18 of the Best Books on Sailing

Published Categorized as Sailing Inspiration

I know–we’re all “connected” and glued to YouTube and online forums. But the truth is, you can’t replace a book. That’s right, a real, honest-to-God, turn the pages and read something, book-book!

The best books on sailing can be divided into a few categories. First, the non-fiction, fun-to-read ones make the best books on sailing adventures. Then there are the non-fiction sailing stories–the stories of solo racing, around-the-world travel logs, or survival at sea.

But, as a boater, you will also want to pick up some of the best books on sailing and seamanship. You’ll likely keep these titles as references onboard for when something breaks or you need a quick refresher!

So, without further ado, here’s a list of the best books on sailing stories for the ages.

Table of Contents

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Best Books on Sailing Stories – Sailing Adventure Books

Flirting with Mermaids: The Unpredictable Life of a Sailboat Delivery Skipper
John Kretschmer

Kretschmer is a celebrity in the sailing circuit, having worked for decades as a delivery skipper and now operating a popular offshore teaching charter on his Kauffman 47 Quetzal. He’s written for many major sailing magazines and has several excellent books about hurricanes and storm sailing.

But this book is a little more informal and a little more intimate. Kretschmer weaves personal anecdotes with sailing know-how to create an engaging tale that’s both fun to read and informative. The result is one of the best entertaining books on sailing that you can find.

An Embarrasement of Mangoes
Anne Vanderhoof

This is a real-life tale of a foodie gone cruising. Anne and her husband set out in a 42-foot sailboat from the US east coast, bound for the Caribbean. Each stop in the 16 countries and 47 islands along the way brings the sort of nautical misadventures you’d expect.

But the thing that brings this book home for me is the idea of taking one’s passions with them when traveling. I, too, am a devout foodie. Vanderhoof shares not her cruising dreams but also the culture and the ingredients that make each spot special–and even includes recipes.

From catching shrimp on the ICW to enjoying a Bahamian cracked conch for the first time, this one kept me turning pages the whole way through.

Float Plan
Trish Doller

After facing a devastating loss, Anna decides a sailing trip is just the ticket she needs. She needs her own adventure and to see if salt water is indeed the cure for everything, all while her family questions her plans and worries for her safety at sea.

After an eventful sail to the Bahamas, Anna hires a captain to show her the ropes. The story is a delightful mix of rom-com, adventure, and travel as Anna discovers the highs and lows of the sailing lifestyle.

Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening
Liz Clark

Swell is the modern sailing story of a young surfer from California who sets out on the adventure of a lifetime, cruising through Mexico and, eventually, the South Pacific Ocean. Clark tells her story with enviable honesty, chronicling her journey of personal growth as well as her sailing adventure.

Liz has been sailing her 40-foot Cal Swell for over ten years now, visiting many exotic islands and meeting people that fellow sailors only dream about. Many times she’s alone, or in the company of only her cat. Swell touches on every aspect of her journey, from relationship drama to technical boat problems that had her stuck in Tahiti for more than a year.

best books on sailing adventures

Best Books on the History of Sailing – Sailing Books of the Past

Sailing Alone Around the World
Joshua Slocum

I love this book for its historical perspective. Dreaming of casting off the lines and sailing into the sunset isn’t a new thing. Slocum was the first to circumnavigate by himself, setting out from 1893 to 1894 on his small sailboat Spray.

As you might imagine, cruising was a little different back then. One of the best books on the history of shipbuilding sailing, it offers a fascinating glimpse into what it was like in the late 19th century. Most of the spots visited were not set up for yachts, after all, and there was no Panama Canal. Join Slocum as he cruises the Magellan Straights and makes his way, navigating by stars (newsflash: the was no GPS back then, either!)

This classic is a free download on Kindle.

The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float
Farley Mowat

Mowat’s humor will pull you into this story, a perfect read for anyone considering buying a fixer-upper sailboat. His tales of the dangerous hand-crank diesel motor and the leaky wooden boat might seem archaic, but anyone who’s owned a boat will rejoice in understanding that it’s always been this way–it’s just what boats do.

