Chandlery November 2006 Issue

The 12-Volt Bible For Boats

If you havenít had an electrical problem on your boat yet, you are obviously living in some distant universe where the laws of physics do not apply, and so have no need to read any further. However, if you are like most of us and own an old boat with green-encrusted wire terminals, or you are the proud owner of a new boat loaded with indecipherable manuals covering its electrical system, then a couple of recently updated classic books on electrical systems will be of interest.

It is worth noting that both books were edited by Ed Sherman, the senior instructor and curriculum designer of the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC). The ABYC sets voluntary standards for U.S. boat manufacturers, standards that become particularly important when it comes to electrical systems.

Twenty-one years after it was first published, the long overdue second edition of The 12-Volt Bible for Boats ($17, 190 pages, International Marine, 2006) brings Miner Brothertonís classic DIY marine electrical book out of the Dark Ages of the 1980s. The book touches on basic electrical theory before delving deep into the essential elements of a typical cruising boatís 12-volt system. Using the same plainspeak that made Brothertonís original such a pleasure to read, Sherman updates several sections as well as introduces new sections on devices that, though we take them for granted today, were borderline science-fiction in the 1980s. The updated section on troubleshooting alone is worth the 17 bucks.

The Second Edition of the Boatownerís Illustrated Electrical Handbook by Charlie Wing ($35, 277 pages, International Marine, 2006) presents a more comprehensive, textbook look at marine electrical systems. In fact, Sherman uses it to teach his ABYC-certification courses.

Not only does the hardcover book probe more deeply into a wider range of 12-volt topics than Brotherton does, it also covers the principal issues regarding AC power that owners of sophisticated cruising boats will need to understand. What sets the book apart from most other marine electrical books are the high-quality illustrations, rendered sharply in grayscale, and the numerous tables required for a clear understanding of many electrical topics. From the radiation patterns on a VHF radio antenna to a clean diagram of the grounding circuits on a typical boat, the illustrations clarify some of the more complex roles performed by 12-volt systems.

On the 12-volt side, chapter topics include circuits, measuring DC current, batteries, alternators, bonding, and DC standards. Chapters on AC topics explain AC basics, inverters and generators, AC standards and practices. Within each of these chapters is basic troubleshooting advice that will help resolve the most common problems a boatowner will encounter. The final chapters on power conservation, solar power, wind power, and do-it-yourself projects will have particular appeal for cruis-ing sailors who donít want to be tied to the dock. Sprinkled throughout the book are some cool mini-projects and smart installation tips. Finally, a thick appendix of tables, helpful glossary, and a thorough index round out the work.

Bottom Line: If you want one book to untangle the complex electrical systems of a modern cruiser, Wingís book is the best choice. It is comprehensive, clearly written, and well-illustrated. Whether you are rewiring a boat, installing new gear, fixing whatís broken, or simply curious about how the DC or AC system and its components work, Wingís book covers it all. The 12-Volt Bible, despite Shermanís valiant efforts to bring it up to speed, still has a dated feel. The almost quaint photographic images recall another era, and if this was a boaterís sole source of 12-volt information it would leave some significant gaps. That said, if youíve got simple electrical needs and are looking for some good bedside reading that will build your 12-volt knowledge base, it will be far more satisfying curling up with Brothertonís compact, convivial Bible than it would be with Wingís heavyweight tome. Buy them both, and youíll be able to tackle (or, better yet, prevent) almost any onboard electrical problems you might faceóat least in in this universe.


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