The author of This Old Boat, a standard manual on floating fixer-uppers, as well as a regular contributor to SailNet, Don Casey has joined forces with the publisher International Marine on a number of handsome, helpful, hands-on books on boat technology. Sailboat Electrics Simplified, number six in this series, should help sailors who lack a background in electrical engineering not only to understand how a boats 12-volt system works, but how to read and draw wiring diagrams, test for problems, make repairs, or install new electronic equipment. Casey succeeds in getting across some complicated material about electrical theory and a boats electrical system. Without stooping to the slapstick style of instruction that has become ubiquitous (see, for example, the "For Dummies" books), he and the publisher make some tricky points clear in hundreds of illustrations and lively prose, using a vocabulary that does not assume that the reader is an electrical engineer.
This is a book about the fundamentals: there are chapters on batteries, circuits, wiring, voltmeters, and charging systems, plus a long section on troubleshooting the alternator. (Theres also a chapter on lightning protection and grounding systems.) Casey does not address optional electronic equipment such as knotmeters, depth sounders, and radios except as they are related to the boats basic electrical system (for example, theres a good tip on the right way to ground a radio). Hes quick to lay down simple, practical alerts that may turn a deep mystery into a manageable problem. Here are two: "Either out of ignorance or parsimony, both yard workers and boat owners tend to choose wire too small for the job," and "An inordinate number of electrical system problems stem from corroded battery terminals."
As well presented as these topics are, they still are difficult, and the flow and depth of information is sometimes intense. Careless readers will risk blowing a cognitive fuse unless they slow down and take full advantage of the interplay of illustrations and text. An excellent first use for Sailboat Electrics Simplified, I think, would be as a companion on a careful tour of a boats electrical system. I can hear myself exclaiming, "Ah, so thats what a regulator looks like and does!"
Don Casey, Sailboat Electrics Simplified (Camden, Me.: International Marine/McGraw Hill, 2000). 176 pages, many drawings.