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Chris Constellation

I received an email from a reader today that really needs to be shared. All the right questions get asked and so I’ll answer them for everyone’s benefit. Good stuff. Read on!

“Hi Ed:
I’m enjoying your web site. Thank you for all the information.

My wife and I purchased a 1962 45′ Chris Craft Constellation last fall in St. Paul, MN. The boat came highly recommended by St Paul Shipwrights. They have been involved with it’s maintenance for over 20 years. Despite it’s excellent condition there are still things that need to be done. Our priorities are #1 Safety and #2 Comfort. The two systems I want to start working on are electrical and plumbing. I have an original schematic for the boat, but much has changed since it was built. The boat retains 90% of it’s original equipment and wiring which I want to replace in sections (I am an ex-Coast Guard Electronics Technician but that was a long time ago). I would like to eventually install a Blue Sea panel system. The boat has the original Square D breaker box for 115 AC in the salon and a fuse-box for 12VDC in the engine room (glass fuses). Also below is one screw in 115AC fuse supplying the charger). Does anyone have a sample schematic showing the up to date suggested components and their relationships to each other? I want to do this “right”. I have been reading several books on modern boat wiring, but have yet to see any comprehensive suggested
schematic. On the 115AC system the original schematic indicates only the hot and neutral wires and NO ground. I can’t believe that would fly today. Can a ground be added? The boat has two 30A shore power plugs and a 10KW Onan generator (original build sheet says a 7KW generator was installed when new). The previous owner did not understand the inverter system and removed it. That should be replaced but is lower on the priority list.

In the plumbing area I am mostly concerned about the original copper water lines in the boat and the fixes done over the years. The hot and cold lines are run at the very bottom of the bilge one on each side of the keel (appear original). As work was done branch lines and supply to replacement toilets and water heater were run using clear polyester reinforced garden hose type line. New homes are now using pex line and fittings. What is appropriate for marine use today? Should the copper lines be moved up out of the bilge area?”

Thanks for any advice.

Mark- First, congratulations on your new project! The CC Constellation is certainly one of the true classics, at least on the power boat side of things. Interesting though, sailboats built during this same point in history have some of the exact same issues that new owners need to face up to. The household Square D shore power systems with no grounding, fuses instead of circuit breakers, copper plumbing are all things we have collectively evolved away from, both in our houses and on our boats.

In this case, the question boils down to how much you as the new owner of a classic yacht want to maintain things as “factory original”. In my opinion, Mark’s view is right on, safety and then comfort become the most important concerns. That said, keep the visual appearance as close to original as possible. Many of the boats I inspect each year as a judge at Mystic Seaport’s annual Classic Yacht Rendezvous have gone through extensive rewiring and systems upgrades, but its all done pretty much behind the scenes. The period aesthetic for the yacht is maintained. It makes for a safer more reliable yacht. I’m all for that concept.

The ABYC technical committees have learned a considerable amount since they were first founded in 1954, and I hate to say it but many of those lessons have been learned the hard way, i.e. after explosions and fires and people getting hurt. Electrical systems and fuel systems are right at the top of the list of things we have learned that have changed the way boats are built and serviced dramatically. So, let’s go through Mark’s list of questions.

So, let’s begin with the “Square D” AC shore power/on board generator panel. I would attempt to retain the original metal box if possible, bu replace just about everything inside the box with modern trip-free circuit breakers and make sure there is a break before make AC source switch for the shore power- on board generator power sources. The entire AC electrical system needs to be re-wired with appropriately sized triplex to accommodate an AC grounding system. Receptacles need to be upgraded¬† to the three wire type and GFCI protection needs to be added for any receptacles on deck, in the galley and head areas and for any plug outlets in the engine room area. Remember GFCI devices are not rated for ignition protection and therefore can’t be mounted directly in a gasoline engine room. A standard receptacle is OK mounted downstream from a GFCI located in the main salon area for example.

As for the DC system, I’d get away from the glass fuse set-up in its entirety and go with a quality distribution panel from one of our sponsors here, Blue Sea or Paneltronics, both make quality components.

As for sample schematics, I feel that the ABYC Electrical Standards offer the best selection of line drawings for this project available. Not one drawing, but a whole selection for each subset in this overall project. Anyone can join ABYC as an individual member for a mere $180 per year and get access to all of our standards online as well as access to a wealth of knowledge from our technical department, not to mention our educational offerings. Believe me, the $180 out of the annual beer budget will be well worth it when undergoing a project like Marks.

As for the copper plumbing. What can I say? Quaint comes to mind. Copper in bilge water? It might work out in the Great Lakes fresh water world, but I can assure you it won’t do so well in the salt water world. Either switch to the plastic or at least elevate the copper up out the bilge. Mount above the bilge high water mark.

Above all, have fun with this project Mark! Hope this helped just a little bit.  ED

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