Jason and I have always been DIYers. In fact, we gutted and rebuilt our last boat, and are now in the middle of putting a DIY makeover on Chancelot. We’ve learned our fair share through trial and error, but every project starts with a little research! Yes, YouTube is lovely, but you don’t always have access if you’re out sailing or anchored somewhere remote.
The following four books take up a few inches of valuable shelf space and are easily our most used books aboard. While these books are available on Kindle, I do recommend getting these as hard copies. It is so much easier to flip through the pages as you troubleshoot an issue. All are available with free Amazon Prime shipping in the US. Not a Prime member? Get a 30-day free trial here.
1. Don Casey is a legend that needs little introduction. Don Casey’s Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual combines several of his best topical books, including “This Old Boat” into one giant maintenance encyclopedia. This book covers EVERYTHING you can possibly think of—fiberglass work, engine repair, electrical, sewing your own sails or cushions, etc. It’s a big beast of information but easily earns its shelf space as our #1 Must-Have DIY Book.
2.Electrical work is always challenging, but it becomes even more complex on a boat. Things seem to work when they shouldn’t and don’t when everything appears to be wired correctly. It is enough to make a sane person go mad! Charlie Wing’s Boat Owners Illustrated Electrical Handbook is the new electrical bible every boat owner should have onboard. AC or DC, 110v or 220v, Wing covers it all and makes is very easy to understand.
3.Covering everything from diesel engine mechanics, to your boat’s drive shaft, to your 12v refrigeration, How Boat Things Work offers a deep dive and beautifully illustrated exploded views of how everything on your boat works. The best part: it’s broken down into layman’s terms that the most novice DIY sailor can understand.
4. If I had to pick only one book to have aboard, it would be the Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual by Nigel Caulder. Another sailing legend, Nigel Caulder wrote this manual as a one-stop shop for cruisers needing to repair essential systems on board—primarily engines and electrical. While I prefer Don Casey’s book in general, Caulder does do a more thorough job explaining and diagnosing—you guessed it—mechanical and electrical issues. If you’re going cruising you shouldn’t leave the dock without this book on your shelf.
Honorable Mention List
If you have a little more shelf space to work with, you may also want to consider a few of our other often referenced titles. Some aren’t exactly DIY based, but still valid for other parts of the boating lifestyle (you know, like operating the boat).
- Marine Diesel Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting, and Repair by Nigel Caulder
- The Complete Rigger’s Apprentice: Tools and Techniques for Modern and Traditional Rigging by Brion Toss
- This Old Boat by Don Casey
- Nigel Calder’s Cruising Handbook: A Compendium for Coastal and Offshore Sailors by Nigel Calder
- Seamanship Secrets: 185 Tips & Techniques for Better Navigation, Cruise Planning, and Boat Handling Under Power or Sail by John Jamieson
- Chapman Piloting and Seamanship
- The Complete Sailing Manual by Steve Sleight
- 12v Bible for Boats by Miner K. Brotherton and Edwin R. Sherman