Listing Eight of the Best Must-Read Sailing Books

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When I'm not on the water, I like to read about being on the water! Today I've compiled a list of the best must-read sailing books. Some are fiction, and some are not, but all have fantastic information that can be gleaned from their pages. I particularly enjoy stories and first-hand accounts as I find them to be more digestible than reading a long list of sailing instructions, but I've also included some more instructional sailing material as well for the more mechanically inclined. Without further delay, let's jump into my personal list of the best must-read sailing books. Click the cover photo for easy access to a purchase page.

Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost At Sea by Steven Callahan


Probably one of the first books that I read during my extended sailing voyage from California to Florida, and I had half a mind to throw this thing overboard. It spent 36 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and for good reason. Adrift is an undeniable seafaring classic, a riveting firsthand account by the only man known to have survived more than a month alone at sea, fighting for his life in an inflatable raft after his small sloop capsized only six days out.

The Complete Sailor by David Seidman


This is less of a story than the other entries, but you're in need of a how-to on anything that relates to sailing this guide has you covered! If you never sailed, sailed once, or have sailed for a lifetime, this book is perfect for beginners but deep enough content for those interested in going beyond basics. Revised and expanded to include racing and GPS navigation, The Complete Sailor is not just a how-to sail book, but a book that teaches you how to become a sailor.

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl


This story is an inspiration. Another real life account of extended time at sea, though not as life-threatening as the previous entry on this list. Thank goodness. Kon-Tiki is the record of an astonishing adventure—a journey of 4,300 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean by raft. Intrigued by Polynesian folklore, biologist Thor Heyerdahl suspected that the South Sea Islands had been settled by an ancient race from thousands of miles to the east, led by a mythical hero, Kon-Tiki. He decided to prove his theory by duplicating the legendary voyage.

Stop Drifting, Start Rowing by Roz Savage


In 2007, Roz Savage set out to row 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean—alone. Despite having successfully rowed across the Atlantic the previous year, the Pacific presented the former office worker with unprecedented challenges and overpowering currents—both in the ocean water and within herself. Crossing Earth’s largest ocean alone might seem a long way removed from everyday life, yet the lessons Roz learned about the inner journey, the ocean, and the world are relevant to all of us. She shares tales of the ups and downs of her voyage across the waves, while offering insights on how to find happiness through a meaningful and rewarding life.

South: The ENDURANCE Expedition by Ernest Shackleton


While most of my sailing has been tropical in nature, this is the book that convinced me to keep it that way. In an epic struggle of man versus the elements, Shackleton leads his team on a harrowing quest for survival over some of the most unforgiving terrain in the world. Icy, tempestuous seas full of gargantuan waves, mountainous glaciers and icebergs, unending brutal cold, and ever-looming starvation are their mortal foes as Shackleton and his men struggle to stay alive.

Two Years Before The Mast by Richard Henry Dana


A short but powerful read that will appeal particularly to California natives like myself. Two Years before the Mast is Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s memoir of a Harvard undergraduate becoming a sailor while collecting hides up and down the California coast and returning home in the treacherous dead of winter, richer for the experience. He goes aboard trying to look like a seasoned sailor, but writing afterward, he realizes that being a good sailor comes only with real experience.

Sailing Alone Around The World by Joshua Slocum


This book is widely regarded a classic of sailing literature because it is an account written by the sailor who made the first solo navigation of the globe under sail. A biography of Joshua Slocum would make riveting reading in its own right, for inherent in him were all the attributes of the ideal seaman of the latter half of the nineteenth century. An unquenchable spirit of adventure propelled him through many voyages and hairsbreadth escapes from the forces of nature and pirates.

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers


Carruthers, a British Foreign Office employee, agrees to go on a yachting holiday with an acquaintance, Davies. Carruthers assumes that Davies’ yacht, Ducibella, will be a luxury vessel with a crew. So, when he arrives at the port to meet Davies, he’s disappointed to discover that actually she’s a small sailing boat. Nevertheless, the two sail across the North Sea and into the Baltic, heading for the Frisian Islands, off the coast of Germany. Carruthers has to learn quickly how to sail the small boat.

Final Thoughts

If you're in need of some free reading material, we have a wide variety of blog posts here on The Better Boat that might sate your appetite for knowledge. For instance, have you ever wondered 'What Happens To Rogue Shipping Containers?'

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