On board Gizmo, the last frontier


In retrospect, it’s almost funny that the very first picture of Gizmo I published on Panbo (repeated above) highlighted that mess of wiring tucked under the circuit breaker panel. In the four years since, I’ve at least figured out, and in many cases changed or removed, nearly every electrical component on the boat. Just before I went to the Miami show it seemed like the time had come to attack what lay behind that nice little access door, but things did not go well…

My plan was to detach all the terminal strips and remount on them on a square of plywood that I could slide up behind the hinged breaker panel when I needed to change circuit configurations to install improvements like the Maretron DCR100. But as I worked through the access door and from behind the breaker panel, I realized that there were more terminal strips down there than I anticipated. Plus it became clear that the person who did the original wiring somehow had much more access to the space than I did… 


As you can see above, the situation deteriorated as I detached more and more terminal blocks and cable hangers. I created an even worse mess of wiring that I still couldn’t pull up or out of that cavity, even after I removed the companionway stairs and the access door frame. Drastic action was required…


I had to cut a much larger access hole in poor Gizmo! And, yes, I do wish that I’d done it before detaching most of the terminal blocks. I also wish that the original installer hadn’t laid such a booby trap, but I’ll try to remember how easy the rest of the boat’s wiring is to access.
   At any rate, I ended up re-installing many of the terminal blocks and am not done yet. But guts of Gizmo’s wiring is finally fully accessible and thus ready for upgrading. The photo below shows how I left things when I headed back north on Friday. The DCR100 will of course get more feeds and a permanent mount in the lower section, and the CZone power distribution and switching box is ready for circuit feeds. If you compare the top photo with this one you’ll see how many components have been removed — like the second 30 amp shore power feed and the various switches needed to integrate it. The picture will probably make a professional installer shudder, but I think it’s safer and more rational than it may look.
   But it will be a few weeks until I get back to this project and couple others I’ve made room for. Most of that time I’ll be home in Maine but I took a significant detour en route. Check my DeLorme inReach page. I’m in Las Palmas just about to experience a B&G product launch and demo. I will report on that soon.


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

10 Responses

  1. paul shard paul shard says:

    Wow Ben you are brave!
    On board Distant Shores II (and our previous boats) I try to keep the wiring organized and labelled. But we built our first boat ourselves, and bought the others new so there wasn’t time for someone else (enthusiastic amateur) to lay any “booby-traps” as you say. It seems the more people work on a boat the more this happens.
    Great idea making the access door bigger. Next is labelling and organizing?
    Good luck!
    BTW our current boat “Distant Shores II” has an Empirbus distributed wiring system and therefore doesn’t have any such large concentration of wiring. One of today’s projects is to add a switch to turn on the anchor washdown pump, from back at the helm. Adding this switch will be done purely in software. No wiring. Just using the software I will configure the spare panel membrane switch at the helm to activate the bow pump…
    I just found Nigel Calder had done a video review of our model of boat (Southerly 49) highlighting the distributed power system.
    Perhaps Gizmo will get a distributed power system in the future? 😉

  2. Michael says:

    I sympathize Ben. Been there and done that.
    Just make sure you put some kind of unique tag on each end of each piece of wire (white shrink tube works well — mark with a sharpie).

  3. Bill Bishop says:

    At first look, OMG Ben, but after blowing up the pic my eye says it looks worse then it actually is. It just takes time and patience to sort out all of the spaghetti, and Gizmo will be better for the surgery. I’d say good luck, but I know you have the ability.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am building a 40ft steel trawler. After owning a few boats with wiring that looked like Gizmo’s I decided to put in conduit everywhere. I used (generously sized) round conduit and access boxes for long runs, and around the panels i used the square conduit with a lid like in the pic below. It keeps things organized and makes is easy to add/remove/rewire things. All the cables are nicely supported and neat. I also invested in an industrial handheld label printer that prints on heat shrink tubing.
    The whole thing turned out pretty organized.

  5. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    When cosmetic surgery becomes open heart surgery, it sure is lucky for Gizmo her owner is a pro.

  6. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Oh, pshaugh! fiddlesticks! and tsk,tsk,tsk. You have it easy, Ben!
    ALL* the cables on a PDQ 36 run through a single 2 square inch chase with a hidden 90 degree bend, submerged in salty back spray from drip holes under the bridge deck! It is packed tighter than a desiccated California Sushi roll, and just as fragile. What makes it worse are the dead cable bundles someone re-purposed for subsequent generations of Marine electronics. And its time for gen4 wiring. AAARrrrghhhh!
    * Page 83 is an elderly (1993) catamaran equipped with everything electronic anybody ever thought of stuffing into a floating platform, and a lot of things wiser men would avoid. And everything worked (momentarily) at one time or another:
    AC, DC, antennae, NMEA 0183 duplicating N2K, Seatalk, NTSC, Garmin network, speaker wires, radar, night vision, ethernet, and a nearly equal amount of unidentifiables.
    So many toys and so little time left in the day!

  7. Philipp says:

    That looks familiar! 😉 I actually ended up ripping everything out and I am now in the process of installing an E-T-A bus system. It saves me having to run everything back and forth from the switch panel and it also saves a lot of weight. This is one area where new technology really shines and is useful even on a smallish 38′ HR.

  8. Jeffrey Orling says:

    WOW! I faced a similar nightmare and have the pics to show for it. It took a long time to sort it all out and in the end it’s probably only marginally better. There are simply too many wires from too many pieces of equipment which all are wanting to be in the same relatively small area.
    What I did do… is create drawings which are not schematics but include the color of the wire in most cases so I can look at it all and refer to the drawing.
    I don’t see how this can be done neatly in such a compact space. But organization and order is really important for trouble shooting.

  9. Peter C. says:

    As a marine tech I have nightmares that look like that.
    Am sooo glad I built my own boat which meant wiring it all myself.

  10. peter says:

    I have always said “You don’t do boat repairs. You do boat archeology”

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