Build a Comprehensive Owner’s Manual

23rd October 2023

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 equally, so it makes sense to verify that what you have is what you will need to properly maintain the boat or rely on in case of an emergency or equipment maintenance. A complete owner’s manual will provide you with all the information necessary to understand, operate and maintain the boat, its systems, and accessories.

To evaluate your owner’s manual thoroughly, start by making a list of all the equipment, accessories, appliances, and gear that were installed on board the boat by the manufacturer or added by previous owners. 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, however, might not mean it’s sufficient. Ensure that the documentation you have contains enough 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 as to where you can purchase them, authorized repair locations and technical help phone numbers or websites.

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. Many 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 schematic of the boat’s electrical system is missing an important piece of service documentation. The manufacturer should be willing and able to supply this information, and 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.

If, for one reason or another, an electrical schematic is not available, there is another level of information that can make troubleshooting and service a bit easier. The Marine Wire Color Code specifies the wire color that should be used for each type of circuit on a boat.The code can be printed out from the Resources section at Ancor and can be a tremendous help in tracing onboard circuits.

If your boat’s manual is missing documentation, then it may require some effort to collect everything, but it’s important to have complete information on hand. That’s only the first step, however. The second is taking the time to become familiar with the contents. This will help you understand the boat and its systems and prepare you to deal with any maintenance issues that may arise. Once your manual is well organized, it’s easy to add to it as you come across useful material.

The completed manual, with its components arranged alphabetically in a three ring binder, will take up little room on board, and having it will reduce your downtime when problems arise. The presence of a manual could also contribute to you and your crew’s safety and enhance the resale value of your boat when the time comes to move up.