Build a Better Owner’s Manual

Posted: February 1, 2013

The price of your boat does not guarantee a complete owner’s manual.

By: story and photo by Deane Hislop

During the purchase process of my last three boats, as part of each delivery routine, the brokers handed me a three-ring notebook full of leaflets and equipment manuals that covered the propulsion gear, the plumbing system, and most of the accessories that had been installed on the boat. Years later, on the current boat, when the blowers quit working, I was dismayed to discover the manual didn’t include a wiring schematic for the boat, making fault isolation and repair difficult.

There is no more important and useful tool for a boat owner than the owner’s manual supplied by the manufacturer. But all manuals are not created equal, so it makes sense to verify that what you have is what you will need to properly maintain the boat, or for use in case of an emergency or equipment failure. A complete owner’s manual will provide you with all of the information necessary to understand, operate and maintain the boat, its systems and accessories.

To complete a thorough evaluation of your owner’s manual, make a list of all the equipment, accessories, appliances and gear that were installed on board by the manufacturer or added by the broker. The list will be a long one for larger boats and should include everything that may need maintenance, repair or replacement at some time in the future. Then, search through the documentation to ensure that you have the manufacturer’s manual for each of the items on your list.

Just because you have it doesn’t mean it’s good enough. Ensure that the documentation you have contains sufficient information to enable you or your mechanic to maintain or repair the unit. Some manufacturers may only supply instructions for installation and basic operation of their products, but in the case of more complex gear, such as marine sanitation devices, you should have repair instructions, a list of numbered replacement parts and information on where you can purchase them.

The eventual outcome of your evaluation will be a list of what you don’t have. Fortunately, there are several ways to get the information you need. More and more manufacturers are putting their maintenance information online, where it can be downloaded at your convenience and printed for inclusion in your manual.

The manufacturer of the boat may be the only source for information about electrical, electronic and plumbing systems. A manual that does not have a wiring diagram or a schematic of the boat’s electrical system is missing a very important piece of service documentation. The manufacturer should be willing and able to supply this information, though you may have to work through a dealer or broker to get it. In some cases, the dealers may even have the information as part of their in-house documentation service.

When push comes to shove, you could always draw your own plumbing and electrical schematics. It’s far better to take the time and map out the system when you don’t have a problem than to wait until you are under pressure due to a critical system failure. I have a friend who purchased a seven-figure yacht a few years ago, which came with an owner’s manual composed of three three-ring notebooks. But it failed to include an electrical schematic. After contacting the boat builder numerous times, he created the missing drawings. Those drawings have been invaluable more than once during summer cruises in remote southeast Alaska.

If your boat’s owner’s manual is less than adequate, it may take a fair amount of effort to collect and organize the missing documentation, but it is important to have complete information on hand before an emergency strikes.

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