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Author Topic:   Rewiring 18-footer
prj posted 03-08-2012 01:00 PM ET (US)   Profile for prj   Send Email to prj  
[Editor's note: the spelling of the popular marine wiring device vendor Blue Sea Systems has been corrected throughout this discussion.]

I've embarked on an electrical project for my 1990 Outrage 18, rewiring the console, replacing secondary distribution components, adding new devices, and troubleshooting existing devices. The extant wires are a rat's nest with intermittent troubles and completely indiscernible routing, the product of over 20-years of additions and subtractions to a poorly executed original product.

I'm in way over my head on this project, but entered it unafraid of failure or worst case scenarios, an outlook I've found quite advantageous in previous endeavors outside of my areas of expertise. As I've finished the demolition and strip down phase of the project, I enlisted the assistance of a local marine electrician that will work with me, check progress and assist as required. This relationship is confidence inspiring, to say the least.

Distribution--I've ordered a Blue Sea Systems 8261 8 position horizontal panel with fused switches to replace the push-pull type OEM switches. I'll likely back this new smaller in width panel with a 1/2-inch plank of oiled teak to cover the console cut-outs for the pair of original panels.

For the thee-position navigation light function, I ordered a Blue Sea Systems 8221 DPDT switch to replace a SP switch in the 8261 panel. Hopefully, this will enable a similar function to the current push-pull switch for anchor lights and nav lights.

I also purchased a Blue Sea Systems 2105 buss bar for the negative run, 2 lugs, 12 terminals.

Yet to be purchased are wires in various appropriate colors, terminals and a ratchet crimper. I may also pick up a small 4 pole buss bar to consolidate wire runs as forum member Over the Line did in his project, found here

What style terminal will be required for connections to the 8261 panel? I've not found an image anywhere online for the rear connection side. I assume rings, though perhaps they may be spade style.

Any words of wisdom or advice for the 18-footer specifically, boat wiring in general or electrical work as a whole? I'm all ears (eyes).

Thanks in advance,

contender posted 03-08-2012 07:35 PM ET (US)     Profile for contender  Send Email to contender     
I think the panel comes in spade or ring, depending on the stock number you ordered. I just finish rewiring my contender, I made my own panel out of black plexiglass, it holds 8 switches (Cole Hersee) and seven-push-button 15-Ampere breaker and one 20 (Blue Sea) for the bilge. PRJ the problem you are going to have--well it is really not a problem if you want to spend the money--is purchasing eight different color wires and you still need red and black. I purchased four colors and used them as 1/5, 2/6. 3/7, and 4/8, so they were apart and you can still trace them if needed. On the electronics (radio, GNSS receiver, Garmin) switches I still have a fast-blow in-line fuse, as well. I used heavier gauge wire for the secondary power distribution feed to the breakers and switches. And I made two [positive conductors] to feed the switches (1-4) and breakers (5-8). Each of the connections were crimped and solder then covered with heat shrink. After that I sprayed it with a white protectant before the install . I used two bus bars for the connection; one is the ground and the other was the divide for the install of the positive lines to the various electrical components.
Whalrman posted 03-08-2012 07:53 PM ET (US)     Profile for Whalrman  Send Email to Whalrman     
I just rebuilt the wiring in my 1990 Outrage 19. When I put her together in 2007 it was a hurry and just wanted to enjoy the boat. Last fall I decided to correctly re-do the wires, switches, fuse panels, and engine guages. First I took out the instrument panel, removed the guages, took the panels down to clean aluminum, and primed and painted flat black. Replaced the gauges in the panels and turned the panels backwards to do the wiring correctly. Same for the switch and fuse panels. The white stripes I used thin white auto striping tape. Came out great. Replaced the old round original fuse holders with new ones and new push-pull switches, all pre-wired in the shop. Looks almost factory. I used the Blue Sea Systems pannel lables to ID the switches. After hooking up the wires in the console to power it, I was glad that most of the work was done in the shop, as working thru that console door was a bit tight. Make sure that you use TINNED marine wire when changing the wires to new ones.
ericflys posted 03-08-2012 08:31 PM ET (US)     Profile for ericflys  Send Email to ericflys     
Too bad you didn't order the Blue Sea WeatherDeck 4308 panel. It's waterproof, not water resistant like the panel you have, and uses blade fuses instead of the glass tube type, and will fit into the one of the stock whaler switch panel openings by opening the hole up slightly. Additionally, the 4308 panel has a navigation lamp diode, that allows to use the switches that come installed in it.

