22 Best Boat Books and Sailing Novels for Vacation
When I was younger, I went to sailing camp which is why when I am by the ocean, I try to read a story with the same setting. If I can’t sail around, I at least need some boat books to let me pretend I’m on the water.
The sailing novels and boat stories below all transported me to my favorite setting. When I’m reading them, I can hear the water lapping on the sides of the boat in my mind and the gentle call of the gulls.
You’ll find classics, thrillers, non-fiction, and romances below. We hope you find something wonderful to help you escape into.
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Non-Fiction Boat Books
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
I was enthralled by the heroics of the team. The sheer force of will and strength it takes to get in that boat and win. I thought I would be bored by the minutia of rowing, but I wasn’t.
The mechanical part of it, the precision, just made me appreciate the skill of rowing even more. The Olympic games gave me such a heightened sense of American pride. I was rooting for the team and cheering them on the whole time.
Maiden Voyages by Sian Evans
Maiden Voyages looks at the ladies who worked Ocean Liners like the Titanic and the unbelievable challenges they faced. I was in awe as I listened to this story of ships being sunk by icebergs and wartime submarines.
The stories of unruly passengers, hurricanes, and the sacrifices of leaving their families to help others were unbelievable. I was so engrossed that I kept forgetting the book was non-fiction.
If you love women’s history, the history of travel, or stories about the Titanic, this is the book for you!
Romance Sailing Novels
It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
When I learned that Tessa Bailey used Schitt’s Creek’s Alexis as her inspiration for Piper, I knew I had to read this romance.
After getting in trouble one-to-many times for her party-girl lifestyle, Piper and her sister are banished back to their late father’s hometown in Washington.
While she’s learning to be responsible and money-conscious for the first time in her life, she needs to try not to fall for a local fisherman, Brendan.
This is such a great pick for enemies-to-lovers books and it is perfect for books Like The Love Hypothesis. It is also a steamier choice if you love Emily Henry books.
Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks
Nicholas Sparks is well-known for romance books that pack an emotional punch. After finding a message in a bottle, divorcee Theresa is determined to find the man that wrote the love letter inside.
If you are looking for a sailing novel that will make you cry, you better load up on your tissues now. I was bawling like a baby when this sailing novel concluded.
Float Plan by Trish Doller
This romance follows the romance script with perfect predictability which means that it is perfect if you are looking for a romance. Note: there is a suicide in this book that might be a trigger for some people and you should avoid this book if that is the case for you.
Even though there is some heavier elements, I didn’t feel that the book ventured too much from the typical romance path. I enjoyed it.
Hook, Line and Sinker by Tessa Bailey
This is such a cute romance. Fox Thorton is a player who has never had a relationship. The last thing he needs is to fall for his best friend, Hannah, while trying to help her get her crush. And to make matters worse, she has moved into his spare room for the next few weeks while she is filming a movie.
I wish there was a soundtrack to go with this book. It was such a cute and quick read.
Boat Books set on Cruise Ships
The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith
Greta James is at a crossroads in her career and her life. After a very public breakdown following her mother’s death, Greta decides to go on an Alaskan Cruise with her father.
But Greta and her father haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. This book focused on Greta’s relationship with her dad and herself. There is a side love story angle, but I would not classify this book as a romance.
I loved Greta’s soul-searching set against the gorgeous backdrop of Alaska. This boat book about music is the perfect vacation read.
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie is the queen of mysteries and this story is no exception. Set aboard a river yacht during a trip down the Nile, a murder unfolds and Hercules Poirot must solve it!
I did NOT see the ending coming, that’s for sure. This boat book was recently adapted for Amazon and it was delightful to see it brought to life.
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Historical Fiction Boat Books
Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
The third book in the Outlander series takes place during Claire and Jamie’s trip from Scotland to the Caribbean!! I was fascinated by the detailed descriptions of the treacheries of life at sea during the 1700s.
If you are looking for the inside scoop on what travel was really like back then, this sailing novel is for you. But it also gives an unflinching look at the harsh realities of sugar plantations during this time.
The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
What boat books list doesn’t include stories set on the Titanic? Not ours! Tess is hired to be a ladies’ maid aboard the Titanic, hoping it’s her chance to become a seamstress.
When Tess is rescued after disaster strikes, she’s forced to reckon with the possibility that her employer might have sacrificed the lives of others to save her own skin. Tess has to decide if she should keep her employer happy or stay true to herself.
I liked that this story looks at events after Titanic instead of just ending when the boat sank. I really enjoyed this one.
Seven Days in May by Kim Izzo
Like the movie Titanic, the characters are made up; however, the events surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania are true. The story is centered around two sisters who go aboard the ship and a third who works with the government receiving messages intercepted from Germany.
