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Yacht Charter Guide

Building an Yacht Operator’s Manual

By Captain Scott Fratcher


An “operators manual” is a dependable method to transfer information to the crew.

Reasons a vessel may want an “Operators Manual”

• Meet maritime regulation requirements
• Prevent damage by new crew
• New builds
• Charter boats requirements
• Easy crew change
• Club boats


Lets take a look at why a vessel may need an operator’s manual.

The number one reason crews often consider the need for an operator’s manual is to comply with a legal requirement for charter or safe ship management. Often these manuals are almost unreadable dry versions of government regulations. The purpose of this article is to help change an otherwise dull regulatory compliance to a useful tool that can save the vessel money and time.

Another common reason to build an operators manual is to make for a more easy delivery of new builds. How many times does the yard get called to explain a system installation wasting a manager’s time? With a good operators manual the new owner can simply answer his own questions meaning less callbacks.

Sometimes operator’s manuals are designed for a coming crew changes, or if the vessel is set to bareboat charter, or club boats with multiple users. Often a crew operators manual is ordered by a large yacht owner simply to get around the feeling of “I have to deal with the crew because they know the boat, but I would really like to start with fresh crew”.

This system of building manuals can be used for just about any aspect of the daily life aboard. How to run the galley for the days the chef wants a day off or maybe how to bleed the diesel system of your small yacht. Whatever the owner or crew wish to communicate can be easily passed along by this type of manual.

Crew manuals can also be used to set a standard that will follow the yacht for a long period of time. If you want the outboard rinsed with fresh water after every use simply print it and the crew will oblige. Whatever the reason the idea is to give the yacht user a head start at any task listed in the manual.


Manuals are easy to build once a basic plan is set upon.
The steps to building a manual are:
1. Decide on a purpose
2. Take step by step photos of the tasks covered
3. Write the manual bit by bit using photo essays
4. Add a TOC and Index to give a professional look
5. Print and bind


Deciding on the purpose

The first step to building a manual is to decide on the purpose thus dictating the topics and style of the manual. If the idea is to make for easy crew changes then the manual should include every boat specific task normally needed to operate the vessel. If the idea is to help crew launch the club skiff then step by step photos are in order.

A manual for a charter boat may include the procedure for the engine check and start up for this specific yacht. Instructions detailing how the boat drives can be especially helpful. A manual is a good place to note any special conditions particular to your vessel. Is it normal for the packing gland to drip ten drops a minute? Where is the breaker for the windlass? These types of instructions are often best shown through a photo essay.

A manual built for owner’s comfort might include preferred meals for the owner and some specific friends. The type of bed sheets he prefers, his favorite wine, and maybe the type of boarding situation he prefers because of his “trick knee”.

A manual to help the family launch the skiff through the surf could be tailored to match the needs of the complete family. Giving children jobs in the manual can provide a feeling of being part of the team rather than just being drug along on another fishing trip. Often couples use checklists to reduce the “marital stress” of struggling to perform a new task while calmly communicating.


Photos and tasks

Photos are the number one way to transfer information to the reader. Pages of descriptions of the “third row of breakers” and “just below the voltage gauge” mean nothing when we can simply take one photo, add a few arrows and a text box to describe your exact intention.

If you are building an operators manual carry a camera with you and take photo essays of every boat task. Consider driving the boat, shifting, dock hook ups and how to wipe down at the end of a rough day. It’s important to pause your action at each step to give the cameraman time to take the photo. You might consider pointing to the topic covered.

Load all the photos into a file on your hard drive and your ready to begin building your manual.

With photos added to your file your ready to insert instructions. Arrows are inserted through the use of the Word “Drawing” tool bar. If you don’t have access to arrows on your screen use View/toolbars/drawing. This should allow you to click on the photo then the arrow on the toolbar. Drag the arrow to the desired position and were ready to add a text box.

To add a text box click on the photo to highlight it. Click the text box from the drawing toolbar. Click on the photo again and drag open a text box. Write the specific information inside the text box. Be specific with your words. Text boxes get crowed quickly so our information should be easy to read by just about anybody.


Equipment Identification

Often an identification section of a manual will be included so if the crew has to call the owner or technician for help everyone will be calling each part the same name. This reduces confusion and allows the crew to get on with the repair.

Most identification photos should start with the view seen when entering a compartment. Maybe the view as we climb down the chain locker hatch. This photo and description can also been laminated and hung at the bottom of the stairs.

