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Boat Wiring, Making the Right Connection

Here’s our How-To on making a watertight boat wiring connection that will provide years of trouble-free service aboard your boat.

Boat wiring problems can play a big role in whether your boating experience is pleasureable or not. Nine out of ten times a bad connection will prove to be the root cause of any electrical gremlin you might discover in the DC electrical equipment aboard your boat.

boat wiring

Under Console Wiring

Vibration, severe jolts from running hard in big seas, and corrosion induced by salt air or water intrusion can all lead to the premature failure of poorly constructed connection in your boat wiring.

To keep things operating properly over the long-term it is imperative any connections in the boat wiring in your electrical system be made using the best materials and techniques available.

Here’s How To Do It Right

Several styles and types of electrical connectors are available to the marine consumer. Only one type though has all the right ingredients to hold fast and keep corrosion at bay—a crimp connector with integral heat shrink tubing.

Anchor Marine makes a variety of heat shrink connectors for marine use. If you become familiar with only a few types and use them to make the right connections the gremlins that inhabit boat wiring will steer clear of your vessel.

Butt Connectors

One type of connector used often on a boat to do repairs or replace a piece of electrical gear is a butt connector. These are specifically designed to connect one wire to another. They are available in three common color-coded sizes, red for AWG #18 to #22, blue for AWG #14 to #16, and yellow for AWG #10 to #12.

boat wiring

Ancor Heat Shrink Butt Connector

In our photo to the left example, we used a blue butt connector with AWG #14 wire. Following the application of heat the tubing shrunk to fit the wire and oozed out a little glue.

These high quality butt connectors are made from tinned copper to maximize current flow and corrosion protection. They also have thick-walled adhesive-lined heat shrink tubing to seal out water and relieve some mechanical strain.

To make a butt connection strip off just enough insulation from each wire so it fits into the metal crimp?insulation should remain on the wire where it is contained by the heat shrink tubing. Make sure you use an AWG sized wire stripper so that you do not damage or cut any wire strands while stripping off insulation.

Twist the strands together then slide the first wire into the connector and crimp it in place with a properly sized crimping tool. Do the same with the second wire then give each wire a pull to make sure they are secure. Now use a heat gun to shrink the tubing and lock it onto the wire insulation. You should see just a tiny bit of adhesive ooze from the end shrink tubing when it is sealed and seated properly.

boat wiring

Ringeye Connector

Ring-Eye Connectors

When making connections to a bus bar or electrical appliance that has lugs or screws you should terminate the wire with a ring-eye style connector. Again, Marine Electronics Reviews recommends using connectors with integral adhesive-lined heat shrink tubing. Ancor Marine uses the same wire size color code for ring-eye connectors. Each is available with several different eye sizes ranging from a #8 screw, a common size on a small bus bar, to the 3/8” lug you’d find on the positive terminal of a marine battery. Connections are made in the same manor as with the butt connectors—strip, twist, crimp, and seal.

Other Connectors

When a captive screw makes using a ring-eye terminal impossible try a flanged spade terminal instead. The turned up ends will hold this terminal in place even if the screw works loose.

Tidy Up

The last thing to remember when making connections on any boat wiring is to properly bundle and secure it. Start by forming tight bundles with your hand then secure them with plastic tie wraps. Finally use tie wraps or plastic wire hangers secured to solid bulkheads with screws to hold wire bundles in place and prevent jolt or vibration damage.

If you use the right wire, make watertight connections, and securely fasten all wires in place your boat wiring system will provide years of trouble-free service.