Monday, October 7, 2013

What's On the Wheelhouse Bookshelf

In the last few weeks I've been involved with several boat deliveries and have been teaching again on Zodiac.  As a significant part of this, navigation seems to be the hot topic that everyone wants to talk about.  I'm of the opinion that it's pretty important to know where you and your boat are, and I'm the kind of person who just truly enjoys navigation.

So the question I've been getting lately is: "What navigation books would I recommend?"  In my response I always preface that I don't consider myself an expert, but I try and learn as much as I can.  The other day I found a quote tucked on a loose piece of paper in a book which read; "He who would presume to teach must forever also remain a student.".  Towards that end, I have a lot of navigation books on the shelf and try and learn something new as often as I can.

So these are the books on my navigation shelf and why.

First off I'm going to assume you have the basics:  Tide and Current Tables, Navigation Rules, Light List, Coast Pilot and Chart No. 1.  If you're going to Canada like we do, carry the Canadian Chart No. 1 (symbols will be different on Canadian charts) and the Sailing Directions.  I like to carry an older copy of the Coast Pilot and Sailing Directions for our areas, as there is often interesting historical information in them, even if the nav aids are out of date.

I personally feel strongly that one should carry paper copies of these publications.  I know the cost can add up, that they have to be replaced every few years and that electronic versions are available, but I like the failsafe approach of paper.  I recently read an article in Classic Boat on the Dorade winning the TransPac Race.  It mentioned that in an earlier race they were offshore and all their electronics went dead.  I like and use electronic instruments and data, but when they don't turn on, books still open.

Okay, the next book to consider:  A copy of Chapman's Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling.  Capt. Richard Rodriguez of the Bitter End Blog recently mentioned that if he could only have or recommend one book, this would be it.  It's far more comprehensive that just navigation, but worth every penny.  I personally prefer the older editions, as I find the piloting information in them more detailed.  As a plus, the older editions also have a wealth of information on etiquette, traditions and practices not found in the newer.  I have a 1956 and a 1940 edition on the shelf.

Okay, now for the next round.  The One-Minute Guide to the Nautical Rules of the Road by Charlie Wing (2006; International Marin Press) and How to Read a Nautical Chart by Nigel Calder (2003, International Marine Press).  For recreational boaters and cruisers, who don't "live" by the Rules of the Road, Wing's book is a clear and concise description of them, along with a quick reference flowchart to help the recreational mariner in a tight spot.  Calder's book is in my opinion the best short history of charts and charting written, along with tons of information on projection, scale and accuracy.  Especially if one relies on electronic charts, this is a must read for where hidden issues may lie.

Now we're at my Big Four.  These are the basic coastal piloting and navigation books that I go back to time and time again.  Obviously much of the information is the same, but the presentation is different in each book, which sometimes may make one easier to understand than another.  You should note that several of these predate the transition to green nav aids, so don't get confused.

1) Piloting and Dead Reckoning; Shufeldt, H. H.; 1970; US Naval Institute Press.  This is my go-to book, the one I refer to more than any other.  I like the format, the presentation and the sequence of information.  This book makes piloting clear and understandable in my mind.

2) Coastal Navigation, Step By Step; Norville, Warren, 1970; International Marine Publishing  Same basic information, different format.  I especially like the practical exercises, following a hypothetical cruise.

3) Coastwise Navigation; Wright, Francis W.; 1980; Cornell Maritime Press.  Clear presentation and examples.  I especially like the chapter on Maneuvering Boards and Relative Motion Problems.  Perhaps bit more advanced than basic pilotage, and out of date with the development of ARPA, but so very cool!

4)  Advanced Coastal Navigation; 1990; US Coast Guard Auxilliary.  Excellent information on maintaining a dead reckoning plot and proper notation.  While not "navigation", I believe that Chap. 11 on Fuel and Voyage Planning and Chap. 12 on Reflections should be required reading for anyone who takes a boat out.

When we train interns on Zodiac, these are the four books I hand out to be read.  If they take the time to go through all four, I have no worries that they'll pass their "Get us from Seattle to Bellingham with no GPS" test.

I'd like to mention just a few more books. 

Got a radar?  Get The Radar Book by Kevin Monahan.  All the recreational boater needs to know about how to use and understand it.

Going to Alaska via the Inside Passage?  Get Local Knowledge also by Kevin Monahan.  Worth every penny, especially for the distance tables and the information on transiting the various rapids and narrows.

None of the books I've mentioned so far deal with celestial navigation.  Unless you are planning on crossing an ocean, make sure you can manage your coastal pilotage before learning celestial.  We are buried at times on Zodiac with kids who want to hang in the chains with a sextant but can't pilot their way out of a paper bag.  Get good at piloting, then take a class on celestial.

So with that, we are down to the grand daddy of them all.  Do you really like navigation?  Do you want to know as much as possible?  Do you want to have pretty much everything about navigation in one (or two) difficult to read government publications?  Get thee to a bookstore and purchase a copy of H.O. Pub. No. 9, American Practical Navigator, originally by Nathanial Bowditch.  I love that the subtitle is "an Epitome of Navigation".  This book is commonly referred to as Bowditch, and if it's not in there, you don't ever need to know it.  Recent editions have been condensed to one volume, my 1977 copy is two.  I will confess to not being familiar enough with the newer editions to know if the editors dropped information that was deemed "not needed in this day and age" or just used smaller type.  The much older editions are chock full of fascinating information that went the way of the fully-rigged ship.  Oh, and once you have a copy, name your dog Bowditch like our friends Ryan and Anne did.  You'll be cool too!

So that's the short list of what's on the shelf.  There's always additional books to add.  Get some weather books.  Get some good cruising guides.  Get some WWII vintage navigation books. They had to teach a lot of people how to get from Point A to Point B then, so there's a ton of cool books.  There's even a few that will teach you how to take a SBD divebomber from Point A, fly it to the enemy at Point B and then find Point A again (which moved a few hundred miles while you were busy)  If you ever feel that you've covered it all, go find a copy of H.O. Pub. 217, Maneuvering Board Manual.  It will make your head spin with relative motion problems.

I'd like to close with a quote from the foreword to Shufeldt's Piloting and Dead Reckoning. 

"Piloting will always be one of the most respected and valued skills of the experienced mariner.  Proficiency in this subject is an important measure to separate the expert from the novice boatman.  The boatman who is knowledgeable in piloting is better equipped to cruise safely in both familiar and unfamiliar waters."

So, know where north is, know where you are, and always lay down that intended track line before the fog rolls in.


  1. Jeff just cost me a fortune at Amazon.

  2. Good list, some made it on my wish-list for Christmas!
    A former German intern who will always find his way to Bellingham, no matter from where ;-)