Marine diesel book a handy read

Marine Diesel Basics
By Dennison Berwick, Voyage Press 2017, 212 pp., $16.00.

Reviewed by Bob Muggleston
For Points East

Canadian author, illustrator, sailor and adventurer Dennison Berwick is the type of guy every boat owner loves having aboard: He’s someone who can do a little bit of everything, and, most importantly, knows his way around a marine diesel engine. Berwick has sailed in Europe, the Great Lakes, the North Atlantic, sub-Arctic Labrador and the Andaman Sea in Southeast Asia, and currently lives aboard a 36-foot Chevrier sloop, Oceandrifter, in Malaysia. Along the way he’s learned a lot about marine diesels, and “Marine Diesel Basics” – a book he both wrote and illustrated – is a tidy little compendium of all that accumulated knowledge.

The book has been written with the understanding that a quality marine diesel engine, given the proper attention and provided with clean fuel, is a mostly self-tending animal. That is, they love to work and will do so well for a long time without major mechanical intervention as long as they’re being taken care of properly.

With that in mind, “Marine Diesel Basics” is broken down into three sections, that of maintenance, lay-up (both winter and tropical), and recommissioning. Instructions are clear, and simple illustrations – over 300 of them – accompany virtually every step of any procedure.

The table of contents is quite detailed. If you can think of something maintenance-related – say, for instance, checking the fluid level in a battery – there it is under Maintenance/Electrical, “Check Electrolyte Levels in Wet-Cell Batteries.” Flip to page 89 and there’s an illustration of a flat-bladed screwdriver being used to pry open a vent cap, and a handy admonition, “Be mindful using metal tools near the battery posts.”

Proper diesel engine maintenance and decommissioning/recommissioning is a passion of Berwick’s, who fell in love with cruising relatively late in life, immersed himself completely in the lifestyle, and then grew increasingly frustrated when confronted with what seemed like endless mechanical troubles. In the book he writes, “I decided that I must either give up the boat or train as a marine mechanic. So I went to school, worked for a very experienced mechanic and sailor, and applied myself to thoroughly learn this business.” The book is “everything I wish I’d known when I started and which I hope can help other sailors enjoy their vessels without the anxiety or extra expenses.”

Diesel engine books by Nigel Calder are must-haves aboard when things truly go wrong, but “Marine Diesel Basics” deserves a place among them on the shelf. If 80% of marine-diesel ownership is routine maintenance, I bet his book – quick and easy to use, and also available electronically for tablets – is the one you’ll most often find yourself reaching for.

Bob Muggleston is Points East’s editor.

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