• Jerry Rouillard


At some point, every sailor needs to find something, fix something or just learn more about a particular sailing topic. That's where having a good set of reference publications and online resources becomes important.

Over time experienced sailors usually acquire books and websites they can go to quickly when they need help, and I've acquired a few favorites of my own over the past 30 some years. If you are a beginner, they might provide a starting point for your own library. If you are an old salt, there may be a couple you missed along the way. In either event, I'm more than happy to share them - though not nearly as eager to lend them!

I have included a lot of online references, and I know a lot of people now like to go straight to YouTube for help. But, there are still good reasons for getting some of these reference sources in print. If you own a boat, invariably there will come a time when you need to know something, and it just isn't available electronically. A book never runs out of battery power. You might also find it a lot easier to earmark a book than it is an iPad, and it's not nearly as traumatic if you drop it overboard!


American Sailing Association's SAILING MADE EASY text book series.

As an ASA Instructor, I confess to a bias for this relatively new series of official manuals. It starts with Sailing Made Easy as the text for the Basic Keelboat Course, and follow-up texts are now available for advanced courses. The books are clearly written by experienced sailing instructors, the illustrations are easy to follow, the photos are outstanding, and the tips they intersperse in the text are worth the price of the books alone. Available from Amazon and ASA in both print and electronic format.

CHAPMAN PILOTING: Seamanship & Small Boat Handling, 68th Edition.

A lot of us refer to this huge book as the sailor's Bible. It is truly a compendium of all things sailing, and if you only had one book on sailing, it should be this one. In print for over 100 years and 3 million copies, Chapman's is now in its 68th Edition. Available from Amazon in print and Kindle format.

ANNAPOLIS BOOK OF SEAMANSHIP, 4th Edition, by John Rousmaniere.

A good companion to Chapman's, John takes a different look at many of the same topics. You always get a good take on sailing from Rousmaniere, particularly when it relates to navigation, safety and heavy weather sailing. 400 pages, richly illustrated and very well written. Available from Amazon in hardcover and Kindle.

NauticEd, Online Training Program.

Grant Hedifen has put together a remarkable online system for sail training and certification. One of the most intriguing options he has incorporated is a free Sailor's Logbook that lets you track your progress right on this website. The training is relatively inexpensive and includes written material, YouTube videos, illustrations and self administered testing. Much of the instruction is quite good even if he does seem to burrow further into detail than most instructors at beginning levels. I recommend you try his free sample courses to see how well this style of training fits you.


NAVIGATION RULES for International and Inland Waters. United States Coast Guard. (Paradise Cay Publications)

All boats over 12 meters long must carry a copy of these regulations. They are available from the Coast Guard, and have been republished by Paradise Cay publications along with an index of annotated contents. Unofficially these inclusive regulations are called the "Rules of the Road," and this publication spells them out in detail along with good illustrations. Officially, the Navigation Rules derive from the proceedings of the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) They became effective in 1977 and bound all nations that ratified the treaty resulting from that Convention. Everyone who commands a vessel on Inland, or in International waters must know how these Rules apply to them and what compliance requires.

CHART NO. 1, NAUTICAL CHART SYMBOLS ABBREVIATIONS AND TERMS, Department of Commerce (NOAA) and Department of Defense. (Paradise Cay Publications).

This book gives meaning to the symbols and cryptic phrases that crowd standard marine charts. Without this code breaker, much of the information that flyspecks those charts would remain largely a mystery to most of us. At just under 100 pages, it should be on every boat that has paper charts.


This is an online site that will direct you to each state's respective boating regulatory and education requirements. There are significant differences between each state, but most offer a mix of boating regulation, education and advice in their publications. Some of the information is quite important - like the requirements for reporting boating accidents. Some is pretty much common sense, but helpful anyway. A few states, like California, require you have a copy of their regulations aboard at all times. Good to know.


