* Note. Pictures to be added soon. Stay tuned...   mnw : )

Engine room sub systems and its’ wiring…

 Truly without a doubt the engine room components and its’ wiring are the most crucial and critical part of the whole enchilada. It can get you downriver with a smile on your face, or it can get you or someone else killed. It’s that simple. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things and it seems everything in sight in my engine compartment was “bad doo-doo.” What was once done right has gone way wrong some how. I have found wires with the insulation burnt off. I have found loose wire nuts. (Twist-on wire nuts are a “no-no”).   I have seen bilge pumps and blowers hooked up with speaker wire!?  I kid you not; this ship has been bastardized to hell and back with regard to the engine compartment wiring and sub systems. Any existing wire not sealed properly has got the creeping crud. (The corrosion  that creeps up the copper all the way up under the insulation). Almost all of the existing wiring suffers from this creeping crud and is in need of replacement and/or re-engineering. Things have changed since 1969 and I guess it’s up to me to bring things up to code. What else can one do? The safety of loved ones is at stake, as well as my peace of mind. It has to be done. Looks like a complete “do over”. Damn…

The hole:

You know, where the engine goes. Sure, the engine looks great! But it’s still at home on its’ test-bed in the garage. I better damn well be sure to get the engine compartment fixed up and in proper order before all that lovely elbowroom goes away. It sure is a pain in the ass to get down in there and work while the engine and fuel tank are there. I could ramble on and on about what I found wrong in the wiring but I won’t. (It would take to much time and effort).  What I can do is give you an overview of what is to come. Everything old… Out. New everything. Ok, well, almost new. Different anyway… The #1 engine compartment on the port side I striped clean of everything. Every component. It was scrubbed and cleaned (more than once).  I’m telling you this was a dirty shitty job and I’m just the dirty shitty guy to do it. Then I painted the inside of the steel hull with a high quality oil base paint, (more than once).  Satisfied with the condition of the inside surface, we are now ready to start the installation of our electrical components and sub-systems.


I started by making backboards to mount my various systems and sub-systems on. Using half-inch marine ply, I cut several backboards out. Enough to do both sides of the boat to save time later on and they would match as well. I then used a router with a round over bit and a file to remove all the sharp edges to reduce the risk of cuts and scrapes. Take it from a phone man, from way back, with many tie-rap scars. It’s worth that little extra work to avoid future injury. I filled any odd holes with putty and sanded everything smooth. All surfaces of the backboards were then painted with several coats of high quality oil based paint, (white).  Then set to dry nice and hard. Nice backboards if I may say so myself. I almost hated to drill into them. I did float some paint into the drill holes to keep moisture from getting to the wood through the fasteners. I then mounted all the portside boards with stainless steel hardwhere. One backboard on the transom for my #1 battery switch and other sub-system hardware and another on the port side gunnels to support the ships battery charging system and 110 volt AC gang box. Looks good…

I could have just slapped up any old hunk of wood to mount my sub systems on and it would have worked fine for a long time but putting a little time and care into your backboard will look as marvelous as the right frame on the Mona Lisa. Spend the extra time. Do it right.

Cable and wire management:

Black tape; Tie-wraps; Wire loom; Wire clamps. Lets take the time to talk about each of these things. Being a career phone man most of my life I can honestly say I have a little insight on the topic of  “wire management.” 

First item. Black tape.  I got to tell you. Someone at the River Queen factory absolutely loved black tape… It must have seemed like a real good idea at the time. Every single wire bundle on every single RQ boat that I have ever seen has had all its’ wire bundles wrapped totally in black tape. I mean this stuff is everywhere! What’s wrong with the tape? Well, lets see…it’s not good for long term use. When it gets old, it gets sticky and slimy. It stains the wires. It tears and unravels easily. You can’t see through it and it’s not easily removed from both wires and fingers. Enough? It stains your clothes too. Whenever I come across black tape on board, I carefully remove it with a razor blade and clean off the wires as best I can with acetone. Don’t get me wrong, black tape can be a good thing to have and use. I still keep a roll of it on my tool pouch. I use it to temporarily insulate hot leads from possible shorts, or to bind something together (short term). But never to wrap candy-cane style down a wire bundle meant as a permanent installation. 


In the old days… Ok, I’m not that old. But I can remember a time when we didn’t have “tie-wraps” (some people call them “Zip-ties”) Really. We used waxed string. I think it was referred to as “lacing cord.” Using a technique called a “Whip-stitch” This way of holding wires looked good, and worked good too. You could see what wires were where. If you had to add a wire or two, (and you always did) just cut one knot and pull the string and she would unravel like the top of a bag of sugar. Back then our jobs were considered  “craft.” Now it’s tab “A” into slot “B” “Plug and play” and craft is known now as good “gangster rap” music. Sad.

