Skip Links

10 Do-It-Yourself Boat Installations Gone Wrong

It's one thing to do it yourself. These boat projects are a whole other story. Check out 10 owner installations that went haywire.

We boaters are a creative lot when it comes to getting things done. We like to find new, creative solutions to vexing issues. Unfortunately, once the creative juices start flowing in earnest, we often forget that a good plagiarized idea is way better than a bad original one. The results are often a solution that's worse than the problem itself, something I constantly verify as a marine surveyor.

To graphically assist you on your quest to learn from the mistakes of others, hop on board, buckle up, and keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times as we take a ride through the cavalcade of maritime perversions I like to call "Hold my beer and watch this!" All the more shocking because every one is real.

1. I can see your house from up here!

Need a tuna tower but just can't justify raiding little Jimmy's college fund for a custom fabrication? No worries. The solution is as close as the nearest thrift store or assisted living community. Take a good look at the photo and you'll see a sight proving that Mother Necessity can, at times, be the root of all evil.

In addition to the obvious physical danger of using the thrift-store walker as a mini-tower, anyone using it is prone to shouting stuff like, "You kids get off my lawn!" "Back in my day ...," or even "Corn Pop was a bad dude!"

Senior walker device installed on powerboat as a mini-tower

Photo: Kenner Hendrix

2. Anchors away!

Anchors should always be attached to their rode using a proper anchor shackle. But what's to be done when I don't have a shackle and the chandlery is so far away? What I need is something to affix this here anchor to my chain pronto, so me and Ethel can get out and enjoy the water!

While this picture is a sadly comical example of how not to connect an anchor, the subtler part many don't know is that a Spring Snap Link (like the one shown) has no business in your anchor rode no matter how it's installed. They're weaker than an anchor shackle or chain connecting link (the proper choice if connecting shots of chain).

A Spring Snap Link used to attach anchor to anchor rode

Photo: Frank Lanier

3+4. Fuses? We don't need no stinking fuses!

What's the big fuss about fuses anyway? They're so delicate and fail when you need them the most, right? If only there was some way we could substitute them with something more robust — a less costly alternative, but one easy to get a hold of in a pinch. Take those custom fit bolts shown in the fuse block or perhaps the copper pipe "fuses" shown in this generator cutover switch. (Hey — at least they're neatly cut the right length!)

Custom fit bolts shown in the fuse block or copper pipe "fuses" shown in generator cutover switch

Photo: Terry Nicholls

These babies won't let you down and will pretty much last forever, although that's a trade-off when considering the fire and possible death they can cause. Bonus troubleshooting tip: A fuse that constantly blows should be considered the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. In this case, the proper response is to find out why the fuse is blowing rather than simply continuing to replace it. The solution is definitely not replacing it with a larger size fuse.

Oversized boat fuses

Photo: Frank Lanier

5. Festive AND functional (not!)

I've always thought that running lights have a touch of holiday feel to them with their red and green glow, but I never imagined seeing it taken to this extreme. Navigation lights have stringent approval requirements, particularly with regard to luminous intensity and cutoff angles. Let's play devil's advocate here and (ignoring the obvious reasons why you can't use two giant Christmas bulbs) discuss what's wrong with this picture from a technical aspect.

For starters, the intensity of the lights is insufficient. Side lights have to be visible for at least 1 nautical mile (for boats less than 12 meters (39.4 feet) — at least 2 nautical miles for larger craft.

Then there's the arc of visibility thing. Side lights must be visible from dead ahead to 112.5 degrees aft on either side (these are visible pretty much 360 degrees). They also must not interfere with the operator's ability to maintain a proper lookout, which is why you can't see your sidelights from the helm (properly installed ones, anyway).

Green and red holiday lights replace proper boat navigation lights on sailboat mast

Photo: Frank Lanier

Finally, they have to be U.S. Coast Guard-approved. This is obviously not the case here, however, some boat owners may unwittingly place themselves in the same category of misuse. Navigation lights are approved as a whole, meaning that both the fixture and bulb used by the manufacturer are evaluated to ensure they meet all of the requirements. If, for example, an owner swaps out their old incandescent navigation light bulbs with newer LED bulbs, it's now unknown if the fixture still meets the luminous intensity of the original combination.

