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Dealing with mechanical and electrical problems aboard

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What is the issue?
Although appearing to be simple, boats are deceptively complicated devices to operate as they are made from a wide range of disparate products.

They have engines, fuel and exhaust mechanics, they have fibreglass construction, plus they have sails and sail work. They have a host of very complicated electronics, ranging from depth sounders to radars, to VHF transmitters, to electrical lighting aboard and batteries to store the energy in. They have metal parts that range from alloy rigging to stainless steel to bronze and brass. Some metal parts are fixed, others are fluid such as rigging wires interlaced with ropes of different grades and types of specialist applications all held to together with turnbuckles or loaded up with blocks and winches... the list goes on.

This is all then deposited in an environment of overwhelming forces that is damp and corrosive. The result is a lot of blue water cruisers naming their long-term dream cruise 'Fixing Boats In Odd & Exotic Locations'. Anyone who goes to sea will have to be prepared to transform themselves into MacGyver-like character with an extraordinary knack for unconventional problem solving.

Why address this?
Addressing this task requires a wide range of experience and knowledge. If you are not able to address issues as they come up, or indeed prevent them, you could be subject to some hardships and/ or a lot of expense. Anything that helps fix a wide range of items that are often complicated and hard to pin down is a godsend.

How to address this?
You have to get down deep and dirty within your boat to understand the systems aboard, and to start to solve any problems as they crop up. When it comes to this you need one book by your side ''Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual'' by Nigel Calder.

Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual 4th Edition (2015)
Photo: Courtesy of McGraw-Hill
Currently in its 4th edition, this book alone will return its investment in a few weeks as it is widely regarded as the best technical reference and troubleshooting book in the world. The first of its kind when the first edition was published in 1990 this manual takes both novice and experienced boatowners through minor to major repairs of electrical systems, engines, electronics, steering systems, generators, pumps, cookers, spars and rigging. It covers almost all the information you will need to keep your boat systems intact whilst cruising.

Its text and illustrations are aimed at the competent/confident DIY'er, or people wishing to become one and wanting to learn. For those it offers the support of a friendly mechanic type companion with a dialogue that is simple and accessible but does not insult the intelligence. It typically steps through how systems work, how to troubleshoot and identify problems, and presents clear and concise instructions on how to address almost all common problems. It also covers product limitations, purchase and design considerations, integration with other systems and practical pros and cons. There are a host of illustrative photos and test data plus detailed instructions for using test equipment.

When things go wrong this book enables cruisers to be self-reliant, actively fix things and get out of a jam. It will go on to save thousands over the years as well as vastly increasing your understanding of boat systems and the confidence to deal with them. Better still it helps prevent problems to start with. It truly deserves to become standard with every boat and if you have to invest and set sail with one technical manual it should be this one.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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