Essential Ship's Library - pt. 2

essential ship's library Yes, we still have lots of hard copy books aboard. We've had several comments about it like “Haven't you guys heard about Kindles and e-books?” and “No wonder Nine of Cups is so heavy … it's all books!” Well, yes we've heard of Kindles … we have one although we tend to use our iPads with Kindle and iBook reader applications instead of the Kindle nowadays, instead of investing in backlit Kindles.

There are two reasons for maintaining the hard copy versions of the books we have aboard. First, to replace them all in the Kindle version would be quite costly and second, sometimes we like to be able to open a book to a specific page for easy reference, rather than have a Kindle or iPad in the galley when I'm cooking or the engine room making a repair or the cockpit when we're trying to identify a certain dolphin, for instance.

David maintains the technical and how-to books aboard, of which there are many. My side of the book collection generally includes cookbooks and reference books and a few all-time favorite novels and short story collections. You'll be happy to know, all the regular paperbacks are now gone … donated to yacht club libraries and other cruisers.

I didn't narrow down my list to the top 10. Rather, I listed what I thought are the types of books required with my favorites in each particular category … whether digital or hard copy is your choice.


Having a general reference cookbook aboard is important, especially one that offers “from scratch” recipes. My three favorite cookbooks of all times are The Cruising K.I.S.S. Cookbook by Corinne Kanter, The Cruising Chef Cookbook by Michael Greenwald and Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving .

KISS (Keep It Simple System) is a general cookbook with lots of great recipes, handy references, hints and conversions as well as “scratch” and substitution ideas. I've used it for years and continue to refer to it regularly.

Greenwald's The Cruising Chef was the first cookbook I ever bought for the boat. It provides info on the care and handling of veggies and fruits, the preparation of fish and shellfish, sauce ideas and in general, some easy, tasty recipes that I use frequently. It's a gem.

Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving is my ultimate resource for canning/jarring/ preserving fruits, veggies or meats/poultry.

I have a few others aboard like Martha's Vineyard Cookbook containing good Yankee recipes for this New England girl. I admit to having purchased several cookbooks en route when a particular cuisine, like Ecuadorian, for instance, seemed to offer lots of recipes that we liked. I could probably live without several of them, but I enjoy having them around.


We love to identify the birds, marine life and animals we see and thus have several books aboard. If you have a similar itch to name what you see and learn more about them, then having wildlife reference books are important. We have a few general books like National Audubon Society's Guide to Marine Mammals of the World and Illustrated Encyclopedia of Butterflies and Compendium of Seashells. For birds, I prefer having books more specific to the areas we visit like the Simpson Day Birds of Australia. We sometimes pick up plastic guides to local salt water fish to identify what's good for eating and what's not.


Depending upon where we're heading, I usually have a language book aboard. Spanish for Central and South America, French for French Polynesia, New Caledonia, etc. It always helps to be able to speak at least a few words of the local language. I like having a general dictionary aboard, especially one that provides verb tenses, pronouns, etc. and a general phrase book. Kathy Parsons' Spanish for Cruisers and French for Cruisers are invaluable.


There are lots of general medical references out there. We picked up Merck Manual of Medical Information and Gill's Onboard Medical Handbook when we first started cruising and still refer to them from time to time, especially for common sailor's ailments like rashes, itchy ears, insect bites, etc.

I'm not sure these are the best references, but every boat should have at least one good reference aboard and the appropriate medical kit to go with it. Getting more information from the locals is always wise, e.g. cigueratera, jellyfish, etc.


I love Lonely Planet and pick one up for every place we visit. I find them essential when planning our inland travel and sightseeing once we arrive in port. These travel guides also provide all the basics for visiting such as currency, holidays, time zones, customs, as well as history, climate and geography.

I also like the free iPad app, Maps With Me, which allows me to download maps of every country in the world and subsequently use them without internet access.

Lonely Planet

General Reference

Hoyles Rules of Games is indispensable for settling rule arguments at sea, as is a Scrabble dictionary.

A general dictionary and thesaurus are handy references especially for writers and though many are available on-line, it's important to have ones that are available for off-line use while you're at sea. Artha is pretty good, but nothing beats a Websters or an Oxford.

If you're into hobbies or special interests, it makes sense to include them in your library. Especially if you're living aboard, the boat is your home and as such should have room for pleasure books, as well as general reference. Because I sew, I have Jim Grant's Complete Canvasworker's Guide aboard and a book on flags. I also have a book on sketching and watercolors, some photography books and David has one on scrimshaw. Are these books essential? Probably not. Could I live without most of them? Probably. Do I want to live without them aboard? Absolutely not.

Be sure to read David's blog post on his Essential Ship's Library.

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