Capt. Ann Kinner
It is in the nature of boats that
"things" will need attention. — things like fuel
filters, bilge pump switches, heads, running lights,
steering gear. The true list is extensive, occasionally
intimidating, full of side trips to tool stores and
marine hardware stores, which we occasionally refer to
as "chandleries," although "money pit" might feel like
the more appropriate term.
If we spend a little money on some paper stuff
(books, that is), we have a better chance of avoiding
the pit and feeling as if the chandlery is the toy
store. Three that belong in almost every boater’s
library are Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical
Manual by Nigel Calder,
Marine Diesel Engines, also by Calder, and
Managing 12 Volts by Harold Barre.
My first sailboat had a very simple 12-volt system:
one battery, half a dozen small lights, a VHF radio and
a small breaker box. Everything was visible, relatively
accessible, and obvious as to purpose.
I charged the battery with a small portable charging
unit plugged in to an AC connection on the dock. Life
was wonderfully simple.
Managing 12 Volts
My next boat was a completely different story, and I
discovered Managing 12 Volts – a true blessing
for a non-technical boater. Instead of mystical wiring
diagrams, this book has simple drawings that show the
actual devices in the system.
The alternator looks like the device on the engine.
The battery image has fill caps and terminals. The
solenoid is explained and drawn in a way that makes
perfect sense and easy identification in the engine
Beyond the simplicity of the illustrations,
Managing 12 Volts does a wonderful job of explaining
the flow of 12-volt systems, starting with the way power
is created in a battery. Batteries come in a bewildering
array of sizes, shapes, purposes.
If they are properly cared for, everything runs as
expected. Three chapters (all easy reading) address
choosing and maintaining adequate battery capacity for
whatever equipment you may want to carry aboard.
Frequently, a boater’s first encounter with the
12-volt system (other than throwing a switch to "on")
comes because something doesn’t work right. Managing
12 Volts includes a long section on troubleshooting,
with a clear explanation of how to use a multi-meter.
Each symptom is set out with possible causes and
steps to follow to confirm and/or correct. With this
small book in hand, most any boater can maintain the
existing electrical system and determine what
improvements might make 12-volt life more comfortable or
Boatowner’s Mechanical And Electrical Manual
Nigel Calder is a master at explaining technical
subjects to non-technical readers, and his
Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual, now in
its third edition, covers virtually every system on
board outside of the engine. Before you tackle a
maintenance project, you ought to spend some time with
Calder’s explanations are written in clear language
with a minimum of jargon. Each section includes detailed
photographs, along with trouble-shooting steps.
In some cases, he includes exploded drawings of the
inner workings of the device in question. If you don’t
care why the thing works, you can go directly to the how
of fixing or maintaining it.
For those more technically inclined, Calder gives
plenty of information on why things do what they do, and
how to optimize all the critical systems. While
Managing 12 Volts is my first choice for the
electrical system, Calder is my first choice for
understanding the intricacies of modern charging
systems, including solar and wind-generated power.
Sailors will appreciate his chapters on rigging and
hardware, and powerboaters will find plenty of
information on mechanical and hydraulic controls.
Even if you prefer to hire someone else to maintain
your boat, this book is invaluable. It will give you the
information you need to describe what you want done, to
evaluate the systems you already have in place, and to
speak with confidence to the people you rely on.
Marine Diesel Engines
While Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual
includes a chapter on marine diesel engines, I recommend
Marine Diesel Engines by Calder to anyone who
operates a boat with a diesel engine. This small book
has helped me address any number of challenges over the
The first three chapters explain the principles of
diesel operation and the construction of a marine diesel
engine, including the cooling systems. The balance of
the book is maintenance and troubleshooting.
I read all the way through the first three chapters
and found the presentation very clear and helpful. While
I may never be a diesel mechanic, I feel much more
confident about my own ability to care for the iron
beast in the "holy place."
Specific maintenance chores are set out with advice
about before-hand preparations, and the types of
materials and tools to use. Calder’s photos and drawings
do a great job of illustrating his narrative. No matter
what brand of engine you have, this book will help you
maintain it in good running order.
No matter how well maintained, an engine eventually
will decide to stop doing something. The chapters on
troubleshooting will help you diagnose the problem and
then solve it, or explain it to someone who can solve it
For each potential problem, there is a list of
questions to ask to eliminate various causes. Then there
are instructions for making repairs with advice about
how not to cause further damage
Both the table of contents and the index direct you
quickly to the appropriate part of the book to answer
your questions. A helpful chart lists the most likely
problems and then cross references the potential causes.
Calder also includes an overview chapter on marine
transmissions, another on power curves, and one on shaft
alignment and prop selection.
Finally, Marine Diesel Engines includes
appendices listing a basic set of tools, and a
comprehensive spares inventory based on Calder’s years
of off-shore cruising.
There are many other good books on maintenance and
repairs for boat parts, but these rank high on the list
because of their clarity and thoroughness. All are
available at Seabreeze Books and Charts in San Diego (www.seabreezebooks.com),
and at many other fine nautical stores .
Editor’s Note: Capt. Ann, a good friend in San Diego,
invites Arizonans to come on over and visit her
Seabreeze Books and Charts, right on Scott Street — just
up from the sportfishing docks.