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Keep the Stern Light in Sight

The Resourceful Sailor hopes to inspire creative, simple, and affordable approaches to a boat’s modifications. For the sake of brevity and focus, this essay does not compare the virtues, safety concerns, and installations of liquid fuel choices. Nor does it lecture on the proper installation of electrical wiring or the legality of navigation lighting. Remember, keep your solutions safe and prudent, and have a blast.

When I purchased Sampaguita, a Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, it came to my attention that the pushpit-mounted propane tank obstructed the stern light’s visibility. I decided a redesign was in order. The lamp, the classic Aqua Signal Series 25, was mounted on a metal plate welded to the pushpit. From the factory, with an alcohol stove as Flicka-standard equipment, this was fine. But at some point, the alcohol setup was switched out for a propane one, adding the complication of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) fuel storage. The transom was the safest and, really, the only place for it. Sampaguita‘s outboard engine is on the port side, leaving just the starboard side for the rail-mounted assembly and LPG tank. Unfortunately, it was directly in front of the stern light.

Moving the light seemed easier than relocating the tank. Raising it a foot or so should do the trick. I needed a spacer to attach to the metal plate, extending the surface beyond the pushpit tubing. Next, a pole (or something) to raise the light above the propane tank. Finally, attach and rewire the fixture.

I looked into my crate of scrap bits and found a quality piece of wood to serve as a spacer. I trimmed this to fit, drilled mounting holes, routed out a channel for the wire, and dry-fit it to the metal plate. Once satisfied, I removed and prepped it for painting. Sampaguita came with an opened quart of white enamel, so I put several coats on the wood spacer.

Stern light spacer
Leftover paint was perfect for finishing the stern-light spacer.
© 2021 Joshua Wheeler

My crate of scrap also held some plexiglass. I cut a rectangular piece that would act as a pole. It would bolt to the spacer and extend up above the propane tank, with the light attached to the top. I carefully drilled the appropriate holes in both ends.

Stern light adjustment version one.
© 2021 Joshua Wheeler
A tidier upgrade.
© 2021 Joshua Wheeler

The wiring went through a hole in the plexiglass and down through the channel in the spacer. From here, the wire looped to a hole in the rail and fed belowdecks for connection.

Stern light above tank
The relocated stern light is well clear of the propane tank.
© 2021 Joshua Wheeler

I made this modification in 2013, with a small investment in wire and some stainless-steel fasteners. The rest I had on hand. In 2018, while wiring in a propane tank solenoid along the same route to the panel, I rewired the light to correct the under-deck hodgepodge I’d inherited. I added pieces of repurposed water hose for UV protection of the wire, having since replaced that with split loom. The wood spacer is finally showing a need for a refinish. Instead, I may switch over to a piece of HDPE [high-density polyethylene]. The plexiglass has low visibility, has held up well over time, and is flexible and forgiving when I need to switch out the tank. It does have a slight illumination when the light is on. If replacement were to become necessary, I would consider it again. I have a better knowledge of how to machine it more cleanly than I did in 2013.


  1. badornato 7 months ago

    At the substantial risk of appearing insensitive, why is this interesting? (insert smiling friendly sensitive emoji here)

    • Joshua Wheeler 7 months ago

      Thanks for reading. I don’t expect to please all the people all of the time, but I hope that some get something positive from it. I find using the boat far more interesting than maintaining the boat. I write about that too, but that is not what this series is about. Boat maintenance is part of boat ownership. My goal of the series is to inspire less affluent folks to find ways within their means to keep their boats seaworthy and be on the water. While events like the Vendee Globe are bright and shiny, that sort of sailing is inaccessible to all but about 50 people in the world, so it is not applicable to most of us but to each their own. I believe that it would be bad for the marine industry and society if boating was exclusively for the elite. If I missed the mark with you this time, I can only hope some others will find value in it. Thanks again.

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