Your boating library may include Chapman’s for general rules and seamanship, Eric and Susan Hiscock for practical instruction, Don Casey for maintenance, Bowditch for navigation, maybe even Tristan Jones for some salty stories.

Consider tracking down a vintage copy of the interesting and helpful American Merchant Seaman’s Manual to supplement the contemporary resources. Produced for the deckhands of pre-containerization working vessels, the AMSM was intended to be “a manual that would contain under one cover all of the information necessary and of vital interest to seamen.” With valuable illustrations, diagrams, and glossaries, the AMSM offers thorough (and now unique) overviews on many topics of great interest to the low-tech, low-budget, short-handed community.

Moving your mainsheet, adding running stays to your rig, or designing a self-steering system? The short chapter on blocks and tackles illustrates the mechanical advantage gained from different combinations and how to reeve the tackle of choice. By understanding these formulas and diagrams, you may improve and simplify your solution.

Trying to quickly calculate your distance from shore, without leaving the cockpit of your small rocking boat? Apply the Bow and Beam Bearing, and you will need only your log and a landmark ashore. You won’t need to fuss with your GPS plot and your chart for this quick calculation, allowing you to focus on your danger bearing.

Not all of the book is relevant to today’s boater (unless you want to learn about steam windlasses, or how to thin the paints of yesteryear), but every chapter offers something. There is also much dated, but interesting, information, such as a comprehensive list of helmsman’s commands (“Right handsomely,” “Nothing to the left of”) and first aid for a ship full of men (the symptoms of delirium tremens: “Patient becomes wildly excited, waves his arms in meaningless gestures”).

A more recent sixth edition hardback may be available at your bookstore for about $45, but a used copy of an earlier edition will cost you only about $15. The American Merchant Seaman’s Manual will not replace Chapman’s and Casey, but it will supplement your library with detail on how to manage a boat with simple tools and skills that do not receive much attention in today’s marketplace. And you get some salty language and stories as a bonus.

American Merchant Seaman’s Manual: For Seamen by Seamen; Fifth Edition by Felix Cornell and Allan Hoffman, Eds (Cornell Maritime Press, 1969; 833 pages)