I have found the best prices and best quality marine wire an connectors at

In my Outrage 18 I'm running a dual battery setup, with the batteries connected by an ACR. I recommend the Blue Sea Add-a-Battery kit for this.

I used a four-pole negative bus bar (PN 2301) connected to: Start Battery, House Battery, Engine and House Negative 10 screw bus strip(PN 2300).

davej14 posted 03-09-2012 08:40 AM ET (US)     Profile for davej14  Send Email to davej14     
Blue Sea Systems also has an excellent fuse block that also incorporates a common negative bus bar. The cover has provision for labels of the circuits that you will find helpful for future trouble shooting when you most certainly will have forgotten which fuse goes where, my experience.

prj posted 03-09-2012 11:37 AM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
Thanks all, good and varied advice.

Contender: My marine store has bulk wire on the spool, so I'm hoping to have access to most or all of the appropriate color selections, both pos. and neg. As I'll only need a few feet of each, it shouldn't break the bank.

And thanks for the emailed images, thats the clean and recognizable work that I have as a goal, something one can read and troubleshoot without too much pain. Good reference.

And Whalrman, bench building the majority is my goal as well, despite removing louvered doors, frames, etc... working inside the console is still awkward and difficult. I hope to minimize the number of final connections at the sources, but still fear there are going to be some hours spent with my head in the console.

ericflys, do you have any photos of your install? How about photos of the back-connection side of the 4308? I'm intrigued by the easy fit and would prefer the spade fuses, but I don't care for the aesthetics of the plastic base as much as the aluminum panel on the 8261. I don't understand the nav. light comment, can you expand on that feature?

Finally, I started out looking at the independent fuse blocks, but determined that I'd rather consolidate switching and fuses in one location, some moved onto the switched fuse panels. Care to comment on the pros and cons, dave14?

I'll be certain to include photographs with this, if I find them publishable and interesting/informative enough.


Whalrman posted 03-09-2012 12:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for Whalrman  Send Email to Whalrman     
Post pics anyway,it's great to see what others have done and for future projects and ideas.
captainbrent posted 03-09-2012 03:08 PM ET (US)     Profile for captainbrent  Send Email to captainbrent     
Patrick, I have three pieces of advice: solder, solder, solder all connections. Seriously, I have rewired my 1990 22 outrage and my 1987 SPORT 13, and I found that after I soldered all of connections including the heavy battery to starter terminals, all of my electrical problem went away. Crimp connectors are fine, but solder them too. There is a very good reason why good marine wire is tined. Good Luck with your project.
L H G posted 03-09-2012 05:46 PM ET (US)     Profile for L H G    
I agree that wiring in the second generation Outrages needs upgrading, but as one who likes the keep the boats as original as possible from external appearances, I think it is a mistake to eliminate the original switch panels. I offer the contrarian opinion here that I would re-think that position.

I have these on both of my boats of this generation, and the outward appearance, and even backside wiring by Whaler is well done. The Cole-Hersee pull switches are classic Whaler, and panel mounted fuses for these switches are convenient to use and inspect.

By the time you get done feeding all the wires to 8 switches in one panel, you will have simply another complicated bird's nest.

But, what is wrong with this wiring is that MISERABLE, CHEAP fuse block they stuck up there behind the panels, to which all other accessories have to be wired from. What I am going to do, like I did when I re-wired my 3 old classics, is install a Blue Sea Systems 6 or 12 gang fuse block on the port lower side of the console, just inside the door where it is VERY accessible. I glued a piece of wood to the inside of the console, then screwed the Blue Sea Systems block to it and other wire clamps as needed.

The main house power from the battery will now come to this block, and be distributed up to the original switch panel from here, and all other un-switched accessories can be taken off here also.

