Essential Reading for Sailors

Essential Reading for Sailors

DIY is the essential ingredient for keeping boating costs low. There are two approaches, either you figure it out for yourself, or you learn from the experience of others who have been there before. I prefer the latter. So here are the publications I found most useful - grouped by subject.

Boat renovation requires you to think ahead and in some cases study ahead otherwise your project frequently becomes stalled by questions such as ‘what should I do next?’ and ‘how on earth do I do that?’

Fortunately internet retailers have enabled all of us to gain access to the best information at the click of a button. When it comes to boat electrics, wiring, batteries, charging systems etc I knew nothing. Here are the three books I found most useful. Electrical systems, with their arcane language and mathematics can be difficult to understand for an amateur and the subject can be particularly frightening when you consider the risks of getting it wrong. Start with the 12 Volt Bible and then move on to the other two books mentioned below. I bought mine with the intention of selling them on later --- in retrospect I think it’s a better idea to keep hold of my copies.

This is a complete introduction to the 12 electrical system you are probably going to want to use on your boat. It explains how the system works and how to install maintain and troubleshoot problems. If you are installing your own system it offers the basic information and it should be your first port of call for most answers.

Title:           The 12 Volt Bible for Boats (Second Edition)
Author:       Miner Brotherton (Revised by Ed Sherman) 
Publisher:  International Marine / Mc Graw Hill
ISBN        978-0-07-139233-4

Seaward’s Rating: Five Stars

Understanding Boat Wiring (UK)

This book is a very practical guide to planning and installing wiring on your boat. It establishes the standards
to which you should be working, explains electrical principles, circuit protection and isolation, switchboards and panels, systems for earthing circuits.

Title: Understanding Boat Wiring
Author:            John C Payne 
Publisher:        Sheridan House
ISBN               1-57409-163-8

Seaward’s Rating: Five Stars

Understanding Boat Batteries and Battery Charging (UK)

Whereas the previous book dealt mainly with power distribution around your boat to drive the electrical
systems and equipment on board, this book explains how to choose and install the sources of that power (the battery or batteries) and how to keep those storage cells charged and functioning. I would recommend that this book be read in conjunction with Understanding Boat Wiring (above).

Title:                Understanding Boat Batteries and Battery Charging
Author:            John C Payne 
Publisher:        Sheridan House
ISBN               1-57409-162-X

Seaward’s Rating: Five Stars 


 The Fiberglass Boat Repair Manual (USA)

The Fiberglass Boat Repair Manual (UK)

I found this book to be my essential early reader on the subject - it provides a simple explanation of the material, its qualities and uses. I provided me with more information than required on how GRP boats are constructed commercially, but was a fount of useful information on cleaning, restoring, painting and polishing GRP. Some of the later chapters deal with the types of repair I hope never to encounter - but, if I do need to undertake radical work, then this would be my starting point.

Title: The Fiberglass Boat Repair Manual
Author: Allan H Vaitses
Publisher: International Marine/McGraw-Hill Camden Maine. USA
ISBN        0 07 156914-6

Seaward’s Rating: Five Stars


This book is probably long out of print but if you can get your hands on a copy it could save a great deal of expense. As the title suggests it offers a variety of alphabetically listed money saving ideas; how to make your own cleats, wet weather gear, and even a pretty effective anchor. Beyond DIY, it suggests looking beyond expensive chandlers counters for parts and equipment which can withstand the marine environment at a much reduced price. It has to be said that if you took all these ideas on board your vessel might look somewhat agricultural rather than nautical but you’d be on the water for a good deal less than you can imagine. Simple Sailing Low Cost Cruising starts here.

Title: The A-Z of Cheaper Boating
Author: Bill Beavis
Publisher:  Stanley Paul & Co London 1977
ISBN        0 09 129061

Seaward’s Rating: Five Stars

The Marlinspike Sailor (USA)

The Marlinspike Sailor (UK)

First published in 1960, Rudder Publishing Co - and later in UK 1971,2 & 3 by David & Charles. An excellent book on the old ways of doing things - many of which would still be useful today especially if you want to keep costs down or make you vessel just that little bit 'shippier'.  So, if you want to know how to whip, seize or splice, make a Turk's head or a rope mat - here is the book to show you how to do it - and where to put it!

Title:The Marlinspike Sailor
Author: Hervey Garrett Smith
Publisher: David & Charles

ISBN 0 7153 55295 5

The Sailor's Book of Small Cruising Sailboats: Reviews and Comparisons of 360 Boats Under 26 Feet (USA Readers)

The Sailor's Book of Small Cruising Sailboats (UK Readers)

Here is the book I should have started with. Only discovered it recently but it would have saved a huge amount of money and times if I had used it before chasing all over the country looking at boats that were inappropriate to my needs.

If you are thinking about purchasing a sailing boat of less than 26ft, you'll find reference to it here. Its the perfect reference book for making your shortlist.  


  1. I would also like to recommend A Time of Cherries: Sailing with the Breton Tunnymen by

    A fantastic read

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