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Publication of this new edition marks the thirtieth anniversary of the original Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual. It is now twice as long as the first edition, with most of the additional material in the electrical section. This mirrors the manner in which almost all of us have loaded up our boats over the years with electrical and electronic devices. We have greatly enhanced onboard lifestyles but with a commensurate increase in complexity. The fundamental problem we face lies in the fact that we are seeking to replicate the benefits of substantial public utilities, such as electric and water supplies, within the confines of a boat.

It can’t be done without a great deal of sophisticated equipment for which the boatowner now becomes the primary custodian, maintenance person, and troubleshooter. In Chapter 2 I have attempted to separate out the kinds of electrical systems found on larger boats with high energy needs from the more modest systems found on the majority of boats. Nevertheless, what remains is intimidating for many boatowners. The uncomfortable truth is, if you want to live on your boat much as you do at home you will need to master this information! In particular, if you intend to work on, or add equipment to, your electrical systems, you need to come to terms with the first half of this book, and if not comfortable with this material, you should hire a professional to provide advice and do the work.

There are, of course, still sailors who are willing to accept that being aboard a boat is akin to camping out. My son Paul, who, with friends, spent the past two summers sailing his 1975 Cape Dory 28 from New Orleans to Maine and back, epitomizes this philosophy. But even he has a modest electrical system and no matter how modest it may be the same design rules and installation practices apply. In addition to the challenges created by these highly variable levels of complexity, we have the legacy equipment found on the boats built over the past three decades, very few of which have been taken out of service. This equipment cannot be ignored.

It has become a daunting task to provide the information necessary for a talented layperson to understand, maintain, and troubleshoot three decades worth of increasingly complex equipment. I have once again had a great deal of help in navigating an immense mass of information. In particular, Paul has read all of it more than once and made many useful suggestions, notably from the perspective of a low-budget cruiser. At the other end of the technology spectrum, the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA), and in particular Mike Spyros and Steve Spitzer, have made numerous contributions to the electronics section, particularly with respect to the latest generation of networked electronics using the NMEA 2000 system.

As always, I have benefited a great deal from my participation in the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC). Then there are, in no particular order, Bruce Schwab (Ocean-Planet Energy), Rob Warren (Coastal Climate Control), Charles Sterling (Sterling-Power), Wayne Kelsoe (Blue Sea Systems), Mark Rogers (MMES Custom Panels), Paul Michalczyk, Dave Rifkin (Quality Marine Services), Jim Schaffer, and Kevin Ritz (Safe Electricity) for electrical, corrosion and safety information; Alex McVay (Genasun), Steven Tartaglia (Lithionics), Jack McCoy (ArcLite), Christoph Balin and Jens Biebach (Torqeedo), Brent Perry (Corvus), Bill Southworth, Kurtis Kelly, Dave Vutetakis and Concorde Battery, and Harris Allen and Northstar for battery technology.

There are dozens of others who have helped in both large and small ways over the past decade. My thanks to all of them. In particular, there is my editor-in-chief and production boss, Molly Mulhern, who has overseen every edition of this book with patience and good humor. And finally, of course, Terrie, who continues to put up with my compulsive work habits with affection and without complaint.