Books for Cruisers

Ch6_11- tablets for reading

Here’s a rundown of the books we know, use, and love. Jump to:

Planning | References | Weather | Medical | Provisioning | Inspiration | Field Guides | Fishing | Regional: MexicoRegional: CaribbeanRegional: South Pacific | Regional: Southeast AsiaRegional: Indian Ocean

Planning for Cruising

  • The Voyager’s Handbook. There are a lot of options for a general cruising guidebook, and Beth Leonard’s is the gold standard. Even as some of the content gets dated (the latest edition is from 2006; tech has changed a lot, for communication in particular, and budget estimates are pretty far off), in my opinion, nothing else even comes close.
  • Starting from scratch? The Craft of Sail is not only an excellent primer to sailing fundamentals, it is beautifully illustrated and doesn’t bog basics down with too details you can add later. It is the perfect place to start.
  • Voyaging with Kids. This is the book I desperately wanted when Jamie and I were anticipating cruising as a family…but didn’t exist! Shameless plug.
  • Jimmy Cornell and son Ivan Cornell organize pilot charts for most of the world in Cornell’s Ocean Atlas – a succinct format that could be the only route planning resource you have on board to lay out a circumnavigation or indefinite paths to wander the world. It’s based on data from the last 20 years, making it a better reference than classic pilot charts for changing climactic conditions.
  • World Cruising Routes—Jimmy Cornell. This is only a shortcut to doing your own homework with pilot charts, but it’s a good place to start, and it’s enough for many. World Cruising Destinations is a companion book with country-by-country details that covers everywhere cruisers go. Great for dreaming and helpful later.

On-board References


Books for cruising: Planning | References | Weather | Medical | Provisioning | Inspiration | Field Guides | Fishing | Regional: MexicoRegional: CaribbeanRegional: South Pacific | Regional: Southeast AsiaRegional: Indian Ocean


  • Your Offshore Doctor. Michael Beilan is a physician who has also circumnavigated, which means his guide understands the specific medical needs/plans of cruisers better than any other.  It will answer pre-cruising medical questions, help you understand how to prepare, suggest contents for your medical kit (scaled based on how far/remote you plan to range), guide treatment and more. Make sure you get the updated (Nov. 2017) edition!
  • Where there Is No Doctor. The classic guide for remote care, this practical volume is the one that helps me solve our questions / take next steps, 90% of the time at least. Free PDF online!
  • AMA’s Family Medical Guide is a comprehensive guide to to family medical care with flowcharts to help you diagnosis based on symptoms you know. Decision trees help the layperson and the family-friendly content helps with little ones.
  • Dangerous Marine Creatures. A comprehensive education in marine critters that can get you into trouble: what to beware of, consequences, how to avoid them (and what to do if you run into trouble). Our son’s favorite book at age 9, but also a good reference.


  • The Boat Galley Cookbook – Carolyn Shearlock, Jan Irons. If you get just one cookbook on board, this is the one you want. Clean organization, a broad spectrum of recipes, and extremely practical information to help cruisers eat well make this book the new standard for every galley.
  • Essential Galley Companion, Amanda Swan-Neal. A lifetime of experience cruising comes through this book. These recipes align well with how I cook, and reflect Amanda’s far flung cruising adventures.
  • Care & Feeding of Sailing Crew—Lin Pardey & Larry Pardey. This book is so much more than just feeding the crew! Provisioning tips, cruising lessons, and a collection of recipes are shared through the authors’ passage across the North Pacific.

Inspiration / Cruising Life

Modern stories:

  • Blue Horizons – Beth Leonard. This book collects reflective essays she wrote over the years. It’s a beautifully written, sometimes profound peek into the cruising life
  • Neither Motion of the Ocean (Janna Cawrse Esarey) or Love with a Chance of Drowning (Torre DeRoche) – are specifically about cruising, but they’re great personal stories about relationships and intertwined in the context of each woman’s cruise across the Pacific…and, really good reads.
  • What’s it like to cruise the Caribbean? Ann Vanderhoof’s An Embarrassment of Mangoes details her cruising interlude resonant honesty.
  • The small-boat, high-latitude adventures of the Martin family captured my imagination. Into the Light captures the adventures of their family and made me want to winter over in Iceland. Really! There’s a video, too.
  • Jimmy Cornell’s memoir, 200,000 Miles, blew me away. I expected to be underwhelmed, but I couldn’t put it down. Storytelling from his tremendous experience mixed with highly practical information.

