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The Boater’s Reading List- 15 Stories of Nautical Adventure for Anyone Stuck on Shore

By: Scott Way

If you’re stuck on shore or otherwise unable to live the swashbuckling life of a (smart, responsible, friendly) pirate, the literary tradition is stacked with centuries of high seas adventure. There are enough captivating true stories, nautical folklore, and epic storytelling to satisfy any reader’s taste. This list covers the full gamut of the nautical tradition- classics, fiction, non-fiction, harrowing true stories, and some shameless paperback entertainment.


There are revered authors, a couple lesser knowns, and a few adventurers with a penchant for the pen. Whether you’re a sailor, a power boater, the captain of a superyacht, or the deckhand on a fishing boat, there’s something for everyone to get lost in. If you're itching to get back on the water and could use some nautical escapism, here are 15 great books to excite your imagination.

1) Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick Herman Melville

Of course Moby Dick makes the list. Captain Ahab’s bad luck aboard the Pequod in search of an elusive white whale is a legendary tale. If you’re unfamiliar, Moby Dick tells the oddly compelling story of a madman in pursuit of a mythical creature as mysterious as the sea itself. History and folklore have both examined the parallels between Ahab’s tenacity and the realities of the human character and trickled them throughout popular culture- Moby Dick is about the faith we keep during hardship, about perception versus reality, about persistence under mounting odds, and about the hilarity we sometimes find in agony.

2) Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson

A fanciful tale highlighting the romantic idealism of faraway adventure, Treasure Island is an iconic novel. Written in prose but full of action, it’s a story about good and evil- affable young Jim Hawkins encounters the malevolent Blind Pew at the Admiral Benbow Inn, resulting in multiple twists and turns that culminate in a battle for treasure on a tropical island. The evil is personified as the inimitable Long John Silver, one of writing’s best villains. The good presents as Jim Hawkins' genial nature and inherent good fortune. A complex and contradictory character, Long John Silver is the cunning stalwart to Jim Hawkins’ coming of age idealism and youthful exuberance. If you enjoy sagas about tropical adventure and romantic escapism, Treasure Island should be in your bunk.

3) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan J.M Barrie

Don’t mistake Peter Pan as strictly a children’s book. While it follows a mischievous boy who refuses to grow up, Peter Pan is a tale of unwavering belief for any curmudgeony adult who needs their priorities checked. Made into countless films with spin-offs on Broadway, in music, and beyond, the original Peter Pan is a fun read that captivates both kids and adults. The metaphoric concept of ‘looking for your shadow’ leads to a mystical universe called Neverland, where Red Indians, The Lost Boys, and the dastardly Captain Hook remind us to embrace the qualities in a person that truly matter. With merciless pirates, fairy dust, and a gang of friends bonded by adventure, it’s page-turning excitement that makes you wonder what lurks in the next paragraph. If you get hooked on Peter Pan, the prequel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry is a similar high seas adventure about bravery and the human spirit. Peter and a mysterious new friend named Molly overcome bands of pirates (including the legendary Blackbeard) to guard a secret from their evil pursuers. It’s a 2-for-1 pair of novels you can read by flashlight in the cabin after dark.

4) Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi Yann Martel

Life of Pi isn’t your typical story about trouble at sea, and that’s what makes it great. It’s a fantasy adventure with an unusual setup about a boy in a drifting lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Despite the quirky arrangement, it’s a thoughtful novel about the roving line between spirituality and practicality. The protagonist is Piscine Molitor, or ‘Pi’, who spends 227 days drifting in the Pacific Ocean with his unusual co-host, Richard Parker. With Pi’s family having left India on their way to Canada transporting a zoo of animals, only to be lost in a shipwreck, Pi and Richard barely survive but must learn to trust and understand one another in order to succeed. It’s a fascinating story about the relativity of truth and the perception of circumstance.

5) 500 Days Around the World on a 12-Foot Yacht by Serge Testa

500 Days Around the World on a 12-Foot Yacht Serge Testa

Serge Testa is the author and subject of this riveting story about the 500 days he spent navigating the world in a boat barely larger than a bathtub. Testa sailed the world in his homemade sailboat ‘Acrohc,’ which measured less than 12 feet, and his successful completion earned him a place in the Guiness Book of World Records. Testa braved innumerable troubles aboard Acrohc and writes humbly about his experiences that included encounters with whales, cyclones, and a nearly fatal fire. There’s a welcome element of humour, especially during difficult moments, and it’ll ignite a sense of adventure in any outdoor enthusiast. The boat was barely bigger than a bathtub!

6) Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum

Sailing Alone Around the World Joshua Slocum

This book is considered required reading among sailing circles, and for good reason. It’s a historical tale, and a true one, about Joshua Slocum’s 1895 solo journey around the world. Slocum would be the first person to sail around the world solo, doing so aboard his 34 foot sailboat ‘Spray.’ Sports Illustrated called the memoir “(o)ne of the most readable books in the whole library of adventure,” so you know you’re in for a page turner. Sailing Alone Around the World inspired countless nautical adventurers, its success having lasted 125 years and still being read by countless sailors today.

7) Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne

A quintessential classic for boating and literary fans alike, the Jules Verne odyssey is on every ‘Best Of’ list for a reason. In 1866, an unidentified monster threatens the shipping passages of several nations, leading French oceanographer Pierre Aronmax and his trusty assistant Conseil to join a U.S Navy expedition to hunt and destroy the mysterious culprit. With no luck after several months, Aronmax, Conseil, and Canadian harpooner Ned Land go overboard during an attack only to find the monster they’re hunting is in fact a futuristic submarine, The Nautilus. The fabled Captain Nemo mans The Nautilus, a character renowned as the definition of shadowy and aloof, who leads the crew on a 20,000 league odyssey through sights beyond their wildest imaginations, including the Antarctic ice barrier and the lost ruins of Atlantis.

8) Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe