Holiday gifts for cruisers

christmas afloat

Shopping for a sailor? Getting ready to go cruising, and don’t want to spend on things you won’t use in your life afloat? Here is a list of suggested gifts we love (or wish we had!) that you can take with you…and some distractions to help you keep the cruising dream present while you wait.

Dream fodder

If cruising is in your future, here are some great reads to keep the dream alive, with tales directly from cruisers about their experiences afloat.

Blown Away, Herb Payson. One of the true classic cruising memoirs, this new edition includes the author’s hindsight on the aftermath of cruising. Herb is everyman, who took a lean budget and his family to find grand adventures. It is timeless, insightful, honest, and will leave you laughing as you wish you were following in his wake.

Love with a Chance of Drowning,Torre DeRoche and The Motion of the Ocean, Janna Cawrse Esarey. These two cruising memoirs women have  very little in common except that one rather important criteria: they’re well written page-turners that take you on their voyages.

9 Years on the 7 Seas, Anne Brevig. This book is ALL about the pictures: images from Anne’s circumnavigation and the accompanying journal of her travels were my frequent companions on nights when our cold Pacific Northwest winters felt dark, and the South Pacific felt very far away. You can buy digital editions directly from Anne on her website; I favor the large format paperback.

Sailing Alone Around the World,Joshua Slocum. The original cruiser and his in dominatable voyage around the world: this is the book that made me fall in love with the dream of cruising.

Reading in the cockpit
Mairen reads in the cockpit; Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

Personal gear

An ereader. You should at least partially convert to ereaders if you haven’t already! We love to read, and it’s simply hard to keep up with quality reading from outside the US. Unless you’re satisfied with the Patterson, Cussler, and Steel on the honor library shelves you’re going to have to bring it with you- and there’s only so much bookshelf space on a boat. We’ve used several different types over the years: I’d get another Kindle Paperwhiteif I had to buy one tomorrow. The gentle side lighting makes for unobtrusive and easy nighttime reading. We specifically like the e-ink over tablet readers as dedicated reading devices – we have a couple of iPads on board too, but it’s a less pleasant reading experience and too hard to use in bright daylight. Oh, and don’t even think you will be able to share one!

A rugged headlamp. We use our headlamps all the time. They get us from cabin to head without disaster at night. They keep us hands free to light a beach fire. They act as dinghy lights on the way back to the boat at night. Yet somehow, a really dependable headlamp has been elusive! We’re trying this set now, and are pretty optimistic. They are waterproof, rugged, extra bright when we need them, dim when we don’t. The only thing ours doesn’t have are night-vision friendly red lights, but we have red cabin lighting that fills this need on night watches.

Camera equipment

81PnDu4O7tL._SL1500_A good DSLR. I’ve had some nice compliments on photos here and I’m pleased with the gear we use on board. A Nikon 5100 DSLRas my primary camera. The newer generation of this is the Nikon D5300 (see this comparison); for a great deal, I trust Adorama for second hand gear. For lenses, I love this 50mm lens – it’s kind of famous for clarity: it takes gorgeous shots! I’ve usually got this 18-135, though, as a walkaround. If I had my druthers, though, and a new budget for gear- I’d swap it for a nice wide angle like this one, with a better zoom for distance. I’ve written about our current gear it more extensively in this post.

An underwater camera. If it’s going to be a wet dinghy ride or I just need something small and rugged, we use a Canon Powershot D20. We use it for all our underwater photos as well, and it’s been great for us (check out the current model, the Canon PowerShot D30– our D20 is already two years old). But if we were buying a new compact underwater today, I’d take a long hard look at the newer Olympus Tough–  I believe it edges out the Canon.

Fun in the water

Snorkel (or dive) gear. I wasn’t really into swimming before cruising. Wow, THAT changed! With such gorgeous clear water, and so much to see, we spent a lot (a LOT) of time in the water. Good gear is worth the investment. You’re best off trying on masks at a dive shop to get the best fit. Make sure the there’s an actual hinge (not just soft silicon) between the frame and the strap. We have a hodgepodge on board, but the better Cressi snorkeling gearhas all held up well.

Speargun. Won’t THAT make an impression under the tree! These have been worth endless hours of fun on the reef, pushed us to improve our freediving capabilities, helped us better understand the marine environment, and provided some extremely delicious dinners. Jamie bought a Pelaj in Australia; this Rob Allen railgunstyle is similar, and 100cm is a good length for versatility.

Mike spearfishing in Fiji
our friend Mike from IO, spearfishing in Fiji


General cruising aids

thermometerA good rangefinderis just the kind of gadget that is super helpful, but a bit of a splurge for something so specific. I wish we had purchased one back when we still had a good income! A range finder can save sleepless nights at anchor wondering exactly how close you’re getting to that cliff, or if the charter boat in front of you is dragging as much as you suspect.

