John C. Payne’s
The Marine Electrical and Electronics Bible
Reviewed by Bernard W. Joseph

This book’s cover bears the description, “A Practical Handbook for Cruising Sailors.” After having spent several days going through and over this book, I absolutely agree with the publisher. Although a good collection will cover the same material, if you want to have just one practical book that covers almost everything on the subjects, get this one.

Payne uses an outline format to thoroughly cover the extensive list of subjects. At first glance I thought that he just took an easy route to cover a lot of territory. But after going through the book several times, I decided that the outline format in the hands of an expert like Payne makes the route easy for the reader as well. A reasonably sized index helps get you to the right spot, and well-done and profuse illustrations greatly increase one’s understanding of what and how. There is an Australian flavor in the book when Payne uses millimeter wire sizes, and terms such as switching panel, but this book really covers the subject from the global viewpoint of one who has worked on many boats in many boating spots of the world. As for the average American reader, odds are that the reader’s boat has a foreign engine, and the manual uses millimeter wire sizes.

Payne begins with a 27-page section on batteries. His treatment of this subject represents the most thorough I’ve seen, and he makes no bones about telling you that may be paying a premium for just a label. His description of three Battery Capacity Formulas also states facts without pulling punches. The remainder of the book treats each subject similarly. Payne always has the cruiser in mind. If you want to know about ITU frequencies for your single side band radio, you’ll find them here. If you’re trying to decide whether to buy an 8-mile or 24-mile range radar device, you’ll get the right answer here. I was pleased to see that he advised the use of low-energy fluorescent lights for cruisers. These really help the debit side of your energy budget.

The electrical installation on multi-engine, multi-battery systems always represents a difficult problem. The secret of just how to connect the alternators, isolators, switches, and batteries lies beyond the grasp of even some experienced installers. Every owner of a multi-engine boat has either personally encountered or has heard about incompetent installers. Part 12 of this book, on Engine Electrical Systems, contains excellent diagrams and text on how to do this job. A neophyte who can read and follow Payne’s explanations and clear diagrams can complete a successful installation in jig time. Even if one leaves the installation to a professional, the book will help you to understand just what the maze of wires does.

My detailed examination of the complete book found no real mistakes. But Payne, like almost every writer on the subject, doesn’t seem to understand that current flow does not have the time dimension. He says, for example, “If we discharge our 240 amp-hour battery bank at 6 amps per hour ... .” What he means to say is: If we discharge our bank at 6 amps ... . Similarly, his statements about charging sources delivering so many “amps per hour” are confusing when one tries to do the arithmetic to determine how big a system to use. However, one can use the forms provided in the book to reach the correct answer. Other than these misleading statements in the sections on batteries and charging systems, his directions are right on. 

Payne, also like most writers, does not know how radar cube-corner reflectors work. But to anyone who’s not an optical or radar engineer, his erroneous statements about the role of the optical axis in reflection are of no bother whatsoever. To say otherwise would be to merely quibble. He’s certainly correct about the value of various types.

Had a book this good and complete had been available when I started the trek of learning it myself, I wouldn’t have had to go to original sources to find what Payne has set down in 405 pages. Get it yourself, or tell your library to buy it.

Marine Electrical and Electronics Bible, by John C. Payne (NY: Sheridan House, 1994), 405 pages, $34.95.