Rewiring the Mast


rewiring the mast

When Belle came home with us, she had well-weathered wiring hanging out of the bottom of the mast. The steaming light wires were loose and stripped, as to be wire nutted to the loose and stripped wires poking out of the cabin roof. The VHF wire insulation cracked and the sheild partially showing. We needed some weather-tight fittings to seal up the cabin roof and make proper connections to the mast. We also wanted to add an anchor light to the top of the mast so I decided while I was at it I would add some spreader lights to illuminate the deck if needed. Here is how we went about rewiring the mast.

The first step was to order a through-deck fitting. I got a chrome-plated brass job with four conductors. One for the common ground, one for the anchor light, one for the steaming light, and one for the spreader lights.

The next step was to get a new wire. I ordered a small spool of 16g outdoor speaker wire with four conductors. Conveniently, it has a white jacket so it blends in nice with the off white gel coat. This also just fit into the rubber grommet of the connector I bought as well.

Measuring The Mast for New Wiring Harness

I then set about cutting and soldering the wire into a harness. I measured from the foot of the mast to the spreader arms, to the steaming light, and to the top for the anchor light. I then cut and stripped the jacket back to the lowest “branch” , that being the spreaders. From here I soldered and shrink wrapped another piece of the same color wire for the other spreader (red) as well as another two lengths of white (the color for ground elsewhere in the boat) the length of the spreaders at the height of the spreaders. I then trimmed the steaming light wire (green) to length and soldered and shrink wrapped another while ground lead onto the main ground line for the steaming light. Finally, the rest of the white wire and the last color (black) for the anchor wire was left to go the full height of the mast.

I used some electrical tape to keep groups of wires together neatly and add more protection to the soldered joints, even though they had shrink tube on them.

Because the mast had no provision for spreader lights, I had to make holes for the wires. The safest solution seemed to be drilling holes at the base of each spreader tube inside of the casting that holds the spreader tubes to the mast. This area is naturally reinforced by this casting so a hole underneath it should have little impact. I also affixed the spreader lights to the spreaders and drilled a hole in the spreader tube just inboard of the lights for the wire to exit. Somehow, I got confused about wich side was up vs. down when drilling the second spreader tube on the starboard side as I drilled the hole in the top rather than the bottom [facepalm].

Mast Installation

The casting at the foot of the mast is not inclined to be removed. I tried turning the screws but they won’t budge even with the impact driver. Fortunately, although it has much more stuff connected to it, the masthead comes off easily with only a single through-bolt. With the bolt removed, the upper shrouds let to hang, and the halyards loosened, the masthead and a bunch of bees nests (empty) came out easily. The sheaves for the halyards and some casting features were in the way of centering the anchor light, so I set it off to one side, drilling a small hole to pass the wires through. I soldered and shrink wrapped the anchor light onto the end of the new harness I made at this point.

Next was to pull the old steaming light wire out. I needed a way to pull each set of wires out of their respective holes. These holes are quite small, averaging about 1″ in diameter. This small of a hole would prove infuriating to fish a wire out with a hook or something. So I decided to fish pull string through each hole to the masthead. This fish string would then be taped to the wire that was supposed to come out that hole. This way, I could pull all four strings and have the correct wire pop out where it needed to be. A little more footwork, but far less aggravation.

As it turned out, I could not find my spool of pull string (I am certain I have a plastic tube of it somewhere in the crap-heap) so I had to resort to using expensive thermostat wire since time was pressing. with the four pull strings fished and taped to the appropriate ends of the harness, it was just a matter of pulling them through. All worked as planned and I was able to push the spreader wires out through the spreader tubes without a fish tape as well.

All that was left to do for the mast was solder and shrink wrap all the leads to the harness and reinstall the lights and masthead.

Boat Wiring

The boat was never wired for anchor or spreader lights from the factory. As such, we would also have to rewire the boat with new wire and switches to operate the new lights. I had been shopping for while for replacement switch panels as the old O’Day panel was pretty crusty. Switches would have to be wiggled and left in just the right spot to make contact. I settled on two Waterwictch brand panels that had integrated circuit breaker (rather than hidden fuses), a voltmeter, dual USB charging ports, and a 12V power outlet. I chose these because I had seen Waterwictch panel sticker with English text describing nautical lighting and appliances rather than hieroglyphics. I selected two identical panels with blue LED backlights. One panel for the cockpit for exterior lights and accessories and one for the cabin for interior lights and future bilge and water pumps.

rewire the mast

The old steaming light wire passed through the core of the cabin roof and I had hoped to be able to use it to pull the new wire through but this hope was quickly dashed when it would not move. Someone had (poorly) installed a VHF wire up into the mast already and this just passed down into the cabin. So, I decided to just do the same with the new wiring harness. I used the same speaker wire and drilled a new hole next to the VHF wire into the cabin. With the new connector attached, I used some Lifeseal to bed the connector down watertight (unlike the VHF wire that has no through-deck connector). I cut a new hole in the cockpit on the port side for the switch panel. This ended up conflicting with the old interior switch panel as they would have to be back-to-back. This, in turn, forced me to have to cut yet another hole above the old switch panel so that the backsides of the two new panels would not collide. The space between the outer and inner surfaces was too close.

For now, the old O’Day interior light switch panel has been temporarily mounted to a wood stringer that had been installed by a previous owner to hold electronics up in the companionway. I ran out of time to cut a hole for the new panel (and the blade on my saw broke) so that will be a project for next year. For now, it’s just the interior lights on the old panel.

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2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. how did you make your mast support for when the mast is set for travel?

    Thank you in advance

    1. It came with a board that had two rudder pintles attached. However, that put the balance point of e mast too far forward when trying to step. So, I welded some galvanized conduit to a piece of angle iron and welded the pintles to the angle iron. The saddle itself is plywood and is attached to the pipe with a pair of u-bolts.

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