What’s the Big Deal About Wiring?

What’s the big deal about boat wiring?

Bad Wiring

I’ve been asked for years by clients and friends alike “What’s the big deal about boat wiring?” so I decided to put down my ideas on the subject once and for all. There are three things that distinguish  great wiring from the mediocre; organization, materials, and time.

Another Example of Bad Wiring

More bad wiring

OrganizationThe first and most noticeable to the eye is the organization of the wiring; this serves both an aesthetic and functional purpose. Clean wiring just looks better; and is not a source of embarrassment. This is particularly important to boat owners like myself that keep their boats showroom clean at all times unless we are fishing.  But, the more important purpose is functional as a marine rigger and a mechanic it can be a nightmare to troubleshoot and repair electrical problems when you can’t tell what wire goes where.  What about if you have a problem and have to hire someone to fix it. Be prepared to pay extra time to that person to first figure out your wiring then to fix it. They also won’t be an incentive for that person to do a good job amidst terrible wiring.

Beautiful wiring

Probably harder to detect but even more important than organization is the quality of the materials used to wire a boat. In the marine world there are three things we check to judge the quality of material used.

  • The Wire itself
  • Heat Shrink
  • Connections and Connectors

Well organized wiring

There are many different kinds of wiring you’ll find in boats, including wire that should never be found in boats like household wire. But the kind you want is tinned cooper wire, this wire is specially made for marine applications because it’s copper dipped in tin. The tin coating protects the wire from corrosion since tin doesn’t corrode. However, this is hard to determine if you are checking the wiring without cutting the wire.

Tinned Wire

The next vital area of concern are the connections which must be protected from corrosion wherever there is a break in the wire for a connection those connections must be sealed. The most effective way we have found to seal these areas is using a quality marine grade heat shrink such as Ancor. There are many grades but the marine grade distinguishes itself not just in cost but it’s lined with an adhesive which spills out a bit when heated to prevent water from leaching in to the connection.

Ancor Heat Shrink

The third factor to consider are the connections between two pieces of wire; to begin there should never be any butted connectors no matter how well done. This is evidence of lazy and careless work, a butt connection links two pieces of wiring together instead of using one solid piece cut to the right length.

Next is the type of terminating connectors, certain types of connectors don’t hold up as well under use and salt water. In particular blade and spade connectors aren’t recommended as they corrode or break easily. The best kind of connectors are eyelet style connectors, they are the sturdiest connectors and seal the best with heat shrink.


The time factor and that which tends to influence whether the above methods are employed or not, is that doing quality work takes more time and money. Sadly, most customers think of a wiring and rigging as a commodity and thus don’t see the value of paying a little more to have the work done right using quality components. The result we see more often than not is that marine shops do the work as cheaply as they can. Because customers aren’t sufficiently educated to spot mediocre work over true craftsmanship, marine shops have a hard time justifying the cost difference.

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