This is also, for a change, a northern adventure that sets out from the shores of Newfoundland. If ever there’s a place where you’d like your boat to float, it’s where the water is that cold!

Unfortunately, this is one of the only books on the list that has yet to make it to a Kindle or ebook version. You can pick up a paperback for under $10, though.

best books on the history of shipbuilding sailing

Best Books on Solo Race Sailing

The Long Way (The Pivitoal Novel of the Golden Globe Race)
Bernard Moitessier

Some books have inspired sailors for decades, and many of those sailors point to Moitessier’s The Long Way as one of the most impactful. It’s the story of the first Golden Globe Race–a solo, around-the-world, non-stop route by way of all three Great Capes in the Southern Ocean.

Moitessier’s story is one of surviving solo at sea, with knock-downs, gear failures, storms, and doldrums. In the end, he sailed 37,455 miles before he touched land.

Maiden Voyage
Tania Aebi

At 18, Aebi became the youngest person and the first American woman to sail around the world alone. This book is her story and follows her 1985 journey of two-and-a-half years and 27,000 miles.

best books on solo race sailing

Best Books on Sailing Adventures and Best Books on Sailing Voyages

Patrick Schulte

Catamarans have made their mark on the world, and their impressive sailing performance and layouts continue to draw in new cruisers. Meet the young couple Ali and Pat, who decide over drinks that they should sail around the world on one.

One year later, they found the boat and set sail. With no sailing background or boating experience, the couple spent four years sailing around the world. They learn what they need along the way, get into trouble, and get out of trouble.

The most interesting thing about the book is that they are not conventional sailors–they aren’t into technicalities. They want to travel, and their catamaran lets them do it. This is a major shift for many sailors, and the couple makes it clear right off the bat that they don’t subscribe to the “norms.”

Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson

If you haven’t read the original pirate yarn Treasure Island since grade school, do yourself a favor and find a Kindle copy to reread. You might find buried treasures in this long-forgotten “kids” story.

And if the OG pirate tale piques your interest, consider hopping over to our ultimate list of best sailing movies and give Black Sails a watch. The show tells the back story of some characters from the book, like Long John Silver and Captain Flint.

best books on sailing voyages

Best Books on Sailing for Beginners

Sailing Made Easy

This is the textbook for ASA 101, the entry-level sailing course from the American Sailing Association. There are plenty of other books like it, but this one is super easy to learn from and designed by experts. It’s full of full-color graphics and diagrams and teaches using the building blocks method. Start with simple sailing terms and sailing knots, and work your way up to sail trim and handling the boat with easy, step-by-step instructions.

If you’re debating about getting into sailing without any experience, this book is a great place to start. So give it a read, and maybe you’ll want to make it interactive by taking the course from your nearest sailing school.

Coastal Cruising Made Easy

This is the textbook for ASA 102, Coastal Cruising. It takes the introductory information from 101 and expands on it, giving you the confidence to navigate farther from the marina and tackle some longer journeys. You’ll learn more about navigation, planning a big trip, and fine-tuning your sailing skills.

best books on sailing for beginners

Related: Best Boat for Beginners

Best Books on Sailing and Seamanship – Books That Should Be On Every Boat Bookshelf

Some books belong on the shelf in every boat, even if you’re tight on space. Of course, digital bookshelves count, but some of these references are invaluable to be able to pick up and flip through.

Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual
Don Casey

For beginners contemplating living on a sailboat, you cannot go wrong with this how-to guide that covers every part of boat ownership. Even if you aren’t looking at a fixer-upper, this book will walk you through the hows and whys of boat ownership and maintenance.

This hardcover is a collection of five smaller books, making it the ultimate compendium for your shelf. Here are the five titles included to give you an idea of the wide-ranging topics.

  • Inspecting the Aging Sailboat
  • Sailboat Hull and Deck Repair
  • Sailboat Refinishing
  • Sailboat Electrics Simplified
  • Troubleshooting Marine Diesels
  • Canvaswork and Sail Repair

The great thing about this text is that it grows with the reader. Section one teaches you how to perform your own survey on a vessel, an invaluable step to consider before making an offer and hiring a professional surveyor.