This is a nine volume publication intended to supplement nautical charts for the near coastal waters of the U.S. NOAA's Office of Coast Survey distributes the publication annually and it is available in both print and electronic form that is downloadable for free. Essentially it contains everything you ever wanted to know about boating on the coastlines of the U.S. Load the online version into your computer, and it's available whenever you need it.


While a few vendors still put out catalogues, most marine products are sold online today. Old schoolers - like myself - still tend to prefer the comfort of paging through a familiar catalogue. But, I have to admit that comparison shopping online is preferable when it comes time to buy. Interestingly, the opposite happens when it comes to fixing things. Online videos make boat mechanics out of all of us, so my first stop is usually YouTube.


It used to be that the West Marine Catalogue was an essential publication for anyone looking for an equipment solution, or a how-to purchasing advisor. The catalog was over 1100 pages of well indexed, marine products and services. It also contained a series of expertly authored mini-essays on everything from "Anchor Selection to "Wood Finishes." It was called the West Advisor series. Since 2016, they have abandoned the catalogue publication and taken everything - including the West Advisor - to their internet website, where it continues to be a valuable resource of nearly encyclopedic proportions. Other than the fact their recommendations are always West Marine products, there is a lot of generic information in this series.

PRACTICAL SAILOR. Belvoir Media Group.

For anyone owning a sailboat, or thinking about buying a boat, a subscription to PRACTICAL SAILOR is a must-have. Essentially, it is the Consumer's Report of sailing. They take no advertising, they sell no equipment. They test, report and rate marine products, boats, clothing - you name it. Because they don't get ad revenue, their subscription prices are not cheap. Right now it's about $34 a year to subscribe to their online, or print magazine. But, you also get access to their online archives with either subscription. They have saved me a lot of money and grief over the years, so I heartily recommend them.


Whenever you are planning to sail in an area new to you, be it up or down-river on the Mississippi, on the Great Lakes, the Caribbean or in Mexico; you will want information from a knowledgable source. These publications are generically called "Cruising Guides," and they come in a variety of formats, price points and production quality. The best are regularly updated, have good descriptions of anchorages and marinas, include good graphics, maps and photographs, and accurately list way-points for important locations. Popular sailing areas like those listed above, will often have several to chose from, while an off-the-beaten-path location might not have anything recently published.

If you are part of a group planning a sailing charter vacation, a cruising guide provides a valuable tool for getting everybody into the plan and becoming part of the team. It will not substitute for the charter companies chart briefing before you sail off, but it will probably make it more meaningful.

SEA OF CORTEZ: A Cruiser's Guidebook. Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansemer.

This is the gold standard for Cruising Guides. Anyone cruising on the Baja or Mainland side of the Sea

of Cortez should have this book. It's now in a third edition, and still selling for its original price of $48.95 even though it has been expanded with aerial photos and other worthwhile features.

SUPERIOR WAY: The Cruising Guide to Lake Superior. Bonnie Dahl.

I don't have this guide, but it gets good reviews and would be on my must-buy list if I were going sailing again on Superior. It's also in a third edition and lists for $36 on Amazon.

RIVER GUIDE: A Guide to Boating on the Mississippi River Between Hastings, Minnesota and the Iowa Border.

This 10 page, free publication is a real treasure! It's put out by the Minnesota DNR, available online and easily downloadable. For such a small publication, it has a ton of valuable information. You can find out how to navigate locks, avoid those nasty wing dams, safely pass barges, and even get through the drawbridges at Hastings and LaCrosse. It's illustrated with maps and diagrams. It includes most of the boating regulations you will need for traveling on the river. It also lists the contact information for both Minnesota and Wisconsin DNR agencies and much, much more. You can find it by going to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library at

This post is part of the series I started with WINTER SURVIVAL FOR THE MIDWESTERN SAILOR, so I hope it does give at least some of you an incentive to dig into some reading material that may help keep those sailing chops up to speed. You can look for a couple more installments along this same line over the next couple of months.

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