Classic voyages:

  • Sailing Alone Around the World – Joshua Slocum. The book that made me fall in love with cruising: Traveling in the late 1800s, Joshua Slocum is arguably the world’s first cruiser, sailing for the sake of exploring the world by boat. Prior link is if you want to buy a copy on Amazon- it’s also available in ebook form for FREE! (thanks for the tip, Nico!) Find the files on Project Gutenberg; it also has Voyage of the Liberdade, about the boat Slocum built to sail home from Brazil after being stranded there with his family.
  • Dove – Robin Lee Graham. A teenager circumnavigates in the 70s: this is the book that started it all for Jamie. He gave me his battered copy to read after we’d been dating about a week…relationship level setting! I only dated sailors, anyway.
  • The Long Way – Bernard Moitessier. Not for everyone, but a fascinating exploration of his own shift in thinking over the course of a voyage (the first Golden Globe Race, a solo, non-stop circumnavigation rounding the three great Capes), and ultimate departure from a high-profile event.
  • The classic cruiser logs: Always a Distant Anchorage – Hal Roth; Blown Away – Herb Payson (with a new edition that includes excellent additional content, reflecting with hindsight); Once is Enough – Miles Smeeton; and Trekka Round the World – John Guzzwell.

Books for cruising: Planning | References | Weather | Medical | Provisioning | Inspiration | Field Guides | Fishing | Regional: MexicoRegional: CaribbeanRegional: South Pacific | Regional: Southeast AsiaRegional: Indian Ocean


General Field Guides

For a discussion of our favorite field guides on board, see What Are The Best Field Guides for Cruisers?

  • Seabirds of the World, Peter Harrison. We have both the smaller (but data-dense) paperback reference, and the larger hardbound Complete Reference. It’s the latter we reach for most, but they’re both enjoyable.
  • Shells (Smithsonian handbooks; also, a Golden Guide; we have both. Smithsonian has better images, but info included in the Golden Guide is quite good)
  • Guide to Marine Mammals of the World (National Audubon Society). Hands down THE best guide for identifying whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals around you.
  • Simon & Schusters Guide to Rocks & Minerals: especially for up in the Sea, where you look at a lot of massive rocks.


  • Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing, Scott Bannerot & Wendy Bannerot. This is the definitive book for cruisers who will fish- probably more than you need to know, but full of good information (ever wondered how to throw a casting net?). Not your identification guide, but probably everything else.
  • The Baja Catch (Kelly & Kira)- if you’re serious about fishing in MX, this is a great book. In fact, it is THE book.
  • Sport Fish of the Pacific or Sport Fish of the Atlantic – not just a reasonably good ID of what you’ll probably catch, but RATES the eating quality! I don’t know another fish guide that does this systematically….turns out, that matters.
  • Sport Fish of the Atlantic– sister guide to the book above, for Atlantic cruisers.
  • Fishes of the Pacific Coast- because sometimes it had fish the other books didn’t, plus, more info on behavior

Books for cruising: Planning | References | Weather | Medical | Provisioning | Inspiration | Field Guides | Fishing | Regional: MexicoRegional: CaribbeanRegional: South Pacific | Regional: Southeast AsiaRegional: Indian Ocean


Regional Reading

Here’s a list of books we’ve found helpful in specific countries or regions along the way. We tend to lean on references like Noonsite, Wikipedia (or Kiwix, offline), blogs, and similar more than cruising guides. But sometimes there’s an especially good one, and a well-researched introduction section- cultural, historical, political overviews- can be worth the cover price. My preferred orientation is to dig up a bunch of both fiction and non-fiction about the country, and ideally by authors from the country, that we will be visiting.