Back to Tie-wraps. Tie-wraps are cool. You can use them just about anywhere for anything. But if you’re going to use tie-raps with any class, you’ll take a few tips from me. I’ve got a couple hundred thousand under my belt. The most important tip I can tell you is about safety. An improperly cut tie-wrap with the end sticking out is like leaving an open razor blade wedged in with you wires! I got some big ass scars on my arms to prove it. Looks like I was fighting with a mountain lion. Big one. Always trim the excess material as close as possible to the nub as you can. If you use scissors and cut fat-ways across the strap, instead thin-ways across the strap so you won’t leave behind that big sharp plastic protrusion.  (picture here)

When tightening a tie-wrap on wires in a bundle, stop tightening the band when the wires come together. No need for a tight pinch witch can cause a hard to find, pain in the ass maintenance issue down the road. Wires in a bundle like to move and flex a bit.

If you want the real professional look, once all your tie-wraps are installed make sure they are all spaced evenly. Don’t use too many. Just enough to do the job. They should be at the right tension and trimmed nice and close. The last thing I do then is spin the trimmed nub around behind the bundle so all you see is band… Looks cool. I love this stuff!

Wire loom. Wire loom is like conduit except it’s thin plastic and cut long-ways so you can slip the wires in. It comes in various diameters, lengths and colors. I like to use “pop-rivets” to mount my wire loom. One rivet every 6 to 8 inches with the slice turned side-ways. This way I can add, remove, or inspect the wire therein any time I want. No bundles to open. No tie-raps to cut.  (picture here)


Wire fasteners:

The rules say that if wires are not running in a conveyance of some sort then they need to be attached or affixed to something every so many inches. (18 inches I think? Don’t take my word for it. Better look it up your self.) The factory wire fasteners on my tub were metal “C” clamps with the wire bundles wrapped thick with black tape. (picture here)   Here we go again with the “Black tape.” I carefully cut the tape off. Clean all the Sticky crap off as best I can. Inspect the wires for nicks, cuts and overheated marks. Then reinstall the bundle with proper loom and insulation. I found that a small piece of vinyl  tubing  cut long-ways makes a nice protector from the metal hold-down clamp. I like to use the “curly wire loom” wire management as well. Looks nice…  (picture here)


Let me start off by saying batteries can be very dangerous! Extreme caution is paramount whenever dealing with any form of large battery. Here’s a tip. “Never ever lick a large battery!” (I’ll never do that again!) I currently have three batteries on board my boat, for now. I’m sure more to come with the planed addition of “bow and stern thrusters” and a system inverter. Two of the three batteries I bought shortly after I got the boat and are of the “4D” type. In case you do not know what a 4D is, it’s a large version of a normal 12 volt battery. Longer and wider but still of a “lead acid” type battery. I will use these two large batteries to share engine cranking and house load.  The third battery is an old, but in good shape “Die-hard Voyager” gel cell. I’ll use it exclusively for starting the generator.

All of the aforementioned batteries are housed in their own separate secured battery boxes with secured covers. (In case of a rollover)  I might also add that all the batteries have been recently washed with a baking soda solution; given a full charge, and reinstalled with the terminals painted with a coat of Vaseline to protect against corrosion.


Charging system:

The old “Crown” battery charger that looked to be original equipment was shot. I tried to bring it back from the dead but had no luck. Just as well. I don’t think I would have been able to trust it anyway.  Now if I had my way… in the perfect world… I would crack open the West Marine wish-book and there on page 577 is the best looking charging unit you can get. Of course I’d be forced to go out back to the money tree and pluck off five or six “C” notes before I could go and get it…But in my world (the real world) I lucked out. Good buddy Patrick just happened to have an extra 50-amp marine charger. (Fancy that!)  He had salvaged it some time back and had it tucked away for a rainy day.  He let me have it no charge.  (Get it? “No charge”…) (Thanks again Pat) Once it passed my bench testing, I cleaned it up and installed it. As luck would have it this unit has three different charging lugs for three different batteries banks. Nice fit I would say…  The old charger had three control leads that ran all the way forward to the helm. I will use these wires (fused of course) to report voltage to a switched DC voltmeter at the helm so I can monitor each battery separately. Lastly, the 110 AC volt supply for the new charger will be provided by the old and unused 30 amp air conditioning circuit breaker. I am adding a separate switch with an indicator lamp on the back wall to energize the charger. That same circuit will also power the engine compartments only 110 VAC four-plex gang box.


