane. It was the epitomy of a rats nest. This image is the 'stock' panel from the yard. The original wiring is shown in the lower right of the image. This was very simple wiring at first, consisting of about 10 breakers and mostly operated lights including nav lights as well as the bilge pump. It was a funky way to install with a teak retainer of some kind. All the common hot sides were soldered. Not a terrible way of doing it, but a real hassle if you ever wanted to change. Which is why I guess the P.O. decided to install several distribution blocks and busbars in random locations throughout.
Granted, there are much, much worse examples out there, but this was bad enough, thanks. When I first considered tackling this job, I just assumed I was going to add a few breakers, but when I pulled the panels off and tried to figure out where in the world to tap into, I gave up. The only real conclusion was that I would need to take out all the wiring and start from scratch.
While the previous wiring you see here was 'functional', there were all sorts of things that were done without much regard to best practices or even common sense. I did not like the fact that much of the wire was just tossed into a tangled mess at the bottom a locker where dirt and water could collect (especially under the wet locker). Nothing was labeled and many wires were spliced together in different colors, sometimes even red to black! There was also a lot of wiring needlessly running through the engine compartment.
But I have to say one of the most concerning items I uncovered was a 'splice' which consisted of two 2 AWG cables connected with a bolt/nut. These were then wrapped with a great deal of electrical tape. That in turn had been covered at some point with a piece of hose and wire ties. This cable was the main hot cable going to the starter. The icing on the cake was that while the cable coming from the starter is red, the cable it had been 'spliced' to was black! Nevermind the red shrink tube attached to the lug in an attempt to specify this as hot. The shrink tube had been covered up with black electrical tape. The black cable was some sort of welding cable. It was not tinned and the sheathe on the outside was crumbling. When I bent the cable slightly, it cracked revealing the copper wire inside. I replaced all battery cables with proper, CONTINUOUS battery cables and where necessary terminated them on proper posts with covers.
The previous wiring had several disparate areas of wiring. There was the main panel that had been put in at the TaShing yard in Taiwan. It consisted of 6 or 8 breakers to control lights and pressure pump. Then there was an added panel for additional lights and other items. This was mounted to a thin piece of plywood that blocked out the entire shelf next to the nav station. Then there was the 120V panel with 4 breakers.
I designed a single panel that consolidated all these items plus added many more. I designed this panel using SolidWorks. I sent the design to FrontPanelExpress.com (a fantastic tip I learned about from Sailing Anarchy). This was after a very lame attempt to manufacture the panel myself out of a sheet of aluminum. The panel turned out GREAT!
My strategy was to use the panel to distribute the hot side of my electrical needs down to a locker where I would wire everything up in two NEMA cases. One case for 12V and one for 120V. It was a bit of a challenge getting all the wiring to behave nicely in those cases, but I managed to do it and it wasn't quote as chaotic as the previous wiring scheme.
Wiring was straightforward and after a while I had the sequence pretty well figured out. The majority of the panel is wired with 14ga tinned wire or 2-14ga duplex wire. The duplex wire is great for running the wires where you need them, but I have to say in hind sight I think individiual wires are a better way to go. The ease of runs for duplex wire is offset by the hassle of stripping off the sheathe and making sure your leads are long enough. Then, when wiring up the terminal strips and buss bars, the beefy sheathe on the duplex wire started getting in the way.
I terminated most of my wires with heat shrink connectors. I purchased two of West Marine's heat shrink connector 'kits'. In hindsight, I would do better to have just ordered 100 of the yellow (12-10 ga) and 100 of the blue (16-14 ga) terminals. I ran out of shrink terminals and luckily had some non-shrink terminals available. Still, I'm pretty happy how it all turned out.
After several weeks of delays due to other priorities on board, I finally had a full weekend to get the electrical stuff done. I managed to install all of my electronics except for my instruments. I hope to get those installed next time I'm at the boat over Labor Day weekend. We will then be able to enjoy a few weekends on the boat before it will be time to button her down for the winter...