On the Job

Taking Care of the Onboard Control Switches

12 July 2021By Capt. Mx
iStock/SurkovDimitri

Written by

Capt. Mx

Still pushing water, having enjoyed and excelled aboard square riggers, Whitbread Maxis, the world cup circuit when there were only 7 boats, America’s Cuppers, 12M, modern classics, real classics, salvage, racing, passage, refits, builds and more, for 38 years, 54 Atlantic crossings, 48 world championships, and a few stories more. I enjoy the serenity and clarity that a life between the blues offers, washed by wind and waves, where all that remains is the simple truth of all things, questions for all things technical, and acceptance of all things magic. 

Here's what you need to take care of the control systems and distribution systems on board the superyacht for your engineer...

As you’ve likely discovered, there’s an electrical network throughout most decks these days — perhaps even more prevalent on larger sailing yachts given the mast lighting and winch controls.

When ordering, be sure you have the same or similar type already on board, as it must match others on the same panel on a wall or at the helm station.

Almost all vessels will share deck control switches for the capstans or anchor windlass, certainly deck floodlights, as well as (probably) hidden lights along the deck and a bevy of other critical control buttons and courtesy lights — all for the sake of the coolest toys, doors, and ambiance.

Beyond the tools and materials required for basic navigational lights, you should also endeavor to take care of these control systems and distribution systems for your engineer — it’s certainly worth a cold beer once ashore.

Here’s what’s needed: cable ties in a selection of colors, sizes, and types, as well as some stud mounting (some with releasable ties, and consider Velcro if it’s not a permanent mounting). This will save on more plastic in the trash, scuppers, bilges, or bilge pumps.

You may have to replace control switches as well, and spare toggle switches are necessary. When ordering, be sure you have the same or similar type already on board, as it must match others on the same panel on a wall or at the helm station. It simply will not do to have an odd-looking switch distracting from the symmetrical beauty of a proper installation.

You should have a selection of small machine screws and adhesive straps or mounting pads as securing wiring is essential to a proper yacht. Align all cables symmetrically with watertight, sealed connections. Anything less is unacceptable.

In all cases, check all these controls regularly — certainly every wash down, definitely before every passage, and always before receiving your guests. 

Windlasses tend to receive greater punishment because of their position and job, foot controls are under pressure when used, and hand controls are often stored in a humid environment when not needed. While they are rather tough, they do fail on occasion so it’s critical to have replacements. These switches usually fail not because of design, but due to poor installation or something that affected the installation due to an accident, thereby allowing humidity to enter and degeneration to sprawl. Make sure your switches are the correct size and type before you order and be meticulous during the installation, making sure the seal is clean and without residue — have a side of acetone, clean cloth, and a razor to remove remains to ensure continued operation.

In all cases, be it a reading light for your boss’s mum or the anchor control switch in a gale, check all these controls regularly — certainly every wash down, definitely before every passage, and always before receiving your guests. Make it an intrinsic part of your routine, and the moment you sense something is amiss, open it up, dry it out, reassure connections, condition to prevent corrosion, and seal it with a silicone sealant, spray, grease, or gel.

It's far better to address ahead of time than to react and repair with your skipper yelling. Read up on 12- and 24-volt systems, connections, chat with your engineer, and go. This will earn you a gold star each time as you apply your newfound skills throughout your yacht and on the tender and toys.

This article originally ran in the June 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

More from Dockwalk