All wires going into and exiting the console should go to a terminal block, so that they can simply be disconnected if the console has to come out. This includes the main house power feed. I have done this an all three of the boats I have re-wired. In the Montauk and my 21 Ribside as a matter of fact, I completely wired these consoles with them out of the boat, a really easy and fun task, and then just hooked up the wires from the boat tunnel to the other side of the terminal block when the console went back in.

But, if you must install that new rocker switch panel, you only need to use 1/4" teak. I did this as a pad under my engine control. It was planed down from a 3/4" board!

Good luck with your project. One more thing - be sure to install a five-inch-diameter dome light with its own toggle switch on the ceiling of the console.

If you want to see an 18 Outrage with beautiful wiring "overkill" in the console, check out this boat. I have no idea what it's all about, but he does good work that must have cost a fortune. The boat is beautiful also.

ericflys posted 03-09-2012 09:51 PM ET (US)     Profile for ericflys  Send Email to ericflys     
I'll send you some pics in a week or so, my boat is in the shop being re-powered right now. If you have any need for the original Whaler switch panels and switches, I'll be happy to sell you my mine. On the Blue Sea 4308 and other WeatherDeck panels, they have a nav light diode that allows you to put a jumper between two of the switches. This allows you to have a nav light switch that turns on your nav lights and all around white light, and an anchor light switch that turns on just the all around white light. Note: on my boat I have a T-Top on which I run an LED all around whit light, and I do not use the stock whaler white lights, which along with the original nav lights I'd be happy to sell. Also of note, I did change out one of the switches in my panel with an on-off-momentary on switch for my bilge pump. I agree it can be nice to keep things original but these newer switch panels, which eliminate the need for a separate fuse block behind the panel make for a clean wiring job. Additionally, the 4308 and other WeatherDeck fuse panels have a nice very low draw lighting system that is by far the easiest way to tell if a fuse is blown.
davej14 posted 03-10-2012 08:00 PM ET (US)     Profile for davej14  Send Email to davej14     
Patrick, I use the fuse panel for electronic devices like my GNSS receiver, SONAR, radios, etc., which have their own on-off switches. I remove the in-line fuse that typically comes with them and wire directly to the fuse block. All fuses are then in one convenient place and there are no redundant fuses to the devices.
jimh posted 03-11-2012 09:28 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Re-doing the secondary electrical power distribution on my boat has been a project on the list for a few years, but, in deference to the original installation at Boston Whaler in 1990, everything is still working very well. I have had no problems at all with the electrical power distribution, even with the rather open fuse block. I think that is a result of the good quality of the original work, and also of my boat being used mainly in fresh water and habitually stored indoors and covered.

As far as wiring installation as an objet d'art, I do enjoy seeing a neatly done panel, but it has to be also a functional and workable electrical distribution. Having a Ty-Wrap every three inches may make things look neat, but it can make working on a problem very difficult if the conductors are bundled and wrapped so tightly that you cannot wiggle an individual conductor to help visually locate it.

prj posted 03-12-2012 08:47 AM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
I hear you regarding the OEM switch and fuse panels, Larry. The Blue Sea panel with gray plastic rocker switches is no match, aesthetically, for the clean and simple chromed button of the Cole-Hersee push-pulls. However, due to weather and a saltwater environment for the first 15 years of its life, my switches and fuses are in disrepair, gummed up, seized, corroded and dead in some cases. I'd need to replace most switches and all fuses at this point anyway.

I haven't been able to find a rear image of the 8261, but have hopes that this will present a simpler and cleaner approach to the wiring connections than the rather deep Cole-Hersee switches. That is TBD.

Your comments on the teak panel thickness and dome light are acknowledged and appreciated.

My console's aesthetic and functional problems come from several sources. The first one is age and use, the switch panel components are in poor shape and many are in need of replacement. The second problem was caused by the engine riggers, quite likely a dealer in the Mid-Atlantic. Massive bundles of excess wiring and cables, lengthy enough to rig a boat much larger, were balled up and jammed into the bilge sump. Connections at the console end were poorly conceived as well, wrapped in and around the helm and steering cables without any wire management. Finally, modifications to what I presume was OEM wiring done by either the dealer or owner/installer left unidentified plugs and connections dangling, stray conductors hanging about and a general mass of confusion on the backside of the panels.

