Electrical, Protective Panel for Components and Wiring

The protective panel, dry-fitted into place
Protecting the electrical infrastructure and wiring on your boat is a must. Exposed terminals and loose wiring are not only dangerous, but also unattractive. In previous articles I described my initial installation of numerous electrical components in the galley of Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25. In this article, I describe my construction of a protective panel for these components and the wiring associated with them.
Let's begin with a review, from left to right, of the components that I had earlier installed. First, there was the AC receptacle (obscured in this picture by the work light). Then there was the battery switch, the Victron brand battery monitor, and the main DC breaker. These were followed by the AC distribution panel, above which I installed two bilge pump switches. All of these components fit neatly onto the bulkhead adjacent to the stove. Yes, these components, as they appeared on this side of the bulkhead, were attractive and well-arranged. On the other side of the bulkhead, however, their appearance was altogether different.

Here, in the cockpit locker, the backsides of these components were exposed and unfinished in appearance. Knowing that I would be storing sundry items in this space, and knowing that any of these items, especially tools, could damage these components and the wiring associated with them, I knew that I needed to create a protective panel of some sort for this space.
There were several issues with which I had to contend. First, as we see in the picture above, there were individual protective covers for some of the components. Next, as we see below, the number of inches that each of these separate components projected into the cockpit locker varied. The wiring for the bilge pump switches (top left), projected much farther than the wiring would project for the main DC breaker (bottom right). Pay no attention to the remnants of the original wiring (far left), which I had not yet removed from the boat.
To get a sense of the degree to which these different components would project into this space, I began by installing the various protective covers. I also installed something new - a sub panel or fuse block, which would service various electronics association with navigation.
Given the degree to which the black protective cover for the AC distribution panel projected into this space, and given that the black protective cover would protect not only the panel itself but also its wiring, I decided that the wooden protective panel that I would construct would be limited to the space between the AC protective cover and the inboard side of the cockpit locker.
One thing that I had to take into consideration was the swing of the door of the hatch that I had installed in this locker. You might recall that this hatch would provide access to the reserve battery bank, which would sit directly beneath the hatch on its own, dedicated shelf in the lazarette.
After toying around with the scrap piece of plywood you see pictured above, I decided it was time to create a true mock-up out of cardboard - one that would allow me to easily trim its sides with a razor knife, so as to achieve the correct shape and size more easily. After a fair amount of slicing and notching, I arrived at the shape you see pictured below.
I then transferred this shape to a piece of exterior grade plywood, 1/4 inch in thickness.
I didn't like the sharp edges and angles on the panel, so I returned to the saw and rounded everything over.
One problem I faced, in terms of the installation of the panel, was that I could not simply fasten it to the bulkhead with wood screws or through-bolts. Remember that on the opposite side of the bulkhead was the finished space of the galley. Since wood screws and through-bolts were not an option, I needed to have some other sort of fastener - a fastener restricted to the cockpit locker itself. For this, I turned to weld studs - threaded studs with large, flat bases which can be epoxied into place. I ordered these 316 grade stainless steel fasteners from McMaster-Carr in Atlanta, Georgia. The term that McMaster-Carr uses for them is "perforated base studs."
Before doing anything else, I needed to prepare this wood for epoxy-coating, a protective measure to ensure its long life in the marine environment.
As always, one coat of neat epoxy on each side was not enough. The wood, as we seen in the picture below, has absorbed much of the first coat.
Two coats is normally enough to fill the grain.
Several days later, after I had allowed the epoxy to cure and I had sanded the surface of the wood smooth, I returned to the boat and marked the spots where I would install the weld studs.
If only it were that simple. Despite the fact that I had ordered the longest weld studs possible, I still did not have enough length on some of them.
Therefore, I had to install mahogany blocks, which would allow the weld studs to project far enough beyond the backs of the protective panels of the individual components.
On the bottom right hand side of the wooden panel I had to take counter measures. Here, I installed a small piece of mahogany, which would allow the panel to stand off slightly and thus be even with the top corner on the right hand side.
The bottom left hand corner needed a much larger block.
The top left corner needed two blocks. Why such variation? This space was neither square nor plumb. Additionally, there was a ledge of sorts at the bottom of the cockpit locker that created additional problems in terms of lining everything up. In the end, though, these corrective measures resulted in a protective panel that was more or less plumb and square in the space in which it was situated.
Having dry-fit the mahogany blocks in the fashion described above, I sanded their rough edges in preparation for permanently attaching them with epoxy. Why bother with sanding these rough edges? Because many wires would be running around these blocks and I wanted to keep the chafing to a minimum.
As always, 40 grit paper was a necessity for making a dent in the mahogany.
The finished blocks, with countersunk holes, which would allow the heads of the screws to rest beneath the surface of the wood.
In order to ensure a good epoxy bond, I sanded the appropriate areas of the bulkhead. My Dremel, with a 50 grit sanding drum on a right-angle attachment, was a gem for this part of the project.
The Dremel is an essential tool in the refitting of a sailboat.
Try to do this stuff by hand in a timely fashion.
After installing the blocks, I installed the weld studs. Instead of epoxying these into place, I used small, stainless steel screws (through the perforations in the base) to secure them to the mahogany.
After dry-fitting the panel into place, I attached a cutting wheel to my Dremel and removed any excess length on the studs. In the picture below, I've simply placed the Dremel down for the sake of snapping this shot. I made the cut, of course, in a horizontal fashion, not a perpendicular one.

The panel fit just right, and it allowed the lid of the hatch to swing freely.
In preparation for painting the panel, I epoxy-coated the small piece of mahogany, and I did the same to the holes I'd drilled through the wood.
One final sanding before painting.
For this job, as for so many others on this boat, I used Pitthane, a two-part polyurethane. For more on Pitthane, see the Labels section on the right side bar of this webpage.
First coat.
I always sand the first coat lightly with 100 grit paper prior to applying the second coat. This removes most of the imperfections.
The finished panel, ready for installation. 
Some might say that this was a lot of work for an area that was not necessarily in need of protection, especially since most of the electrical components themselves were already protected by their own covers. Yes, this might seem true based on the pictures you've seen in this article alone. If, however, you were to consider what this space would look like soon afterwards, when cables and wires were twisting and turning in such a confined area in so many unimaginable ways, you might think differently.

This ends this article on how I created the protective panel for the electrical components and wiring in the cockpit locker of Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.

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