Free Yacht Chapter 9: Technicolor Dreamboat





Introduction: Free Yacht Chapter 9: Technicolor Dreamboat

About: Dan Goldwater is a co-founder of Instructables. Currently he operates MonkeyLectric where he develops revolutionary bike lighting products.
In this episode, we transform the Free Boat 2 into the first LED Art boat in the San Francisco bay. Free Boat 2 is a 32-foot sailing Piver trimeran. It was originally acquired from the harbormaster's impound lot by master reuser tim and has undergone many previous instructables projects and adventures.

It's been a year since the last episode of the Free Boat Saga. I'm sure our readers are wondering what has happened in that time. Let me catch you up. Shortly after Chapter 8, a perfect storm of malfunctions befell our Free Boat. The engine wouldn't run, portions of the deck were cracking or rotting, the throttle handle and rudder arm both snapped off, a window leak allowed gallons of rainwater into the boat, and probably some more. We spent most of the fall 07 fixing that stuff. Then magically we were able to go sailing over and over without ever having a catastrophe!

Life was getting boring. what next?

I'd recently been shopping in my favorite store - China - where the streets are paved with LEDs. After some time I returned with a backpack full of semiconductors, and set about - with considerable help from tim and friends to build the first LED art boat in the san francisco bay.

Here's the table of contents of the whole saga:
Chapter 1: How to Get a Free Yacht
Chapter 2: Maiden Voyage of the Free Yacht
Chapter 3: Fix Broken Stix and other Trix
Chapter 4: Outboard Motor Mutilates Foot
Chapter 5: It's sinking and it's on Fire.
Chapter 6: How To Give Away a Free Yacht
Chapter 7: Get an Even Better One and Fabulize it.
Chapter 8: Celebrate Freedom
Chapter 9: Technicolor Dreamboat
Chapter 10: Privateer Knot
Chapter 11: Dismasted!
Chapter 12: Kiteboat!
Chapter 13: Mast Raising

Step 1: Parts I Used

- LEDs! I got 10 x 16 foot RGB LED waterproof flexible strips from my favorite store, China. These run off a 12V system.

- RGB drivers. Also from my favorite store, i picked up some cheap RGB lighting controllers. these things have some buttons allowing you to choose one of a few different RGB cycling patterns.

- Batteries - from my local computer recycle center i got lots of used UPS batteries. these are sealed lead-acid batteries. they come from battery power backup units for large computer systems. the companies that use them usually throw them away long before they are dead. a couple of car batteries would be fine also.

- battery charger for 12v gel-cell batteries. i found one on ebay.

- 100 feet of 14/4 wire, 20 feet of 18/4 wire, 50 feet of 10-gauge wire
- a bunch of crimp-on ring terminals
- silicone glue
- Humiseal 1A27 industrial urethane sealant
- some UHMW plastic sheet, 1mm thick.
- cable clamps to fit the wire
- stainless wood screws
- pvc plumbing pipe, 1.5" size various shapes
- 2 pvc waterproof electrical boxes
- wood strips 1" x 1", about 50 feet

Step 2: Phase 1 - Ground Effects Lighting

we started by putting rgb strips around the entire hull of the boat, just under the deck level. the lights point outwards and you can't see them when you are on the boat - so when you are sailing at night you feel that the boat is floating on a cloud of purple fog. it's a bit like ground-effects on a car, but way better.

- clean the hull where the lights will be attached. nothing sticks to dirt or oil. i scrubbed the hull with a rough cloth and water, then with an alcohol wipe.

- measure the fit of the RGB strips and cut to length. do all possible soldering before attaching to the boat.

- since it is a 12V system, any long wire run needs to be rather heavy guage wire (14/4 in this case) to avoid voltage loss (which would make the lights dimmer).

- the most fragile part is where the solder connections are, this area needs to be fully encased for protection.

- the RGB strips are subject to frequent wave action while in use. to prevent peeling off, i "painted" over them with Humiseal 1A27 industrial urethane sealant. Finding this sealant was a trial-and-error process - the RGB flex strips were rubberized, and i tried several different clear-coat sealants before i found one that would stick. The 1A27 is Xylene-based, so i think that means the RGB flex strip is a silicone rubber. The combination seems to work very well, the strips are in perfect condition after 6 months of use.

Step 3: Encasing the Connection

to protect the strip, tim made a wood rub-rail for the entire length of the hull.

right at the connection area, i protected it with wood around the connection and the entry point into the hull, and then filled everything up with silicone.

Step 4: Nose of the Boat

at the nose of the boat is another strip with its own wire entry into the hull. this is also protected by a wood strip and encased in silicone.

