How to Wire Boats With Running Lights

How to Wire Boats With Running LightsFor a boat to be legal when operating between dawn and dusk in the United States, the boat must be equipped with a series of running lights. Larger boats come with factory installed lights. Smaller fishing boats and runabouts need to be retrofitted to achieve this. Wiring the boat gives you the added measure of safety when night boating and fishing as well as making it legal. Avoid a ticket and wire the boat before you head out for some nighttime angling.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

How to:

Things You’ll Need:
  • USCG approved bow lights, red and green
  • White stern light with 1 meter pole and switch
  • Red and black 16 gauge wire
  • 3-way switch
  • Power drill with metal bits
  • Metal pole brackets with screws and washers
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Zip ties
  • Alligator clamp connectors
  • Crimper
Step 1
Position the red bow light on the port, or left, side of the boat. Mark where this will go then drill out the mounting screw holes. Attach the light with the screws that came with the light. Place the green light on the starboard, or right, side of the boat's bow. Position it so it is level with the red light on the opposite side. Drill out the attachment holes and screw in the light to the boat.
Step 2
Find an area near the boat controls to mount the 3-way switch. Drill out the appropriate screw holes and then attach the switch with the mounting bracket for the switch.
Step 3
Disconnect the black cable from the marine battery. This is for safety while you work the wiring to the lights and switch.
Step 4
Attach the red 16 gauge wire to both the red and green lights at the set-screw attachment points under the light housings. Pop off the red and green plastic housings to access the set-screws. Attach the 16 gauge black wires to the black set-screw attachments on the lights.
Step 5
Run the red and black wires from the lights to the 3-way switch. Cut down the wire to expose the bare wires and slide the alligator clamps onto the exposed ends. Use the crimper to attach the clamps to the wires. Clamp the red wire to the switch's red connection and the black clamp to the switch's black connection.
Step 6
Run the red and black wire from the switch to the marine battery. Wrap the red wire around the battery's red terminal and the black wire around the battery's black terminal.
Step 7
Drill out the location on the back of the boat where the white pole will be attached to the side of the boat. Attach the metal pole brackets to the holes and screw them in using the washers and screws. Slide the metal pole with the white light into the brackets and tighten them down until the pole is securely attached to the side of the boat.
Step 8
Pop off the white plastic housing and run the red wire to the red set-screw and the black wire to the black set-screw. Run the wires down the pole and attach the red wire to the battery red terminal and the black wire to the black terminal.
Step 9
Zip tie the loose wire to the pole and find attachment points along the side of the boat to zip tie the bow light wires.

Article Written By Eric Cedric

A former Alaskan of 20 years, Eric Cedric now resides in California. He's published in "Outside" and "Backpacker" and has written a book on life in small-town Alaska, "North by Southeast." Cedric was a professional mountain guide and backcountry expedition leader for 18 years. He worked in Russia, Iceland, Greece, Turkey and Belize. Cedric attended Syracuse University and is a private pilot.

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