While my expectations of creating the art I had initially hoped for are waning, I still expect a handsome, legible and functional console interior upon completion.

Phil T posted 03-12-2012 09:32 AM ET (US)     Profile for Phil T  Send Email to Phil T     

In 2006, I tackled a spagetti disaster on my 1991 Outrage. A repower and electronics upgrade by the prior owner in 2003 left the console a complete mess. 

After figuring out the redesign of the gauges, switch needs and future electrical loads I proceeded to map out what I had. 

I decided to unbundle and remove to zip ties holding the gobs of wires. I marked each wire with a label close to the source. I drew out a wiring "diagram" while leaving everything intact. 

After may sessions of staring inside the console and drawing different setups, I finalized my new plan. 

I was shocked that a yard could do such a piss-poor job. I had wires with 4 splices and 3 of them were cut. There was a 1/2 a milk crate of excess wires when I was finished. 

Before: 5012256911091858001/5102088292609494514


The point I am trying to make is you can transform it. It just takes some work. 

Whalrman posted 03-12-2012 12:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for Whalrman  Send Email to Whalrman     
I went back to the Cole-Hersee push-pull switches because I did not want to replace the plastic switches in three to four 4 years as the sun and UV-rays will deteriorate them, especially here the Southern part of Florida.
prj posted 03-20-2012 03:26 PM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
I finally rec'd the Blue Sea Systems (BSS hereafter) rocker switch fuse panel yesterday, 2 weeks after ordering. Its a beautifully prewired device, but I've decided to revert to the Cole-Hersee push pull switches for a number of reasons.

1. Preference to keep things OEM.
2. Quality of components, stainless and brass vs. plastic.
3. Fitment of new BSS panel into the existing panel console openings was going to be a project in and of itself, with necessarily inferior aesthetics resulting.

I'll replace all of the switches and fuses in one of the panels (5 positions) and hold the other panel with an accessory switch/receptacle or two and blank plugs or dummies. I can't find enough to circuits to merit fully wiring the 10 switch locations.

I appreciate everyone weighing in and encourage further comment on this decision. I've a month before I need to splash, so not concerned about schedule terribly.


prj posted 03-20-2012 05:18 PM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
I found a nice switching diagram on the Cole-Hersee (C-H hereafter) website describing the action on C-H's M-532 three circuit push-pull navigation light device. This will help clarify the marine navigation light wiring discussion I'm having with my marine electrician sensei Gonzo:

jimh posted 03-20-2012 05:20 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
See my REFERENCE article on navigation lamp wiring. It explains the switch markings in detail:

prj posted 03-20-2012 07:14 PM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
I absolutely did see your article Jim, C-H links to it directly on their page for the M-532!
jimh posted 03-20-2012 08:50 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
prj--Thanks for pointing out the link from the C-H catalogue page to the REFERENCE article on CONTINUOUSWAVE. I did not notice that when I visited the C-H webpage.
Buckda posted 03-20-2012 09:08 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Good reference book to have handy is "the 12 Volt Bible".

Like Phil - I recommend some kind of conduit - even a split-plastic shell would do - but it will clean up the look of the interior very much.

I second LHG's suggestion of the disconnect block so the console can be removed, and also his suggestion of the dome light in the console - invaluable!

Have fun - I'm re-wiring a 25 later this I feel your pain.

prj posted 03-26-2012 09:04 AM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
Thanks for the suggestions Dave.

Material acquisition has been my bane. I prefer to see products prior to purchase, so that makes internet sales a last resort. Here on the inland sea, we have a shockingly thin supply of marine stores, so once I exhaust those, I often wind up back at my computer. Then the waiting begins...

Second to material acquisition in troubles has been my lack of basic 12V wiring infrastructure. Every time I need a new ring terminal, say a 14 ga. to 3/8" stud version, I need to go purchase a box. When finished, I expect I'll have all the same materials and tools that a Sparky would have initially. And that directs me back to the difficulties in material acquisition, where can I find 14/16 ga. to 3/8" ring, 14/16 spade, a 6 ga. to 5/16" ring and (4) BSS panel mounted fuse holders? (that was rhetorical, please don't suggest the internet)

gusgus posted 04-07-2012 08:41 PM ET (US)     Profile for gusgus  Send Email to gusgus     
Great read, I have used the links and information in this thread. I am doing a complete re-wire with battery re-location. I am planning on a Blue Sea switch/circuit breaker and indicator light arraignment.
The comment of gluing things to the inner walls of the console, requires which glue to be permanent? Gorilla?
prj posted 04-07-2012 09:01 PM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
Glad it was helpful gusgus. I hope to provide a thorough wrap up shortly, at least before the gamefish opener first Saturday May.