I think of this boat book in my head as a movie that is somewhere between The Hunt For Red October and the Titanic. This book would be a fantastic movie!!!! It moved quickly, kept me on my toes, and had a love story as well.
Classic Boat Books
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Oh, big white whale, how I despised you. I could not stand this boat book! My senior English professor is obsessed with it. We would get into debates CONSTANTLY, which actually made learning about it enjoyable and memorable.
But lordy, call me bored with this tale. (See what I did there?) Whaling, oil-making, and vulgar fishermen are not for me. So why is it on the list? Because lots of people ADORE this story. It’s not for me, but it might be for you!
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
No list of boat books would be complete without Jules Verne! A wildly imaginative tale of sea exploration whose whimsical details kept me turning the page. This classic by Jules Verne is about Captain Nemo and his underwater vessel, The Nautilus.
As Captain Nemo seeks scientific knowledge of the seas, he uncovers massive sea monsters, the land of Atlantis, and other thrilling adventures.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
The first time I read this book was actually before I saw the movie Shawshank redemption. I read it a bunch of times and loved it. I did not realize, however, that it was an abridged version.
When I was in University, I embarked on a journey to read the unabridged version of this book. I was so amazed at the brilliance and detail that is has been a favorite ever since.
Edmund Dantès is thrown into the Chateau D’if for a crime that he did not commit. There, he meets a fellow prisoner who teaches him within the confines of their cells before telling him of a treasure. Dantès escapes and seeks his revenge. As the classics go, this boat book is epic and it is one of my all-time favorite books!
The Odyssey by Homer
There is a reason this boat book is one of my favorite books of all time. I just find this classic tale to be so entertaining.
It’s a classic for a reason. Odysseus’s struggle to get home to his family is truly epic. Those Greeks sure knew what they were doing.
I’m constantly pickup up something new and reading it along with A Thousand Ships and The Lost Sisterhood gave me so much to think about.
Fantasy Sailing Novels
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
When a boat sinks in the Pacific, the only survivors are a 16-year-old boy named Pi, an orangutan, a hyena, a Bengal tiger, and a zebra. And while this book was written less than 20 years ago, it is already a modern classic.
This is not a sailing novel that once read can be forgotten. I know that some people look at the story as an extended metaphor in which each animal represents a person but personally, I like the book exactly the way it was written. There is magic in the pages of this book in all meanings of the word. First, read this book, then, rethink everything.
The Shadow of Perseus by Claire Heywood
Shadow of Perseus is a multi-narrator Greek mythology retelling told from the perspective of the women in Perseus’s story.
Heywood examines how facts can be manipulated into folklore, making everyday stories into monster-filled legends. Ultimately, the females in the story cast Perseus in a much different, and darker, light than traditional mythological depictions.
I love when mythology retellings turn a well-known story on its head – and this one does it exquisitely! I was riveted by Medusa, Andromeda, and Danae’s version of events and the setting of this boat book. We needed to include it in our ultimate list of beach reads 2023.
Fable (Fable #1) by Adrienne Young
I’m not the resident fantasy girl, but HOLY YES BATMAN. This story of a bad-ass female pirate was incredible. Normally, I only like fantasies if they have a strong romantic element. But in Fable, I found myself drawn in by our namesake character and the vivid world description.
Well done, Reese with this sailing novel
Thriller Sailing Novels
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
Stuart Turton does it again with The Devil and the Dark Water. Like The 7 1/2 deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, this book is captivating and smart. Turton thinks of every detail and leaves no questions at the end of the book. He writes like it is a puzzle and everything only comes together when the last piece is put into place.
Set on a ship that is being haunted by the devil himself, at a time when witchcraft was feared, Samuel Pips and his loyal bodyguard Arent are being transferred to Amsterdam where Sammy will be hanged as a traitor.
With Pips, the great problem solver, in chains, the only one that can help solve the mystery of who is killing people on board is Arent. This is such a well-written boat book and unexpected!
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Shortly after being burglarized, a travel journalist boards a small luxury cruise liner to cover its inaugural voyage. When she thinks she sees a passenger thrown overboard – but everyone is still accounted for – she has to decide if what she saw was real or only in her head.
This isolation book wasn’t as creepy as some of Ware’s others, but it still kept me on the edge of my seat. This unreliable narrator book is a perfect sailing novel as well. You just might want to wait until you are off the boat!
Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins
This is the Ultimate Beach Read Thriller! It’s all about 2 girls who hire a couple to charter them a boat to a deserted island.
But the island isn’t so deserted after all. As their relaxing trip turns deadly, we learn about the back story that brought each person to their destination.
It’s a wonderfully addicting read that is great in audiobook format as well. This vacation thriller is a perfect choice for books like People We Meet on Vacation.