Weird Wiring Colors

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2015 • all rights reserved

Straightening Out Wrong Wiring Colors: What do you do when a wiring run suddenly changes color . . . or doesn't follow the convention used on the rest of your boat? Our simple and inexpensive DIY solution does NOT involve re-wiring it all!

In general, Barefoot Gal‘s 12-volt wiring uses red for the positive and black for the negative. But as we’ve been doing work on various components of the electrical system, we’ve also come across white (both positive and negative), green, yellow, gray and even found one place where black was used on the positive side. On a few occasions, a single wiring run would change colors several times.

NOTE: All these colors do have particular meanings in a 12 volt system. Jamestown Distributors has a good list of color conventions. What I’m talking about is incorrect use of these colors.

Apparently, some people working on the boat had simply used whatever piece of wire they could lay their hands on that was the right size.  YIKES! It certainly has made tracing wires, well, interesting. Future troubleshooting might be even more problematic.

One option would have been to rewire the strangely colored circuits. But that would have been expensive and time-consuming. Plus, things worked well the way they were wired (one of Dave’s favorite sayings is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”).

So we opted for the simpler — much simpler — solution: a few rolls of red and black electrical tape. Whenever we trace a circuit and find a funny color, we wrap the wire in the correct color (leaving the connectors un-taped so we can see any problems developing).

Straightening Out Wrong Wiring Colors: What do you do when a wiring run suddenly changes color . . . or doesn't follow the convention used on the rest of your boat? Our simple and inexpensive solution.

Straightening Out Wrong Wiring Colors: What do you do when a wiring run suddenly changes color . . . or doesn't follow the convention used on the rest of your boat? Our simple and inexpensive solution.We use a lot of cheap black electrical tape on the boat for non-electrical temporary things. But for this purpose, we bought “good” electrical color-coding tape, pictured at right.

While you can get it at West Marine and other specialty stores, it’s a lot cheaper to buy at home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. Here in the Florida Keys, it was almost exactly half the price at Home Depot as the exact same tape was at West Marine.

Do You Find The Boat Galley Useful?

You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site and the search bar below. No extra cost to you!

Comments

  1. Note that new ABYC standards are for yellow 12VDC negative to avoid confusion between 12VDC negative and 117VAC hot.

  2. This might be useful in the camper’s wiring?

  3. Court Crosby says:

    It’s a lot quicker and easier to just wrap the correct color around the wire near each end.

  4. It would a lot easier to tape each end but in bad lighting and or foul conditions it would be much easier to trace the line if it was the same colour. There are also wire identifying tags that are numbered and can be purchased online but I like keeping it simple and economical.

  5. Carolyn
    The only concern I would have with your tape solution is that after a while inexpensive electrical tape begins to deteriorate(can be within a year, particularly in a hot engine compartment) and you end up with a gooey, sticky mess and the tape will fall off and spread the goo elsewhere. A better solution might be to put longish sections of the correct color heat-shrink tubing at the ends of the wire at the crimp fitting and wherever there are splices or color changes. The heat shrink has a couple of benefits besides the color coding. It is nearly indestructible and will strengthen the wire-to-connector joint. And if you use adhesive lined heat shrink it will help protect the joint from corrosion and failure.
    Chip

  6. I don’t know how this would hold up on a boat, but worth a test try would be: paint the wire in the correct color of finger nail polish (or even a stripe of enamel paint).

  7. When our boat was made the builder took a no expense spared approach (they subsequently went bankrupt but that is another story) and labelled each end of every wire and pipe. It’s a practise that subsequent owners including ourselves have continued. Each and every wire is therefore easy to identify even if the wire itself is not necessarily the correct colour. It is perhaps time consuming to start from scratch but you could do this as and when so that eventually most wires would be labelled. Plastic tags last longer than sticky labels if you are sailing anywhere warm!

  8. Always something interesting in your posts..and useful too.

  9. Just in time since we are trying to sort out the mess on out 30 year old boat!

  10. Geoff Crowther not always as they seem ? Remember doing the light in cockpit ?

  11. As we are rewiring and replumbing the entire vessel, Hugh is using a fine black Sharpie on the wide white marine plastic covering of the red and yellow-coated wires to write what they are for. Battery cables, red and yellow, are big enough to write directly on them.

Add Your Thoughts

*

Please note: I'm currently cruising and don't have internet all the time. Comment approval may be delayed a few days!