Great question regarding the glue. The guys at Whaler were stingy as can be with plywood backing and reinforcement in the console. There are very few locations to find purchase with screws and a contact adhesive would be most helpful.

prj posted 05-02-2012 05:35 PM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
I've wrapped up this project and feel quite a bit better about my knowledge of the boat's electrical distribution system and my ability to troubleshoot any problems moving forward. This newfound comfort and exposure to the work may be my best takeaway, the clearly labeled, routed and working switch banks are almost secondary in the satisfaction I've gained.

Every boat project is a joy, and this one was no different. My working conditions are pleasant, warm and well lit with ambient daylight via the corrugated fiberglass roof: lightbox/

The original disaster may be primarily laid at the feet of the outboard riggers who used cable and gauge wire bundles long enough for a 30 footer... with a forward console. Most of these started out bundled in the tiny bilge, so I pulled them into the console and found some of Whalers sparely used plywood backing to mount them to.

Pulled from the bilge: lightbox/
Out of the console and extended across the neighborhood: lightbox/
Gauge wire bundles and outboard control cable excess: lightbox/

I added a new chartplotter/sonar, a Lowrance HDS-7, and I replaced my VHF antenna, a device that never worked during my ownership of the boat. The VHF itself was replaced in 2010 to no avail for quite some time. Now, I can listen to the port and fishing chatter in my garage. Here are a couple images showing some products, tools and reference materials I used for the project: lightbox/ lightbox/

As previously mentioned, material acquisition was difficult, frustrating and massively time consuming. Note that I complain about all of those challenges before expense, which wasn't trivial either...

In this image, note the negative bus and positive stud with 3 feeds, battery secondary, bilge pump with lone inline fuse and switch panel power. I was able to limit myself to a single switch/fuse panel, maintaining the OEM look and devices, though the fuse holders have changed somewhat since the original installation. lightbox/

Ultimately, my upgrade was modest and limited by the existing rigging and gauge wire bundles. I chose not to dig deeply into that rat's nest, nor concern myself terribly with the console appearances and gauges as I intend to replace all of them within the year. My hope was to eliminate excess unknown wiring, correct broken and aged switches and fuses and understand my system better, while integrating and properly routing a couple new devices. The use of split wire loom and a generous quantity of cable ties did a great job tidying up the boat.

I'm pleased with the outcome and the education I received in the process, we'll see if that will put more Green Bay walleye in the boat this coming weekend.

Console: lightbox/
Stern: lightbox/

K Albus posted 05-02-2012 05:57 PM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     
Nice job, Patrick! We'll have to try to test that new antenna this summer.

New gauges, huh? Is a re-power in the works?

DVollrath posted 05-02-2012 08:19 PM ET (US)     Profile for DVollrath  Send Email to DVollrath     
Nice job! Must be pretty gratifying to take something so confused and make it right. I hope my rewire turns out as well.


Here are a couple images showing some products, tools and reference materials I used for the project:
. lightbox/

Is the can of PBR a tool, a reference, or just a product?


prj posted 05-04-2012 11:24 AM ET (US)     Profile for prj  Send Email to prj     
Hope we can test it from closer than the full breadth of Lake Michigan, Kevin. If I could convince another adventuresome Wisconsinite to make the crossing East, I'd be happy and flexible enough to do so. Maybe follow in the wake of a Defiance, if not occupy the passenger seat, eh?

My engine suffers from chronologitosis and inferior service work at this point. With 15-1600 hours and 24 years or so behind its prop, I'm thinking its time to move on and expect to do so within the year.

And Dennis, that lone can of PBR represents neither the required quantity for the project nor the massive significance they played in it's pleasant completion. I'll confess here, not all material acquisition was difficult or burdensome.

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