Infrared thermometer. This is another one of those discretionary gadgets that makes a fun pre-cruising gift you will actually use. OK, so sometimes we use it for kicks just to see how hot the deck gets in the tropical sun (it’s measuring Celcius, by the way- that’s HOT)… but it’s also been very useful for troubleshooting when we had engine overheating problems. Professional grade can run to a couple hundred dollars, but you can get a “good enough” cheapie like this onefor around $20.


Galley favorites

Pressure cookers are praised by many cruisers. Count me in: I bought one ONLY because we were going cruising, and used it for a year before I left. Honestly? It was a revelation how it eased dinners for our busy family life, with homemade meals in less time. Aboard, of course, that means less fuel used and less heat in a tropical galley. Mine is a Kuhn-Rikonwith short handles (easier to stow) and 6 liter capacity (a whole chicken roast, or 4 pint jars for canning). Don’t wait until you go!

Good coffee. I remember looking longingly at our espresso machine at home and wondering how I’d break my addiction to good coffee afloat. Turns out: no habit change required, just different methods! Our everyday coffee is made in a stovetop Bialetti Moka Express– just know that when it says “six cup” size it’s referring to espresso portions: that 6 cup model is just enough for Jamie and I to have our morning joe. You’ll need spare gaskets (we go through about one a year). We also use this gorgeous Bodum stainless steel french pressto make delicious coffee; but what you need to know is how ridiculously sturdy and overbuilt this pot is.  That pretty glass french press one won’t get you far offshore! It’s also insulated, and keeps a pot warm for hours.

The right cookbook. I love to cook and didn’t think I needed another cookbook, but you will: The Boat Galley Cookbookis awesome, and Carolyn and Jan have thought through pretty much every question you will have about provisioning, adapting for other countries, and recipes with a cruising filter.

Field guides

I wrote about our favorite guides for fish, shells, other marine life, birds and more about a year ago. With the natural world so big in our lives, these add tremendous enjoyment to our everyday existence. They’re great memory keepers, too, with notations in the books about when and where we’ve seen a given critter.

Going to Mexico?

With Mexico in sights as the first major destination for most west coast cruisers, here’s my pick on reads to set you up for a great experience.

The Log from the Sea of Cortez, and The Pearl,John Steinbeck. It’s simply required reading, both the nonfiction story of his exploration in the Gulf of California in the 1950s and the piognant tale of a Baja boy who finds the pearl of his dreams.

Gathering the Desert,Gary Paul Nabhan. Fascinating look in depth at a few key items you can forage for in the Baja deserts. A great read for anyone spending hurricane season in the Sea of Cortez, very interesting if you’re into that kind of thing. I loved this book.

The People’s Guide to Mexico,Karl Franz. Occasionally dated (it is in the 14th edition), this is still both entertaining and helpful for orientation if you’re totally unfamiliar with Mexican culture.

Going to the South Pacific?

It’s too easy to be in Mexico and realize you don’t have quality books for the South Pacific. It happened to us! We lucked into books from someone who changed plans – don’t make our mistake. I listed useful guide books in this post.

Typee,Herman Melville. When you get to the Marquesas, you will probably anchor in the same bay where Melville jumped ship with another sailor. It is a tremendous true story that was believed to be made-up tale for years, and a great way to find new appreciation for your exotic surroundings.

An Island to Oneself,Tom Neale. This is the book that has inspired many cruisers, and a must-read if you’ll be sailing to Suwarrow, one of our favorite stops in all of the Pacific.

For the cruiser with everything

There’s always a carbon fiber head

Ideas from other cruisers

I asked around for other lists of gift ideas for cruisers: here are some recommendations from others:

None of the links here are “sponsored” – they are my opinions. And, links in this post which lead to Amazon listings include a referral from the Totem crew. If your click through a link and purchase from Amazon, it throws a little change in our cruising kitty. It doesn’t cost you a penny, but it’s a nice help for us. Thank you for supporting our family!

31 Responses

  1. All wonderful suggestions, thanks! If you haven’t already read it, I think you’d love one of my all-time favorite authors Nevil Shute. His book Trustee from the Toolroom (available on Amazon from Vintage) is a wonderful classic, written with a beauty and simplicity not often found today, about sailing, selflessness, adventure, and generosity.

    He got the idea for the book from the voyages of Beryl and Miles Smeeton whose excellent books range from Miles’s Once is Enough, about being dismasted twice while attempting Cape Horn to Beryl’s The Stars My Blanket about her solo travels in the interwar years on half-wild horses in Patagonia.

