Sailboat Maintenance Manual

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

Six books in one, all in understandable language and with LOTS of illustrations to help you understand your boat's systems.

I’ve always loved Don Casey’s boat books, and his Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual is no exception.

I’ll get into what’s covered in the book in a minute, but the big thing to know is that his books are wonderful for any topics where you find yourself feeling totally lost. He doesn’t assume that you already are familiar with a system. He tells you what to look for, why you should care and what various things are telling you.

He leads you through troubleshooting in a step-by-step fashion and provides basic definitions of terms you may be unfamiliar with. In short, his books are understandable for the newbie, yet give sufficient detail for identifying and fixing problems. Further, his liberal use illustrations really helps me — and they’re usually large enough to see what’s being shown without resorting to a magnifying glass.

Simply put, Don Casey makes you feel like you can understand your boat and its systems and that you can tackle most problems.

We used his Boat Electrics Simplified extensively on Que Tal and found that it often allowed us to solve a problem or if not, that it provided enough basic information that we could then understand more advanced information in another book. We had three different “electric” books on board, and it was always the one I’d reach for first.

A little over a week ago, I received a review/boatwarming copy of Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual from International Marine. Full disclosure: they are the publishers of The Boat Galley Cookbook, too, and I’m one of their blogger/reviewers.

Don Casey’s Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual includes 5 of his other books plus one by Peter Compton on diesel engines. There is no new material in this book — important to know if you already own several of the included books. But if you don’t already own several, this book is both a space and money saver, costing about 40% of the combined cost of the six books.

And I prefer hard copies of reference books — I find it easier to flip through and find the info I’m looking for than with an electronic copy. So space is a concern. Combining six books into one saves five covers and about an inch of bookcase space.

Totaling 880 pages, these books cover much of the typical maintenance and repair on a boat (actually, any boat, not just a sailboat). If you have a real fixer-upper, however, his This Old Boat will provide far more information on a total restoration project.

The included books (I’ve linked each to Amazon if you want to buy just one):

  • Inspecting the Aging Sailboat — a do-it-yourself guide to boat surveying. In addition to providing pre-purchase information, this is a great reference when you spot something on your boat and want to know how serious a problem is before talking with a professional. Don’t get talked into a major “repair” to fix something that isn’t really a problem and don’t pass something off as minor that needs to be taken care of immediately.
  • Sailboat Hull and Deck Repair — even if you don’t plan to do major repairs yourself, this book is full of invaluable information. There are numerous useful charts on the differences between various materials and where they should be used — I never remember which sealants to use where and always have to look them up, for example. He gives detailed information on most of the more common repairs; while I doubt that we’d do some of these ourselves, again I find it really helpful to know the correct way to do something before talking with the yard. And in some cases, reading how to do something made me realize that should we ever need it, we could do a lot of repairs ourselves (the longer we’ve owned boats, the more we’re willing to try as we realize that sometimes we’ll do a better job than a “professional” simply because we care a lot more).
  • Sailboat Refinishing — this is an area ripe for DIY-ers as you can make huge improvements in the appearance of your boat without any risk of structural damage. Painting, varnishing, repairing gelcoat, and applying hull graphics are all covered with step-by-step illustrated instructions. I love his product guides as they often make me aware of properties I need to double-check. Dave and I are planning do the bottom paint for Barefoot Gal ourselves, and we’ve been comparing Don’s recommendations with those of the paint companies. While the paint company info is good for the specifics of working with a particular product, I find that he gives a far more detailed view of the entire process, not just applying the actual bottom paint.
  • Sailboat Electrics Simplified — this was the first Don Casey book I used and it really helped Dave and I to understand the electrical system aboard Que Tal. We knew almost nothing when we started and we came to understand the 12 volt side of things — charging systems, inverters, batteries and so on — better than most. We managed to solve problems that professionals had a hard time diagnosing.
  • Troubleshooting Marine Diesels (by Peter Compton) — finally, a diesel book that is simple enough for a non-motorhead like me. There’s first a section on routine maintenance and then 12 troubleshooting charts to allow you to pinpoint where a problem is. The remainder of the book explains all the systems in far more detail with an emphasis on maintaining it.
  • Canvaswork and Sail Repair — this is a beginner’s book, starting with small projects and building skills as you go along. As with the other included books, it’s great for helping you understand the concepts if sewing is totally foreign to you. I’ve sewn since I was a kid, and I found that I could jump right to the more involved projects and that his directions and illustrations again made it easy to understand the process.

Bottom line is that I highly recommend this book for just about everyone but particularly if you are looking for basic “101” type books on your boat’s systems. We carry more than one reference book for each major system on the boat as no one book will cover everything you need or perhaps in as much depth as you need. Sometimes one drawing or photo will show something that another won’t. So I’m not going to call this (or any other) book the only one you need. But as far as being a fantastic basic reference — usually the first one we pull out to learn about something — it’s perfect.

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  1. Hi. Because of your review I just ordered a copy for the boat and obtained the last copy from until they get more! I will give it to my captain for father’s day but I have a feeling it might be something I will use more than him! We used to keep the old Time Life series on boating (dates back to the 70s) on the boat, but they took up so much room. I like the idea of having one concise all around maintenance book! Thanks for reviewing it! Your site has given us some great ideas and we received our port visors just the other week! Another useful find from your site.

  2. Materials composition and suitability of bonding is the trick. Or you could hand carve a cork.

  3. I’m interested in these compositing toilets. What are the advantages aside from not having to deal with a holding tank I reckon. Lol

  4. We installed a composting head on our Gemini and converted one of the thru hulls for a saltwater wash down pump at the bow. Very handy.

  5. What about the smell??

  6. It even has canvas patterns for sewing stuff.

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