On a sail boat we lay out all the steps to raising the mainsail. Having everyone read the manual section on a task about to be performed reduces confusion, breakage and injuries. Small race boats can list each step of a tack or jibe to quickly train new crew.

Identification of all navigation equipment can save hundreds of dollars in time when a technician arrives to search out an electrical problem.

At the same time we label the manual photos we can make up a small labels and apply them to each piece of equipment. This extra labeling saves confusion and money as each manual label exactly matches the equipment label.

For example in an emergency being able to quickly identify all the parts of the drive system can be a great help. Having a manual photo of what the drive system looked like when working properly can often help in pointing out current problems.

Photos of the boat being hauled can be used later to make the next lift easier as everyone can simply look at the photo and know the bottom configuration and where the lifting straps lay.

Describing how a particular boat maneuvers can be a big advantage to a new captain or club skiff users. This single aspect of a manual might save the owner a large amount of money if it helps the captain make a safe docking.

Each boat handles differently. Laying out all possible helm maneuvers allows for quick train the helmsman. This can bring a new level of confidence to the owner and yacht. It can also give confidence to the owner when less than fully experienced crew borrow his yacht.

Building the manual bit by bit

It takes time to build a complete manual. The trick is to continue to build every time you find a new and special way to complete a task. Continue to take a photos and add them to your manual. Once you describe how to dock with the wind on the port side try something different next docking. Take more photos and add them to the manual.

Every time equipment gives a problem take a photo as your make the repair or adjustment. Add the arrows and text box description. This writing also helps the original crew to review how a specific procedure was completed and maybe find methods to do the job quicker.


Printing and Binding

Eventually your manual will be complete enough you will want to view it in hard copy. This is the exciting part. Where you conceptualization becomes a real book you hold in your hand.

There are two methods I use to print my manuals. The first is to print right on board with a color printer. Print on both side of the page using the “collate” function so when the print is complete you have a stack of paper that could fill a book.

Use a thick color photo paper to make the front and back cover. I like to make the cover somewhat book like. A title, photo, and a little creativity go a long way in making a professional presentation.

To turn this stack of paper into a usable book stack all the pages neatly together and drill about five holes down the spine. Use some sail twine to sew up the binding. Lay a thick coating of contact cement over the spine. Use a wide piece of nylon webbing to cover the spine and you have a home made book completed right onboard the yacht.

A more professional printing method is to use a print on demand book printer. In Auckland I recommend JPNZ (29 Portange Rd, New Lynn-9825 0773). Outside Auckland try

A print on demand system is a great new method of printing and distributing books. The printing machine keeps your book on file and anytime you need one, or fifty you simply call the printer. The machine only prints the number of copies needed. For a yacht manual this is normally about four copies. Expect to pay about twenty dollars per copy for a 100 page manual in black and white. Color is about sixty cents per page. JPNZ can mix and match color pages as needed. is solely color or black and white.

Tip-If your using a local “print on demand” book printer then you will need a “print ready” PDF format cover. You can get one of these for free from by loading up your manual and making a cover online. At the end of the project download your PDF manual and PDF cover. Take these files to the printer who should have all he needs to print your manual.

Tip-Once the manual is built specific pages dealing with a particular piece of equipment can be printed, laminated and hung in a convenient location. For example drain cocks on a SCUBA compressor can be shown in the manual and as a posted sign.

About the author-Scott Fratcher has built many Operator’s Manual and is available for consultation.

To add a photo in Word use Insert/picture/from file and click on your photo.

In Word 2003 you can insert more than one photo at a time by holding the ‘ctrl’ key while clicking on all the desired photos. Once the photos are inserted arrange them in the desired order by clicking on any photo and using the ‘ctrl X’ key. This will remove the photo from the file, but store it in memory. Find the new desired location of the photo, click in the spot to insert the cursor, and use a ‘ctrl V’ to place the photo in the new position. Continue to rearrange the photos till your essay is in the correct order.

If the manual is to be large, say for a mega yacht then ‘link to’ all photos. This will mean all photos should be kept in one single easily located file, but the Word program will not have to ‘embed’ all the photos. Large word files tend to “corrupt” when too many photos get added. Nothing is worse than having six weeks work into a project for it to simply refuse to save. To ‘link to’ a photo highlight the desired photos but instead of clicking on “Insert” click on the “drop down” arrow in the same box and click “link to file”


Adapted from "How to make money with boats" by Scott Fratcher


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