12 Volt distabution systems:

The 12-volt systems in the engine compartment were completely shot. It had been hacked and slashed by the hands of many a novice I’m sure. All the cables were lying loose, running here and there. No wire looms or cableways of any kind. There were more un-fused devices just scabbed onto the positive leads of both batteries than I have ever seen before anywhere! All different colors, and some going absolutely nowhere. Just hanging in the wind? “This is no way to run a navy.” Definitely a “Do over!”

With the new batteries in there new boxes tucked way down in the sides of the boat I did not want to have to run all the positive leads down to them. It’s going to be hard enough just doing regular battery maintance let alone having all my power connections down there as well. So what do you do? Well in my new wiring plan I include auxiliary power destitution blocks up higher and next to the new 3-way battery switches. This way, things are up where you can get at it a lot better. The only thing leading from the battery boxes, is two large cables routed around and out of the way. Should look nice and neat! With regard to the new battery switches. I’m using three separate 3-way switches. One to control cranking for engine #1, and one for engine #2, and the last one is to select the house load forward. This way I can configure any combination. As I said before, the generator battery will stand-alone for safety sake. In the event both “4-D” batteries go flat (heaven forbid) I should be able to start the generator, witch in turn powers the 50-amp charger. Some day, when the cash loosens up I’d like to add one more “stand alone house load” bank of batteries for my “some day” inverter.


Grounding system:

 This is an important one. It’s our safety net guys. There are long chapters written in thick books about the “ins and outs” of grounding. Espechely if you have an aluminum or steel boat! (RQ people lesson up!) There is an evil demon that can run around inside your boat called “stray currant.” He can cause your boat to dissolve and sink at her very moorings! Yep. It can come from a toaster, stereo or reading lamp. Anything electrical that’s not wired correctly. Or he can sneek in from bad shore power if you don’t have an “isolation transformer.” (I do.) Moreover, it can happen just by having dissimilar metals in the water. It can even come from a neighboring boat with a bad power leak.

The best way to fight off the demon “stray current” is to give him an easy way out. It’s that simple. “Here’s the door… Use it.” Save your boat by properly grounding the shit out of everything. Use a main ground buss bar. Then connect it to a nice big fat cable that goes to a through hull fastener to a big ass zinc plate in the water! Ground everything to that “main ground buss.” More than the normal battery, engine stuff. Ground the sea-cock and strainers. (Bronze) Engine transmitions (steel), fuel tanks (aluminum) as well as the fuel tank filler caps (brass or bronze) should all have leads that run back to the ground buss. Use a good size conductor. Also from the main ground buss, run a big fatty the length of the boat. (It’s called a “Bonding Strap.”) All the way up front so you can tie odds and ends to it like “frame grounds” from the stereo and “wire shielding” from speaker leads. Don’t forget the chassey grounds on the refrigerator and microwave oven. Even the 3rd prong safety wire on all the 110 vac wall outlets.

If any power leaks out anywhere, we want it to find “the path of least resistance.”  That would be down and out through the path provided, and not out through a weakened seem of a weld below the water line!



 The rebuilding of the generator was a heck of a task and lasted one whole winter. It even has it’s own chapter. Go see it. Note the “before and after” pictures. 



 Or maybe I should call this topic “ventilation.” Every River Queen boat I’ve ever seen has rather large “in and out” air scoops for the engine compartment. My existing configuration has a small 12-volt blower (probley too small) attached to, or I should say cut into the side of the riser for the exhaust vent port. I’m not sure if this is the correct / legal method, or the best way to do it. I always thought you need to positively charge the engine compartment with fresh air thus forcing out the possible hazardous gas fumes out the back.

I’ll have to do a little more research on this one… But the wiring is old and in need of replacement. It’s fused from the helm with a 10 amp pop-up. I may have to upgrade it because I have a new used blower from an aircraft I’d like to use.


Explosive vapor decter:

 Well it had one. I removed the sencer because it looked shot and was wired with what looked like “white lamp cord” and was nailed to a board?! (Looked like someone installed it with there feet.) I saved the sencer somewhere and plan to review and test it all later. I like, and endorse the idea of any extra safety devise on board. A gas fume detector is one I for sure would like to have.


Fire extinguishing system:

There is an old “FireQuench” system installed in the engine compartment with a control panels at both the helm and fly bridge. The extinguisher bottle however looks crusty and corroded. I dought that it would work if ever called upon. A review and several tests are defiantly in order. Here again is a safety devise that I don’t think is required but seems like a hell of a good idea. Tell me, if you had an engine compartment fire, witch would you rather do?

1.      Grab one or two hand held extinguishers and open the hatch? Could add more air to the fire? Could explode? We got three 90-gallon fuel tanks in there?