6. Vice-Grips — Is there anything they can't do?

Here waterborne ingenuity has once again reared its hoary old head in an effort to cause mayhem and destruction. The handles of these two fuel shut-off gate valves have broken off and been replaced with that venerable standby, locking pliers. Aside from the damage this inflicts to the valve's stem, chances are the pliers will be "borrowed" by a crewmember for some other important task and never returned — a fact most likely discovered when the valve needs to be closed in a hurry due to a leak or other emergency.

Two fuel shut-off gate valves broken off and replaced with locking pliers

Photo: Frank Lanier

7. Exhausting removal.

The problem shown here is not so much an installation gone bad, but rather an installation that isn't finished. This photo shows the exhaust outlet for a generator, one that (according to the owner) failed a number of years before and had long since been removed. Rather than properly capping or removing the now unused thru-hull, the owner chose to simply do nothing. The resulting hole effectively reduces the vessel's freeboard (and safety margin against sinking) from roughly 3 feet to 3 inches.

Boat's old exhaust outlet for a generator left uncapped, making boat a sinking hazard

Photo: Frank Lanier

8. The fire down below.

It sucks being cold, and if you enjoy winter boating, thoughts invariably turn toward options for keeping your boat nice and warm. Marine diesel or LPG heaters are expensive, but a boater on a budget might decide there are good deals to be found at big box stores. Plus, who doesn't like the warmth pumped out by the flesh-searing, cherry-red glow of a wood-burning stove?

Note the stove is suspended by chains, so the cabin gets the full benefit of 360 degrees of radiant heat. This also gives it a quasi-gimbling effect — an added benefit should the owner want to use the top as a makeshift stove to whip up some fried chicken.

Wood-burning stove suspended by chains, being used as a boat heater

Photo: Will Robinson

9. An explosive situation.

Submitted for your approval is this photo of an LPG supply hose connection at the rear of a stove. The line tied to it was a head-scratcher for a moment, until the beaming owner explained it to me: "That fitting leaks," he said. "I could smell gas every time I used the stove, and we all know that ain't good. "I fiddled around with it ... and found out that when I pulled up on the hose and put pressure on the fitting at a certain spot, it stopped leaking. A spare piece of rope and problem solved!"

It goes without saying, but here we go: Your LPG system is one of the few systems onboard that can usher you into eternity via a bomb-sized ball of exploding flame. There should be no leaks, and if you find one or think one exists, immediately shut off the fuel and don't use the system until it is fully inspected by a competent marine technician.

Pressure or leak-down tests for the LPG system are easily performed and should be conducted on a regular basis. With the appliance valves off, open the tank supply valve and remote solenoid valve (if so equipped) to pressurize the system, then close the tank supply valve. Observe the pressure gauge reading. The pressure indicated should remain constant for not less than three minutes. A drop in pressure indicates a leak, at which point the entire system would then be checked.

LPG supply hose connection held up with rope to prevent leaking gas

Photo: Frank Lanier

10. Battery charger follies.

"Batteries are expensive — especially the good, heavy-duty deep-cycle ones. They also need to be charged and, well, battery chargers ain't cheap either. What if there was a way a creative person could just skip the middleman, so to speak, and supply all that DC power right to the consumer? Why have the added weight and expense of a house battery bank to power stuff when we can just connect the clip-on leads of the battery charger (circled in blue) directly to the battery switch and let it power up the electronics?"

Boat's DC power provided by a automobile-style charger

Photo: Frank Lanier

But what about when you're away from the dock? Ahh, that's the beauty of it all, the owner of this larger powerboat explained to me. His solution was to simply fire up the generator while underway to power up the battery charger to provide DC to the electronics.

It's obvious that there are a multitude of problems with this approach, from relying on the unstable DC power provided by a cheap automobile-style charger (which can damage your electronics by the way) to the use of spring clips to make the connections.

Related Articles


Click to explore related articles

how to diy


Frank Lanier

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Capt. Frank Lanier is a SAMS® Accredited Marine Surveyor with more than 40 years of experience in the marine and diving industry. He’s also an author, public speaker, and multiple award winning journalist whose articles on seamanship, marine electronics, vessel maintenance, and consumer reports appear regularly in numerous marine publications worldwide. He can be reached via his website at