July 2006

Fishing Talk Radio | New Product Reviews

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Three Books Make Boat Maintenance Almost Fun

By 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 room.

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 secure.

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 this book.

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 years.

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 you.

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.


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