Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Apple iBooks for your Boating Manuals

Application: iPad, iPhone
Function: eBooks, PDF reader
Cost: Free
Rating: ****

Boats these days come with alot of complex equipment on board to help us get to where we are going.  The bigger the boat, the more equipment we usually think we need.  All this equipment needs to be set up, maintained and repaired.  That is why we all have an onboard library of instruction and parts manuals for this equipment. 

It is the sheer bulk of these manuals that is the real problem. Most of us probably have multiple binders chocked full of instructions, installation and parts manuals.  There are manuals for the diesel engine, transmission, generator, GPS, chart plotter, solar charger, hydraulics, autopilot, instruments, electrical panels, inverter, VHF, TV, CD player, SSB, computer, WiFi, cameras and assorted other electrical gadgets. 

There happens to be an app that you can utilize to help manage all of this information.  The Apple iBooks app will allow you to not only download great books to read on your travels but it will also allow you to save and organize all these instruction manuals in a searchable PDF file format.  Collecting your manuals in PDF format is not only easy but it will save you a ton of space and weight on your yacht.

Downloading PDF from the Internet

Most manufacturers have their instructions manuals in PDF format. Search the web for your manuals and download them onto your iPad or iPhone. Once it shows up on the screen tap it to show the Open in iBooks and Open In options on the top right of the screen.  Select the Open in iBooks option to send a copy to iBooks. All imported PDF files go in to the PDF collection. You can then select Edit in iBooks to move it to the collection of your choice.

User Interface

The main screen of the iBooks app includes the library of your downloaded e-books from the iBook store and downloaded PDF files. The two buttons on the top left allow you to access the Apple iBook Store and lists your Collection of books and PDFs.


Adding  and Editing Collections

Tapping the Collections button brings up the list of your books and PDFs. To create a new collection tap on the New button in the bottom of the pop up. Tap the Edit button to change the text, rearrange or delete a collection.  Here I have created collections for Engine/ Mechanical, Camera, Computer, Electrical and GPS/Com manuals. The two format buttons are shown on the top right side of the screen. The collections can be viewed in bookshelf or tabular formats.

Moving or Deleting Collections

The collections can be edited if you want to change the name or move them to another collection. Tap the Edit button on the top right of the screen. In the Edit mode select the PDF with the radio buttons on the left then select Move or Delete. In the Edit mode you can also change and edit the name of the PDF file by tapping on the appropriate line.

PDF Viewing Options

Pages of the PDF can be listed in a thumbnail view allowing you to easily select the page you want. Pages can also be bookmarked to quickly bring up a list of only the bookmarked pages by tapping the bookmark icon on the upper right of the screen.

Importing PDFs with the DropBox App

Apple does not have a good way to handle files on the iPhone and iPad.  I use the Dropbox app to keep my files and manuals up to date and synched. You can use the app on your iPad or iPhone and the Dropbox client program on your PC or MAC. You will have to create an account at Dropbox to use the app. This will give you 2 GB of online storage that you can synch with all your devices.

Files that are added to your Dropbox on your PC are immediately available on your Dropbox app on your mobile devices.

In the Dropbox app select a file from the menu on the left to download to your iPad.

Once the file is downloaded select the Download icon in the top right menu. Tap the Open in iBooks selection to download it into iBooks. The downloaded PDF will now show up in the iBooks app.
Exporting Files to Dropbox
Dropbox makes it easy to export picture, movies or screenshots from your iPad's Camera Roll.  Select the Files menu from the top left of the screen. Next select the + icon to open the Camera Roll.  Select the photo or movie and hit the Upload button.  The file will now be available to all your other devices in using Dropbox.

The iBooks and Dropbox apps are very easy to use.  Once you get all the PDF manuals downloaded you can leave your many pounds of bulky binders at home the next time you head out. This may take some getting use to, but it makes alot of sense.  I know some of you just like to feel the paper in your hands and will want to keep your binders.  Many of you have already become comfortable reading digital media with your Kindles and iPads, so it should not be a big stretch.

The best part of this whole process is that you will have freed up alot of space on your boat.  There should be room for at least a couple more cases of soda, beer, wine or alternate beverages.  Take the leap, go digital!

~~~Sail On~~~ /)


  1. Great post.

    We scanned all of our binders of manuals several years ago during a long Pacific crossing. We loaded them into iBooks on our iPads and iPhones. It is so nice not to have to hunt through binders looking for the one manual you need. Or being at the chandlery and being able to pull up the specs on a part you remember you needed.

    We still keep the paper copies on board in case of a lightning strike (knock on wood) but we moved them to a hard to get place, freeing up prime real estate.

    One other thing: you can actually load the PDFs into iTunes using "Add to Library...". That way the PDFs will automatically get synced to all your devices from your laptop. I think that may be somewhat easier than using DropBox, especially if you have several devices.

    Fair winds, Mark

    1. Mark,

      Thanks for the comments. I downloaded the files on my iPad first and then tried to get them to synch to my other devices through iCloud but that did not work for some reason. Glad to hear there is a way to do it through iTunes, I will try that.