  • The gold standard of cruising guides for Mexico are Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer’s pair, Pacific Mexico: A Cruiser’s Guidebook and Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guidebook. Nothing else comes close in terms of information, and the pictures are so beautiful it can double as a coffee table book to foster your dreams until you can go.
  • Learning even just a little bit of Spanish will go a long way. Kathy Parson’s Spanish for Cruisers worked for me better than ANY other non-cruiser-specific Spanish language resources I tried.
  • Sea of Cortez Marine Animals (Gotshall) and companion book on SOC Marine Invertebrates– although the title says SOC, it’s useful well south from Baja. This was our go-to for critter identification when snorkeling in the Sea.
  • Sport Fish of the Pacific. Imminently useful becuase it’s one of the only guides that rates the eating quality of a fish, instead of just how to identify the species! This turns out to be useful, and neglected in most fish guides.
  • Fishes of the Pacific Coast. Oldie but goodie; not for the volume of fish covered, but for the depth of information about their geography and habits.
  • The Baja Catch (Kelly & Kira). Troll for used copy of this out-of-date gem. If you’ll spend time in Mexico and want to go fishing, it can’t be beat.
  • Log from the Sea of Cortez – John Steinbeck. It’s obligatory for anyone spending time in the SOC. Remarkable for what’s the same (landscape) and what’s different (depletion of marine life)
  • The Pearl – John Steinbeck. Obligatory for Mexico-bound cruisers.
  • Telling Our Way to the Sea: A Voyage of Discovery in the Sea of Cortez. A fictionalized account based on the author’s real experiences in Baja, reportedly a vivid introduction to issues of ecology and history in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Gathering the Desert – if you’ll spend a season in the Sea of Cortez, this book covers a (small, but interesting) selection of wild food you can forage for, with a side helping of local culture and knowledge. Fascinating if you’re into that kind of thing. I loved this book.


  • The Human/DeLoach reef guides are simply the best. Unfortunately you need three! One for Reef Fish, one for Coral, one for, well, everything else (Reef Creatures). And, regional guides matter: our Indo-Pacific guides didn’t measure up here.
  • Transition into cruising and Caribbean tour, An Embarrassment of Mangoes is wonderful storytelling, sprinkled with recipes.
  • Set on a fictional Caribbean island, Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival isn’t a cruising book but is a hilarious (and fresh, despite age) look at the dream to chuck it all and live in the islands…something most cruisers can relate to!
  • It’s hard to beat James Michener for sweeping regional history…as he does in his novel, Caribbean.
  • Going to/near Haiti? Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains is spectacular nonfiction narrative that both illuminates healthcare issues in Haiti and offers uplifting hope for change.
  • Bahamas bound? the Waterway Bahamas guides are updated annually, and our 2017 edition is serving us very well. For charting data in the shallow waters of these islands, the three-volume Bahamas Explorer chartbook set gets recommendations; they have guidebook-like information, but lack the local detail that Waterway has (and, require 3 books to cover Bahamas).
  • Taking the “thorny path” by sailing from the Bahamas to the Caribbean? I know the cover looks all self-pub cheesy, but Bruce van Sant’s Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South is quality content for understanding weather/sea state dynamics and making the best of this otherwise challenging stretch. Bonus: hysterical and spot on observations of cruiser culture.
  • We found the Doyle guide really useful during our pass through the Leewards last year, and the spiral-bound format is very convenient. Clearly some corner of the Caribbean have authors specific area expertise, but I’d look to Chris’ for the well traveled areas.

South Pacific

Southeast Asia and Indian Ocean

  • Indo-Pacific Coral Reef Guide, Allen/Steene. In the Coral Triangle, we were generally well-served by our South Pacific marine field guides (Allen/Steene are contributors). But the massive jump in biodiversity for non-fishy critters underwater in PNG and Indonesia made guides like this with additional detail on corals, invertebrates and more really useful.

Salty Insta