 2.      Walk 30 feet in the opaset direction. Pull a pin. Flip a switch and hit the button.

Well to tell you the truth, if it were me, I would have to take a peek under the hatch assess to fires location and intensity to know what I would do next.

If it were an electoral fire? I’d use a “hand held extinguisher.”

If it was the engines carbator? I’d use a “wet shirt or towel” tossed on top.

But if it was a fuel fire in the bilges! Then I’d get the f__k away and hit the remote discharge on the “on board fire system.” (If, of course you have one that works…)


Fuel tanks:

 Sure… Gas tanks are a “sub-system.” They have technology. And it had better be right too! We have several fuel tank related topics that interest me. Mostly “tank integraty” (No leaky!) Then tank size. Float sending units and fuel gauges? (Need to know how much we got don’t we?) The tank needs to be secured to the boat in a proper fashion. It needs to be adequately vented. Fill spouts ports need to be water as well as fuel tight. Then everything needs to be properly grounded to prevent “spark” and or caroution.

Who would have thought so much consideration would go into a simple “gas tank?”  (And I have three to redo!) Go see Chapter #14. “Lets get tanked”


Fuel filtering:

 I’m told by the pro’s that if your going to do anything right at all, then it would be to get a good high quality “fuel filter / water separator.” Then keep it maintained. (See the “Racor” endorsement on the main  page.) Keep fuel line runs short as possible and mount the filters where access is easy for maintenance.


 Bilge pumps:

 Now here’s an item that you simply must have, but hope to never use. Kind of like the fire extinguisher. My boat has three separate water tight compartments so therefore it would stand to reason that I should have three separate, and independently powered bilge pumps should I get “holed” anywhere on board.  I’m sure I can and will writ a whole chapter with regard to bilge pumps and water detection, and leak plugging and all that, but that will come later. For right now I’ll just touch on the engine room pump.

I’m using a “used” (of course) free standing “Rule 2000” bilge pump. Placed dead center and behind the generator. Near the transom. The exit hose needs only to lift the water up three feet or so and out through the back. Shorter hose runs are best. With regard to the pump wiring, it had to be completely ripped out and totally re-done. The creeping crud up the insulation was rampant.

The new wiring  has it’s own new color code for easy identification. The power source is provided directly from the #1 battery aux. block and fused separately at the  source. We want to avoid using any power supplied through any switch that we might accidentally  turn off, thus leaving the boat un-protected. Witch brings us to the automatic pump switch. (A must!) How could you sleep at night without an automatic switch? I also added a manual switch up higher for testing and redundancy. I’m just happier when I can reach down, flip a switch and hear the reassuring werring sound of the pump.

Instead of soldering everything all together and hideing it with tape, I ran all connections to a termination block. This way any one element, auto switch, manual switch, pump or power can be isolated, tested, and or replaced. All this lovely stuff is mounted on the new and beautifully painted backboard mounted on the transom. 


Stern nav light:

Ya. Has one. Ya, the wires connections and lamp were bad. Ya I replaced all of it. Yep it all worked.

 Power Steering:

 Like in a car, if your vehicle is small you don’t need power steering. But if you vehicle is large you simply must have it. Have you ever been driving a car and the engine died? You can still steer but it’s real hard. Well same for a large boat. (Not fun.)

Power steering is only one of the many primary-systems on a large boat that will decide weather or not to “go” or “No go” down the river… What we call  “Mission critical” 

Well I guess this is why they call it a “complete refit.” There’s no way in hell that I can do the hull, drives, engines and props, and still push off from the dock and trust my power steering. Plus the fact that it looked like shit. It was so covered with rust, crude and grime that I was surprised to find one or two hidden “zirt fittings” for adding grease to the pinions. Witch, I might add, were empty and void of any grease at all.

I guess it’s more of a “power assist” steering to be more accurate. But what ever you want to call it, it had to come out and go home to the bench for a teardown, cleaning and inspection, reassembly.  Lots of little parts inside, all of them dirty, and cruddy. I hope I put them all back together again correctly. I wasn’t quite sure how it all worked to begin with. But once you tear it down, clean it and put it all back together the logic shines through. Hope it works… (See Chapter "Power Steering" and hear all about it.)


Keep reading...


Well there ya go... Another long ass chapter. If you made it this far my hat is off to you. Your a glutton for punishment. Just a reminder that this is how "I" did it and not a " How to do it." I may be wrong as all hell. Ok? So if you think you know better, or see a major flaw in my logic please let me know and I'll adjust. None of this shit is written in stone. I’m sure I’m leaving something out. Don't forget to throw me an e-mail and tell me your thoughts.

Happy and safe boating...

Mike Wolfe  Summer 2002