Lesson Number 5,000(?) In How Not To Repair A Boat


By Rich

It’s pushing 7PM on Tuesday night, and I’m lying on my side, on the sole of the Sabre, with my arm submerged halfway in cold, smelly, oily bilge water and extended to its limits under the flooring as I work to fasten a new bilge pump float switch to the hull using only feel and instinct. My fingers work in the darkness while I stare up at the headliner and reflect on the percentage of fix-it projects we’ve had to take on aboard the Sabre through no fault of the factory but as a result of past over-confident / under-skilled do-it-yourselfers or lousy “professional” yard work. It’s got to be the vast majority. Two of last winter’s biggest projects, in fact, were taken on for just this reason: replacing one of the cracked holding tanks and re-bedding the poorly installed stainless opening portholes. Those projects are still only half complete; this winter the aft holding tank gets replaced and two of the six portholes are left to go. 

This time, two week nights’ worth of labor have been expended re-wiring what turned out to be a perfectly functional float switch (I replaced it with a new one just the same) after discovering that the pump’s failure was attributable not to the switch, but to a prior boat yard or DIY’er having used cheap household wiring and butt connectors instead of the real marine stuff when replacing past float switches. The result? After cutting and stripping the ends of the wiring as I looked to trace the electrical fault, I found the copper wiring literally crumbling to dust between my fingers.


If you are a DIY’er, future owners of your boat (or your future self!) are begging you: If you aren’t sure you know what you’re doing, ask someone or have the yard do the work. If you are a marine contractor and did this work, I shall hold my tongue. This is a family-friendly blog.

This is basic blocking and tackling of boat work, people. Tinned marine wiring only, and heat-shrink butt connectors to seal each connection. These wires run under the flooring right into the keel sump. To something called a float switch. A float switch spends the entirety of its life at the bottom of a sump full of water. What about digging out household wiring and connectors from your garage for this project seemed up to snuff to you?

After running new cable under the flooring I cut away all of the prior owner(s) work and got back to a length of the factory cable that ran from under the chart table to the pump in the aft head. I stripped off the end and found exactly what I expected to find: Sabre’s pristine cable still under the insulation after 26 years. I connected the new stuff right to it.

This boat would probably be perfect if Sabre had been the only people to touch it.

1 thought on “Lesson Number 5,000(?) In How Not To Repair A Boat

  1. Classic incompetence at its very best skill. And to respect the blog family friendly nature, I with hold, ummm, let’s see, oh YES! The 587 intensely nasty words I must use to describe idiots that would use house hold wiring and hardware in a marine environment… Oh no! I must stop typing NOW.

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