Step 5: Interior Cabling

inside we route wires pretty standard. drill a hole, feed wire thru, hang with a plastic cable-clamp.

Step 6: Battery Bank

we started with 12 batteries. each one is a 17Ah x 12V gel cell from a large computer UPS (uninterruptable power supply).

they are all wired in parallel to make 12V, 200Ah. The wiring block i found in a commercial electrician's scrap pile.

make sure all your battery terminals are arranged so the '-' and '+' are far apart, and cable-tie down all your wires. you want to make sure there is more than one thing holding every wire in place so it can't come loose and short to the wrong pole. there's a lot of wires here and a single short out is going to cause a serious meltdown.

Step 7: Phase 2 - Up the Mast

before we could wire anything up the mast quite a bit of work was needed just to be able to get UP the mast. tim and others fabricated and installed some mast steps and smoothed out the surface of the mast with a new coat of epoxy and paint.

Step 8: Attaching the Strips

I decided to attach 3 16-foot strips from the top of the mast down. one is pointed dead-head (12:00), and the other two are pointed at 4:00 and 8:00. My idea was that these would light up the sails, and be high enough up to not blind the captain.

attaching 3 x 16-foot long strips starting at the top of the mast proved a bit tricky!

first i strapped an innertube around the top of the mast like a big rubber-band, and fed the un-glued ends of the strips inside the innertube strap to hold them in place. then i started gluing the strips.

Step 9: Mast Wiring Junctions

the ends of the strips on the mast are wired to about 4-feet of 18/4 cable. this occurs right at the middle of the mast (our mast is about 32 feet tall).

At the solder connection everything is protected with a piece of plastic and covered in silicone.

the 3 cable segments then go to a electrical junction box on the middle of the mast.

Step 10: Mid-mast Junction Box

i didn't want to run 3 cables all the way down from mid-mast, so i put a junction box in, where the 3 x 18/4 cables are spliced into a single 14/4 cable.

i used fast-on connectors so that i could easily swap the color channels on the 3 strips. currently they are set so that all 3 show a different color.

Step 11: Bottom of Mast Wiring to Cabin

at the bottom of the mast is a bigger waterproof junction box, with a waterproof tube into the boat cabin.

because of the hassle of putting this section together, i packed several extra cable runs into the tube for "future expansion".

the waterproof tube is all built from standard plumbing components. the thru-wall port is a sink drain fitting.

The saga continues at: Chapter 10: Privateer Knot

Here's the table of contents of the whole saga:
Chapter 1: How to Get a Free Yacht
Chapter 2: Maiden Voyage of the Free Yacht
Chapter 3: Fix Broken Stix and other Trix
Chapter 4: Outboard Motor Mutilates Foot
Chapter 5: It's sinking and it's on Fire.
Chapter 6: How To Give Away a Free Yacht
Chapter 7: Get an Even Better One and Fabulize it.
Chapter 8: Celebrate Freedom
Chapter 9: Technicolor Dreamboat
Chapter 10: Privateer Knot
Chapter 11: Dismasted!
Chapter 12: Kiteboat!
Chapter 13: Mast Raising



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    30 Discussions

    Wonder what the Coast guard would say about this? Probably wrong color lights in the wrong location? They do save a lot of lives and it is why you rarely hear of deaths on our waters. I would not worry about hitting that boat though that is as long as all the lights were functioning. Cool thing is they have that reflective tape these days in green and red, I am shocked they are not requesting we stripe the entire side of the boats with these reflectors. According to OSHA you have active and passive lighting. Active would be any light that is powered passive is reflective light. The point of passive is in the event you have flaws in the system delivering power to the active system you still have the passive as a backup.

    There is a "light up the night" instructables contest, I didn't see this great instructable listed there!

    I vaguely recall that you have to display certain colours when actually sailing at night (port = red, starboard = green?). Is it possible to fulfill those requirements with this system (ie light up each side a single colour and keep it that way), or do you have to switch the fancy stuff off when you hit open water?

    10 replies

    you can just have the normal red and green there as required, but for sure nobody is going to notice them with all the rest on.

    You know what would be really awesome - if you connected these to a DMX controller and you could coordinate these lights with some tunes! All you need is some speaks! (try or

    Use some really big sub-woofers, face-down in the bottom of the boat, cruise along near the beach....

    Dah-dum... ... Dah-dum ... ...

    I've just thought - you could trigger reports of the lowest-flying UFOs ever... LOL

    That is the most amazing boat I have ever seen.

    that is amazng how much has that costed you from begining to end?

    The quote I finally received was for $32 per meter. care to send me a link? Thanks for the return...

    search for 'rgb led flex strip' on alibaba. there are lots of them. i have gotten quotes from signcomplex and illusion