Day Three: 21-Foot Carolina Skiff
The Upgrade: Replace Plastic Steering Wheel With Stainless Wheel/Knob
The primary reason behind upgrading to West Marine’s super-sport wheel was purely aesthetic for Chris, but there’s a functional improvement as well. The stainless wheel will hold up better than its plastic predecessor would in the Florida sun. The knob also makes big turns simple and requires only one hand on the wheel. We anticipated this to be one of the quickest and easiest upgrades.
Expected Cost: $199.99
Extra Supplies: Proper size nut
Expected Time: Unbolt one wheel, pull it off, and slip another in its place? About 20 minutes tops.
Actual Time: About 45 minutes
Experience Told Me: The wheel might have been plastic, but the mounting area is metal, as is the shaft. Years of salt air and water had bonded the two together. We briefly used a wheel puller, but it was hard to get a lasting bite on the flexible plastic. Ultimately it just took some good old-fashioned muscle to break things free. Another thing you should know about this task? The wheel comes with a stylish five-eighth-inch center nut sized for most hydraulic steering systems. Our project boat used standard mechanical steering, meaning a half-inch replacement part had to be ordered. No local stores stocked it, but we did find one close enough to hold things temporarily in place.
The Upgrade: Replace Incandescent Running Lights With LEDs
Incandescent bulbs use more energy and don’t last long in a tough marine environment. That’s why so many manufacturers are turning to LEDs, such as the Aqua Signal Series 31 LED navigation lights, which are typically brighter and more visible to boot. Replacing the lights is easy; a few waterproof, heat-shrunk butt connectors, a heat gun and a wire stripper/crimper and you’re good to go. Right?
Expected Cost: $45.99 bow; $45.99 stern
Extra Supplies: 35-foot wire, butt connectors
Expected Time: Another simple project, maybe 20 minutes each
Actual Time: Two hours, again not counting the trip to West Marine...twice
Experience Told Me: New lights are only as good as the wiring carrying the juice. In this case the previous owner had installed household wire, and it was now losing the battle to corrosion. We ended up replacing all the wiring to the bow light as well as the anchor light. This required an additional trip to West Marine when it became apparent that our heavier-gauge wiring wouldn’t fit inside the Carolina Skiff’s rub rail without causing an unsightly bulge. The Skiff’s poling platform also meant we’d have to thread the new wiring for the anchor light through some tricky aluminum tubing. We remembered it’s best to use the old wiring to pull the new wires through.
The Upgrade: Install Fish Finder/Chart Plotter
This would be the big-ticket item, a sweet Lowrance HDS-5 Nautic Insight combination fish finder/ chart plotter with a high-resolution 480 x 480 display and 16-channel GPS. It instantly upped the “fishability” of Chris’ Carolina Skiff and would allow him to find his way through new waters. It also looked darn good on the console.
Expected Cost: $799
Extra Supplies: None
Expected Time: One hour
Actual Time: Two hours, thanks to some wiring issues — again
Experience Told Me: The unit’s bracket would install neatly in the same position where a retired unit was; the transducer simply bolted in place on the transom. Most of Chris’ electronics, though, ran directly to the battery for power, resulting in a spaghetti pile of wires under the console. It took time to straighten this mess out.
The Upgrade: Install Common Hot-Feed Fuse Block, Ground Block
All the multiple wires made the absence of a hot-feed fuse block and bus bar glaringly obvious. A fuse block unloads all those positive connections that boaters pile on their battery-post screws, keeping things neat under the console and running a single wire to the battery. It also keeps all the fuses in one central location for easy inspection. Most of all, it’s safer than direct-to-battery connections, bringing the boat into compliance with ABYC standards, which state that the only appliance that should be “hot-wired” to the battery is the bilge pump. A bus bar does likewise for the corresponding ground wires. This project wasn’t on our list but suddenly seemed a must-do.
Expected Cost: $439.98
Extra Supplies: None
Expected Time: One hour
Actual Time: One hour, 30 minutes
Experience Told Me: There’s nothing particularly tricky here, but if you’re dealing with a jumble of wires, especially below a cramped console, it’s easy to mix things up. The installation itself went easily — then we spent about 30 more minutes chasing down why we suddenly had no power to our new fish finder/chart plotter.