It can take a lot to convince a man with a boat to put his feet up in front of the fire and open a book. After all, when you have the real thing, where’s the merit in reading about it? Well if you want to avoid the stagnation that often comes from a failure to develop your skills, embrace new equipment or imagine new ways of deriving your marine entertainment, a good book is vital. From general interest to self-improvement, cruising ideas and upgrade routes, a well-stocked nautical library can be a very valuable thing. Here is my pick of the best powerboat books.
1. RYA Powerboat Handbook (£16.49)
The RYA can be quite handy sometimes, not least when it teams up with a first-class instructor in the creation of a good powerboat book. The RYA Powerboat Handbook (and the Advanced Powerboat Handbook) by Paul Glatzel are prime examples. Ably illustrated by Pete Galvin in accordance with Paul’s direction, alongside very specific (and uncommonly relevant) photos, it covers how to launch, recover and berth, plus boat handling at high and low speeds and other essentials such as navigation, weather and Rule of the Road. It’s a very digestible reference point for anyone who enjoys recreational day boating.
2. Reeds Skipper’s Handbook (£7.99)
The Reed's Skipper's Handbook has been around in various editions for a long time now but its value to the experienced boater as well as the novice has made it a perennial best seller. This compact book covers every practical issue of relevance to the recreational boater at sea, from chart work and navigation to tides, electronics, Rule of the Road, safety, communications, rescue, meteorology, ropework and inland waterways. There’s even a brief sextant section for those of us who like to show off. In short, it does a top job of distilling everything you need to know into a concise and engaging format.
3. How Boat Things Work (£10.99)
As the Skipper of your own powerboat, you’re in the unique position of being fully responsible for your equipment, your crew, your nav plan and your safety, so knowing how things work is not just enjoyable but important. Written by Charlie Wing, this simply titled volume preserves that same clarity of expression throughout, enabling those who struggle with technical complexities to achieve a fresh level of understanding without having to ask their stupid questions in public.
4. Cockpit Companion (£7.99)
Let’s all give thanks to Basel Mosenthal – a man who understands that people like me can’t always contain encyclopaedic nautical doctrine inside their tiny little heads. The helm-friendly, splash-proof Cockpit Companion is a quick-fix brain extension for those moments when your memory fails you. It covers everything from lights, shapes and sound signals to knots, engine issues, safety and essential seamanship, with diagrams and illustrations throughout. It crystallises the must-know stuff in very effective fashion – and while both topics are covered here, the Navigation and Weather books from this same ‘Companion’ series are also worth having.
5. UK and Ireland Circumnavigator’s Guide (£19.99)
Sam Steele’s very practical guide to circumnavigating the UK and Ireland is just the thing to inspire you to hatch big plans and to equip you with sufficient understanding to bring them to fruition. The really exciting part about this kind of extended cruise is the fact that we can all realistically consider it. It is sufficiently close to keep you in touch with loved ones, it offers no insurmountable logistical or linguistic challenges and it can be achieved within a very manageable time frame. Geoff Holt, the first disabled sailor to sail singlehandedly around Britain, described it as the "new circumnavigation bible" and he’s in a very good position to judge.
6. RYA Pocket Guide to Boating Knots (£6.99)
This book does an uncommonly good job of making annotated diagrams transmit complex three-dimensional operations in a fairly straightforward fashion. Given that you only really need to know four or five knots to see you through every feasible leisure boating situation, it does tread close to the line between inquisitive student and pedantic obsessive. But once you can drop a perfect one-handed figure-of-eight in half a second, you will be grateful you spent the money.
7. How to Read Water (£13.99)
Tristan Gooley is a man of almost evangelical zeal in his fondness for, and his knowledge of, the natural environment – and while he has plenty of other books to his name, his monologue on water is particularly fascinating. It aims to enable you to “read the sea like a Viking”, decipher littoral wave patterns, predict the weather from the local swells, navigate a river like a pro, spot hazardous water in the dark and even find your way on land by means of puddles. Whether you enjoy trekking, boating, swimming or just improving your outdoor skills, Gooley’s book is a satisfying resource.
8. RYA Buying a Secondhand Boat (£7.49)
Okay, so this is not one you would read for pleasure or arrange on the coffee table to wow your guests but given that virtually all of us buy our boats used, it’s a really worthwhile publication. Written by the RYA’s Legal Advisor, it does a great job of clarifying the various stages of a transaction, from contracts, surveying, registration, insurance and finance to finding a mooring. Whether buying privately or through a dealer, it also highlights the potential pitfalls of a secondhand purchase, equipping you with the tools to make a confidence-inspiring investment.
9. Reeds Nautical Almanac 2017 (£49.99)
It doesn’t matter what kind of boating you enjoy. From waspish personal watercraft to 50-metre sailing yachts, this has to be in your cruising collection. It provides everything you need to know to plan a cruise anywhere in the UK and Ireland (and along the entire European coastline from Denmark to Gibraltar). Equipped with thousands of revisions each year, the 2017 book includes more than 700 harbour chartlets, plus tide tables, passage notes and distance data; information on radio, weather and safety; and a free Marina Guide. It’s also now available as a desktop resource as well as a print publication and while it is quite expensive, it remains the cruise boater’s most valuable go-to resource.
10. A Seaman’s Guide to the Rule of the Road (£12.50)
I know it has a reputation as a dry and convoluted volume of lawyer speak, but Naval Officers have to learn this thing verbatim and that’s something we should all try to achieve. Not only will it improve your understanding of how to conduct yourself on the water and how to react to difficult situations, but your knowledge of it will also serve you very well should you be involved in an accident. There are plenty of supplementary guides available to help break down the stickiest rules, as well as quiz cards and plastic reminder sheets to help you at the helm. But whichever route you take, understanding this stuff is vital to a happy, relaxed and enriching boat life.
Enjoyed our Powerboat book list? Check out our list of boating books for children. Looking for more gift ideas for the boater in your life? Read A boating Christmas wish list.