This marine diesel engine handbook is a must-read for any boat owner who wants to understand, fix and maintain their boat's engine

The RYA Diesel Engine Handbook is indispensable for understanding marine engines. If you want to maintain your boat engine, and even have a go at fixing it when things go wrong, this is the book for you.

Book for new boat owners

As the proud (and slightly daunted) owner of the new PBO Project boat Maximus, a Maxi 84, understanding the MD2020 engine was top priority.

I mentioned this to Richard Falk, director of training and qualifications at the RYA, and a surprise parcel of books arrived in the post!

Amongst Boat Maintenance, the Yachtmaster Handbook and An introduction to Navigation (all great books), was the RYA Diesel Engine Handbook.

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Volvo MD202o saildrive

Maximus, a Maxi 84, has  a Volvo MD2020 saildrive, installed in 2005. It’s a great engine – has performed beautifully to date – but we have had a few hiccups, including fuel starvation whilst on passage, and a dodgy alternator.

Understanding how the engine works, so I can properly care for it, winterise it, and understand why things go wrong, has never been more important.

In fact, I read the RYA Diesel Engine Handbook cover to cover over the Christmas holidays, and enjoyed every page.

Marine diesel engine handbook

The RYA Diesel Engine handbook is written by PBO contributor Andrew Simpson, who has a disarming and brilliant way with words.

He’s able to reassure even the most mechanically illiterate reader (ie. me) and hold their hand as he walks through the basics of engines.

Understanding marine engines

Andrew breaks down the marine diesel engine down into separate, easy-to-understand chunks, from the four-stroke cycle to diesel fuel, the air system, engine cooling, the electrical system, lubrication, transmission and controls.

Each chapter is accompanied by clear illustrations, which I could easily relate to the engine on Maximus, especially after having videoed Stu Davies, our PBO Engine Expert, as he did an engine service.

Marine engine maintenance

Especially useful are the sections on maintenance and troubleshooting. Maintenance is split into ‘Daily when in use’ – for example, checking for leaks, the fuel level and fresh water coolant – to weekly (ie. belt tensions, sediment or water in the fuel tank), annually (ie. hoses, air filter, engine mounts) and winterising (ie. changing oil, replacing filters, etc.).

There are also jobs to be aware of as recommended by the engine manufacturer, after a certain amount of time. For example, saildrive diaphragms after seven years or gearbox oil ever 150 hours.

Engine spares

Andrew explains what tool kit and spares you should carry to be able to do these jobs, how to diagnose faults, and – most importantly – how to fix them.

There’s no substitute for an engine manual – and he urges you carry this onboard – but lists the jobs common to all engines such as draining a water tap, replacing filters, bleeding the fuel system and changing the oil.

He also includes emergency procedures, such as dealing with an overheating or runaway engine, and putting out an engine fire.

An opportunity to learn

I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to marine engines, and there are many tasks I know I will end up paying people to do, or more likely, twisting the arms of old sea salts to give me a demonstration.

I will certainly be taking out marine breakdown recovery, but at least now I can view engine failure as a great opportunity to learn more, and maybe – with my RYA Diesel Engine handbook onboard – be able to fix a thing or two.

There’s also the option to buy the RYA Diesel Engine eBook, which has enhanced animations and videos to help the reader understand some of the more complex topics.

The RYA Diesel Engine handbook and eBook by Andrew Simpson are available on Amazon and the RYA bookshop.