The Boat Galley Cookbook: 800 Everyday Recipes and Essential Tips for Cooking Aboard
Carolyn Shearlock and Jan Irons

Before you even get to the great recipes, this book contains great information you should have on hand in a cruising boat. Substitutions, how to store things without a refrigerator (or with a tiny one!), and what to look for in foreign markets are just a few examples.

The recipes are practical for the boater, with one-pan dishes and lots of potluck favorites. But there are also helpful tips on how to do things landlubbers may never have thought about, like baking bread in a tiny galley or cleaning a fresh-caught lobster.

Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual
Nigel Calder

Calder’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual is the bible of boat maintenance for DIY and cruising owners. It provides the theory and the basics, industry-standard how-to guides, and basic troubleshooting steps.

The importance of this book cannot be overstated. While many things on boats seem straightforward, particularly to folks already DIY savvy, there is still much to learn. Calder provides a baseline of how things should be done and a good summary of the regulations and ABYC standards for things like electrical wiring and plumbing.

The Voyager’s Handbook
Beth A. Leonard

If you’re wondering over the how-tos of making the splash into the cruising world, Leonard’s Voyager’s Handbook is an excellent resource. The book considers some of the important topics that few people discuss openly. For example, exactly how much does it cost to sail around the world? What sort of boat do you need, and how should it be outfitted?

Of course, these are hard questions to answer because everyone does it differently. Leonard tackles these difficult issues by dividing the cruising world into sectors–the budget cruisers, the middle-of-the-road folks, and the luxurious living large set.

No matter which group you put yourself in, this book helps you plan for the adventure. Whether you need help finding the right boat and outfitting it, weather forecasting and heavy-weather sailing, and managing emergencies, Leonard’s is a resource you should keep close at hand.

World Voyage Planner
Jimmy Cornell

If you dream of crossing oceans, this book is for you. This is the original how-to guide for sailing around the world. Or around the Atlantic, or Pacific, or where ever you want to go. It includes the basics and the most popular routes, including things you need to think about along the way and an overview of how it’s done. If you’ve ever wondered things like “how long does it take to sail across the Atlantic,” then this is the book where you’ll find your answers.

This book is part of Cornell’s World Cruising Series of textbooks. Each book looks similar but has a slightly different purpose.

  • World Cruising Routes — Details over 1,000 sailing routes for every major passage around the globe, including climate, storms, and ocean current considerations
  • World Voyage Planner — Overview of the most common voyages and how to plan them in the most favorable conditions with background information on global climate and cruising destinations
  • World Cruising Destinations — Descriptions and histories for 184 countries, including legal formalities for sailors, climate, and facilities

Sailing a Serious Ocean: Sailboats, Storms, Stories, and Lessons Learned from 30 Years at Sea
John Kretschmer

The title sums this great read up well. Kretschmer has made his living for years as a delivery skipper (read his yarns in the above-mentioned Flirting with Mermaids). But he also teaches wannabe voyagers and gives lectures on what makes a great bluewater boat. After all, he’s sailed a lot of them first-hand.

Sailing a Serious Ocean recounts some of his biggest lessons to students, including what makes a sound, bluewater boat, and how to deal with storms at sea.

best books on sailing and seamanship

What’s Your Favorite Sailing Book?

Whether you like a good adventure yarn, some historical drama, or a how-to reference that will be used daily, there are many great options.

One parting thought–the helpfulness of a Kindle onboard cannot be overstated. The basic Kindle Paperwhite is worth a look if you’re an avid reader, and it will always be one of the best gifts for boaters. It’s waterproof (!!!), and its battery lasts weeks without a recharge. In short, it’s the perfect travel companion and allows you to free up space on your shelf–something every boater needs.

By Matt C

Matt has been boating around Florida for over 25 years in everything from small powerboats to large cruising catamarans. He currently lives aboard a 38-foot Cabo Rico sailboat with his wife Lucy and adventure dog Chelsea. Together, they cruise between winters in The Bahamas and summers in the Chesapeake Bay.

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