15 Sailing Books That Helped us Prepare For Cruising Life

With a small bookshelf and a few boat jumbles popping up over the winter we are constantly evaluating which books can stay and which must move onto boat bookshelves new. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the books where I can pinpoint exact moments they have helped us along the way. Most of these you wouldn’t necessarily read cover to cover. Instead they provide excellent reference once aboard. I also haven’t included cooking books for cruisers here either, as I think they deserve their own list (T promises to write this at some point!) So here we go 15 sailing books that helped us prepare for cruising life, in no particular order:

1. ‘Reeds Skipper’s Handbook’, Malcolm Pearson

This is all of the sailing essentials condensed into one small pocket-sized book. Amazing. Navigation, lights, rules of the road, anchoring, buoyage, the list is endless. If you are really short on space, this is the one.# reference

2. ‘World Cruising Routes’, Jimmy Cornell

This is a great book to kick off your route planning. Be inspired by maps with key cruising routes all over the world. Each route is given a compass bearing, an overview of weather conditions and what to expect, when. I love dipping in to think about future plans and routes we might take. Jimmy also has a ‘Cruising Handbook’, outlining all of the ports, visa requirements and formalities. We don’t have a copy, so I can’t vouch for it, but it’s on the wish list.# inspiration # routeplanning # reference

3. ‘The Voyager’s Handbook’, Beth Leonard

I really enjoyed reading this book, whilst preparing to leave. This book covers it all, from navigation and cooking to storm tactics and how it feels. Full of tips and advice too, it really is a comprehensive handbook to the cruisers life, but one you will read cover to cover.# advice # inspiration # covertocover

4. ‘The Cost Conscious Cruiser’, Lin and Larry Pardy

We are budget cruisers, so to learn some tips and tricks from the ultimate budget cruising couple was extremely helpful. Whilst their life is quite extreme, there are still many things that we do differently as a result of their experience.# advice # covertocover

5. ‘The Sailing Dictionary’, Joachim Schult (translated extensively by Barbara Webb)

I love this book. It doesn’t come out every day, but when it does, it gives me such joy! Learn new nautical terms, their origin and enjoy the sketched drawings alongside. Useful for understanding the sesquipedalian* types. # reference # fun

6. ‘Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Handbook’, Nigel Calder

This book could be an absolute lifesaver. Definitely a reference book, but has everything you might need to identify and/or fix things on the boat. I haven’t met many liveaboards that don’t have this book on board! Nigel also has a ‘Cruising Handbook’. We don’t have a copy (they are a tad pricey) but, if it is anything like the above, I am sure it would be a helpful bible on board.# reference # technical

7. ‘A Voyage for Madmen’, Peter Nicholls

There are literally hundreds of sailing-around-the-world stories (many of which I have worked my way through), but only a handful have made me react like this true story of the first documented solo sail (via Cape Horn). This is the tale of nine men who attempted to be the first. All with incredibly different personalities, boats, outcomes and experiences. Nicholls heavily researched each sailor, their lives, news articles around the race and of course their logbooks. I couldn’t help wondering which of the nine sailors I might be like. It also made me realise how important learning how to use a sextant could be, and to take part in the cruising life for the right reasons. # inspiration # realitycheck # truestory # fun # covertocover

8. ‘A Seaman’s Guide Pocket Book of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea’

This is a no frills, small, clear and concise copy of the RULES. Everyone should have one. Great reference for understanding how low in the pecking order you are as a sailor, but more importantly what action you are required to take in any given situation. A reminder too that… if in doubt, get out of the way!# reference # technical # essential

9. ‘Knots’, Collins Gem

There are hundreds of knots books out there. Full disclosure = I don’t know if this is absolutely the best one. However, it is small, has good pictures and easy to follow instructions. It includes all those that you are likely to use day-to-day, but a couple of decorative knots too for when you have no wind and need something to do. # reference # technical

10. ‘Weather’, Collins Gem

Same as above. Small, concise and with great pictures of cloud states that will really help you learn to identify what’s coming. Might not be the best book ever written on the weather, but has certainly worked for us and our predictions are getting better!# reference # technical

11. ‘First Aid Manual’, St Johns Ambulance

Extremely clear. With strong pictures, short, sharp advice and clear directions. An essential on board. We also have a copy in the grab bag.# reference # essential # technical

12. ‘Get Real, Get Gone: How to Become a Modern Sea Gypsy and Sail Away Forever’, Rick Page and Jasna Tuta

This book can be a bit annoying, but ultimately saved me thousands. It helped us buy the right boat and focus on what was really important. The authors’ no-nonsense reality check also made us slow the whole adventure down, helping us recognise that the journey should be savoured. I’m not in love with the term ‘sea gypsy’, but I referred back to this book countless times during our year of preparation. # covertocover # reference # advice

13. Pilot books (in general), probably by Rob and Lucinda Heikell

I am compelled to give a quick nod to pilot books in general. Whilst digital navigational aids such as Navionics and Noonsite are wonderful, and believe me I am a big fan. They just can’t replace pilot books and paper copies. Our Greek Waters pilot book is by far our most read book on board. Used before, during and after sailing. With Rob and Lucinda being such prolific authors of pilotage, particularly in the Med, the consistency really helps you get a sense of what to expect regarding shelter, holding and facilities. Having said that, we do like to ignore their likes and dislikes sometimes too, after-all it is subjective and we are our own explorers!# reference # essential # advice # technical

14. ‘Sail and Rig Tuning’, Ivar Dedekam

We have three tuning books on board, a couple of which were left by the previous owners. Personally, I like this one for its clear descriptions, breakdown of action and 150 illustrations. Whether you are a beginner or novice, you will find something new to try. Obviously, our experience is in relation to a Bermudan Sloop Rig, so if you have a more traditional rig, I would just caution you to check first.# reference # advice # technical

15. ‘The Complete Yachtmaster’, Tom Cunliffe

This is a tough one for me. I actually find some of the comments and references within the copy distasteful*. I also find Cunliffe’s constant use of ‘he’ slightly off-putting. Whilst Cunliffe justifies this within the introduction, the whole world of sailing is male-dominated and quite honestly fairly sexist. As a female owner/skipper using ‘he’ quite so much, does reinforce this culture and make the text a bit inaccessible. However, we have used the book a number of times to run scenarios, refresh ourselves of specific boat handling manoeuvres and a slightly longer reference to the theory than the Reed’s Skippers Handbook. # reference # technical

A couple of contenders I also LOVE, but didn’t quite make the cruising life essentials list:

  • ‘Sailing Alone Around the World’, Joshua Slocum
  • ‘Stargazing: Astrology Without a Telescope’, Sir Patrick Moore
  • ‘Fastnet, Force 10’, John Rousmaniere

Please let me know if you have any suggestions or books you can’t live without. I’d love to hear from you.

*Sesquipedalian – used to describe someone or something that overuses big words, like a philosophy professor or a chemistry textbook.

**Example – “A tree and a courting couple will serve beautifully, so long as the human element isn’t moving around too much.” (7th Edition, pg. 75) Reeeaaallly? Is this necessary? And surely, advising that a transit should simply be stationary would be more responsible?

selection of books recommended for sailors

sailor holding ships wheel of victoria 34 while sailing
girl cleaning the bilges on a sailing boat
sailing boat at anchor with mountains in background and girl swimming in the water
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