Thursday, August 25, 2016

Organizing maintenance manuals

It looked official in it's "Winnebago" bag
UPDATE:  After Winnebago commented on this blog post via Twitter, I reread it and realized I left out our final categories!  I've added them below, and for those who don't find this as fun as I do, ideas on how to decide on YOUR categories.

When we moved onto the boat, my first boat project (after unpacking) was to organize the paperwork, specifically the maintenance manuals.  Luckily, the previous owners had kept everything and they were semi-organized.  However, it turned into a system review for me as I asked "What is this for?" and it was fun for The Captain who said, "Oooh, let me see that!" or "Hey, I was looking for that."  You see, he doesn't have much patience for paperwork, which is where I come in.  Luckily, I brought a bin of sheet protectors, report covers, folders and a hole punch!  I ended up going with three accordion folders organized by system and when The Captain needed something, I was familiar with what was in there and could put my hands on it fast! (I also downloaded electronic copies of all manuals that were available online in case the originals were damaged or--bite your tongue--lost!)

BEFORE:  It LOOKED organized...
When we were looking for an RV, we always asked for/glanced through the manuals, just to get a sense of who the prior owner was.  Did they keep all the manuals in an organized fashion in one place?  Was there a work history we could refer to later?  However, we didn't pore over the manuals the same way The Colonel did for a logbook review while pre-buying an airplane.  When we moved into Odin the Winnebago, there was less need to read all the manuals immediately.  We were relatively familiar with all the systems after living on a boat and there were no big projects we needed to complete prior to launch.  It was filed by six categories (Chassis, Appliances, Electronics, Generator, Plumbing/Drainage, Misc/Warranty).  Of course, the chassis section was the biggest (Caterpillar diesel engine, Freightliner chassis, Allison transmission) and also the most used.  I could never find anything in there (ie. Convection Microwave), despite The Colonel saying, "I know I saw it."  After hearing, "I need to get a copy of the full Caterpillar maintenance manual" for the umpteenth time, I reached in again to take another inventory and came out with a bunch of expired warranty cards.  OK, let's do this!  With The Colonel kicked back with his feet up and a beer in his hand, I got started...

Getting organized
After a couple hours of "What is this?" And "Ooh, let me see that" (and, if you live on a boat or in an RV you've probably heard, "Look.  This graph is fascinating."  I doubt that, honey.), we had 14 piles/categories instead of six.  Lots of things were misfiled including awnings in Generator, appliances in Electronics, and--bonus--when duplicate manuals were filed in different categories.  ("Honey, I found the installation manual but do you know where the maintenance manual is?"  "Um, yeah.  I hid it.  I thought it would be funny.")  Some manuals were loose-leaf and had gotten shuffled.  The trash pile included some limited warranty cards from when the RV was new (2001), several lists of service centers from each component (out of date & available online), and a few copies of manuals in French.  "I don't speak French.  Throw it away."  "But I need to find the English manual first!"

A hand-drawn leveler diagram!
The gems include: 
  • A hand-drawn diagram of the leveling system that had been squished to the bottom--(PAGE PROTECTOR) and the knowledge that the leveling system has always been a problem child according to the
  • Invoice folder of previous maintenance--answering the question of how long Odin had been sitting before we adopted him (last Work Order was September 2015 at a Cat Service Center in NY.  Filter changes done at a service center in SC in 3/2015 answering the question of what needed to be serviced before we leave for CO!)  A typed list of every upgrade done since manufacture! The previous owner's name was Earl Gates and the first owner was Ronald Dates--"That's funny.  Gates.  Dates.  Get it?"   
  • While reviewing why there was three "Knowing your Chassis" documents, discovering this was the handout from the much coveted Freightliner course (that The Colonel couldn't get into because it was full for the season).  SCORE!

Notes from the Freighliner course
Off to the store to buy an accordion file (The Colonel requested one big one that would still fit in the same cabinet behind the Captain's chair), page protectors, report covers and a hole punch.

Important loose pages were put in page protectors.

Several components had multiple manuals including installation, maintenance and operator's manual that were consolidated into one report cover per component--now even the Navigator can find the correct manual!

UPDATE:  Deciding on categories.  I ended up with the following categories (subject to change based on the ability to find things in the future):  General (original brochure, original equipment list, original weight info), History (invoices), Catepillar (engine), Freightliner (chassis), Allison (transmission), HVAC, Generator, Electrical, Electronics, Galley (microwave, coffee maker, sink water filter), Plumbing, Awnings (Yes, we have three different style awnings!), Wiring Diagrams (bound book but thick), Tow equipment, Misc.

UPDATE:  If sorting through what you have and creating piles didn't make categories obvious, look for:
1) Big piles:  if you forget what you're looking for by the time you flip through the pile, consider splitting into another section, ie. Our "Chassis" section included multiple manuals so we split it into engine/chassis/transmission.
2) If a system like "plumbing" is only one page, consider consolidating with another small category.
3) YOU are the one that has to be able to find a manual, so make up your own categories, ie. our "Electrical" section (should be inverter, electrical panel, etc) also contained a lot of "Electronics" (TV manual, satellite manual, tv antenna) making in unwieldly, so I split it in two and made sure they were right next to each other to avoid misfiling in the future.  There was also some generator info in "Electrical" so I placed it next in line. 

AFTER:  The finished project with 15 categories
Of course after I presented my finished project to The Colonel for his approval, I opened the cabinet to find all towing manuals still in the plastic.  DANG IT!

Maybe we think this is important because of our aviation background.  Or maybe we're geeks.  Even if your manuals look organized, I recommend this project.  They are now ordered in a fashion that makes sense to US and either of us can stick our hand in & pull out what we need, on top of the fact we both have a good sense of what is in there.  It's also an opportunity to review the systems with my mechanic husband in a casual environment, instead of when things fail and all questions are answered with "the look"!


  1. Kudos to you for making the effort to organize so well. I try to do that at home and the boat, as well, and it pays dividends. With a lot of the various materials I keep on the boat, however, I have a simple binary categorization: a bin for stuff that keeps things together (tape, adhesive, caulking, epoxy, etc.) and a bin for stuff that keeps things from sticking together (grease, various lubricants, silicone spray, etc.) It works for me.

    m/v Diva Di

    1. I like together & not together! I'll tell the boss. Those are the type of things scattered around...