    (Books are always some of my favorite Christmas presents, though you can’t beat dive gear either!)

    1. Those are great recommendations Ellen- and Shute’s is a book I haven’t read! Thank you, I’ll put it on my wish list now. I *ADORE* the Smeetons books, and just read one of them recently. I’ll never forget hearing John Guzzwell speak about that dismasting, and watching his footage of the seas just beforehand – from a talk at the WBF in Port Townsend back in 2003.

  2. Wonderful post, as always, Behan! Will be getting Joe a few items on your list for the holidays. Looking forward to the new edition of Herb Payson’s Blown Away, too. Any idea when your cruising with kids book project will be published? Can’t wait!!

    1. Excellent Carla! Just don’t tell me if it’s a range finder. I’ll be too jealous. No date pinned for publication yet… but you can be sure I’ll share it here when there is one!

  3. Thanks for the link Behan! I didn’t know a range finder was an actual thing, but now that I do I know what I’m getting Jason for Christmas. We’re back working for this Christmas so I better get it while I have the income. I know he would have appreciated it back when he spent 3 nights on anchor watch.

    You’re missing the link to your photo equipment post, btw.

  4. An excellent collection Behan and I wouldn’t disagree with anything on here you have mentioned. Most fall within the category of “Don’t sail without”.
    The only thing I would add is a few hardrives. We keep everything on them from films, music, pictures and writings. I am sure that like us you have thousands of pictures so having them all in several places saves ever loosing them which would be a disaster. Also some good software for cataloguing and finding the photos when you need them.
    Once again you always manage to come out with a excellent post just when we need it.

    1. Hard drives are a something we all seem to need and use, for sure. What do you use for cataloging? I’ve just started doing more cloud backup after some stressful hard drive failures. Losing two in one day was very nearly disaster… thankfully I’m married to a data recovery ninja! Man of many talents he is. 😉

  5. Thanks for the awesome ideas Behan, sharing to my page! Regarding coffee, I love my Aeropress – it’s really cheap, takes up no room which is fantastic and makes amazing coffee 🙂

  6. Where’s Bernard Moitessier?!? He’s my all time fav. hero, love his books, they made me fall in love with the cruising dream… and still smile at me from the bookshelf on happy dancer right now. Don’t think you mentioned good head torches? personally we’ve been dreaming about pro goes to make even more fun videos… and I know you don’t agree with all things on the ‘small things, big difference’ list (which has evolved since also)… but for us it’s made sense: Keep the good work up. Always in love with your cover pics. such a price winner! Much love from the Med. xx

    1. Moitessier is spectacular and would be on my favorites list too! I don’t think he’s for everyone. Re the head torch: we call them head lamps, Dini! LOL 🙂 And I like your list, too- well, most of it! Just not those bits don’t line up with how we cruise (e.g. mooring lines + fenders- ours got some use in Malaysia this year, but overwhelmingly don’t see the light of day).

  7. This list is GREAT! I now have some great ideas for my husband 🙂 I’ve been asking family for gift cards as I can then choose books for my Kindle. I know a lot of people don’t like giving money or vouchers but the alternative is to tell friends/family not to get us anything…

    1. Virtual gifts like credit for books on your kindle are fantastic. We just don’t have room to keep a single thing we don’t need/use on board! It is a mental shift for the givers to feel they are ‘real enough’ sometimes.

  8. It must be so nice to be able to take so much with you on your travels, I’m a bit in awe, we only have backpacks! Oh for a coffee press 🙂

  9. Thanks for the great list Behan, especially all the books. I have read about half of them and am looking forward to finding and picking up the other half. I can’t agree enough about the e-reader on board. When I discovered my wife had packed three duffel bags of books for our first month-long trip to Desolation I went right out and bought her a Nook and a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble to fill it up. Our boat rode several inches higher in the water and was not nearly as cluttered. I do have to nit-pick about including Motion of The Ocean and Love With a Chance of Drowning in the same sentence. I found Motion amusing for the first chapter (or maybe paragraph), after that I found her so annoying that I just wanted to throw it (and her) overboard. My OCD did make me read until the bitter end though. Keep up the great writing and have a wonderful Holiday in the Tropics.

    1. A lauded librarian once told me: when you reach the page that equals your age, if you don’t love the book, you should put it away with a clear conscience. I’m right there with you on the space-saving benefits of ereaders!

    1. Interesting, thanks Kate! I’m curious to check that out. We trend NMEA 2000 data with NavMon most of the time but don’t try to save it as a complete record. The data hounds on Totem will like this…

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