On the Job

Learn Your Yacht Light Basics

10 March 2021By Capt. Mx
iStock/SanerG

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. 

A yacht deckhand needs to become familiar and competent with basic wiring and principles of electrical circuitry as they deal with both navigational and deck lights on board.

Modern decks are no longer a place to stow lines and hang on during a gale, and certainly not just a place for your guests to catch a suntan. They now hold a network of wires to assure proper illumination as per the Rules of the Road and passenger comfort, aesthetic highlights, work lights, and much more.

Given the schedule for most engineers and the plethora of connections and controls throughout and along the deck on modern boats, it’s necessary for a deckie to become familiar and competent with basic wiring, principles of electrical circuitry, and the requirements of environmental demands.

Navigational lights are the priority lights aboard any vessel, and most being 12 or 24 volt, are of a simple design with a bulb inside a hermetically sealed fixture. This usually applies to many other control buttons and lights along your decks. It’s critically important that the seal on all of these items be regularly checked — certainly before a passage in order to reduce the possibility of a failure, fractured lenses, visible corrosion, or anything broken.

Given the schedule for most engineers and the plethora of connections and controls throughout and along the deck on modern boats, it’s necessary for a deckie to become familiar and competent with basic wiring, principles of electrical circuitry, and the requirements of environmental demands.

Many lights may now be LED on new boats, but the vast majority remain your classic bulb and socket model. These are all two pin, 12 or 24 VDC, fed by two wires, allowing a positive and a negative connection — red being positive, black usually being negative; although green, commonly ground, sometimes shows up, as does white, which is usually neutral on higher voltage systems.

Learn to use a voltmeter, which allows you to determine current through resistance (ohms) and load through amps by switching the control dial and applying the wires correctly. I recommend you read up on the correct usage of this simple yet very reliable tool that will become your trusty companion.

Your needs should include electrical tape (a selection of at least two colors) and self-vulcanizing tape, which is essential on most deck connections. Specific hand tools include needle-nose pliers, a cutting tool, a stripper, and a knife. Also, have a tool to compress fittings and terminals (stock the terminals in various colors, sizes, and for different applications in your terminal box).

Silicone spray and sealant is commonly used on all terminals and connections. You may even need a soldering torch and necessary materials to repair or satisfy impromptu requirements, so bring extra butane and shrink-tubing. The idea is to ensure that all connections on board are free from contact with humidity, oxygen, and anything metallic to reduce or eliminate degeneration from corrosion, thereby reducing eventual repairs and replacements. You’ll need spare bulbs on hand to replace as needed, and perhaps a selection of control switches.

This applies to all connections aboard, as well as tenders with navigational lights, as the principles and materials are similar. Establish a routine during your washdowns to check the operation of all navigation lights and controls as you check for any external details that may prompt a repair or replacement.

There is little worse than lights that don’t work — it makes for dangerous navigation, or an angry guest. Stay professional, do things right, and keep it all bright at night.

Pictured: Luminosity courtesy of Benetti

This column is taken from the March 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

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