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Chapman's Seamanship Book Review


This book, once called "Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling", is one of the great classics of practical maritime knowledge.

If you began your career working with smaller boats then you spent plenty of time with a copy of Chapman's Seamanship. The book was first published in February of 1922 as a correspondence course sold through an advertisement in the back of a magazine.

As of this review the 65th edition is available, much of the content has changed with the advent of new technologies. What has not changed is the excellent piloting and boat handling techniques, or the respect that is found among professional mariners for Chappy's writing.

The really shocking revelation is that the author was born in 1881. Always active in boat racing from an early age, he spent fifty six years working for Motor Boating Magazine after receiving degrees in mechanical and marine engineering, plus naval architecture.

Thoroughly modern these days, the large book used to hold down that pile of port paperwork, today it's available in digital formats. This is one paper book you might want to consider if you are studying for a license examination. Digital files are difficult to annotate with local information. Old copies of this book are available at used book sales, a 1974 edition on my desk has excellent images of vintage motorboats and many valuable pencil notes in the margins.

The information in this work has accumulated to the point where it's an invaluable resource for everything from schematic of a marine head to a properly executed tugboat turn.

Images have been updated but the good advice is largely intact when comparing a modern edition to one nearly forty years old.

One outstanding section in any edition is the one that covers nautical charts and dead reckoning. This is still the most elegantly explained, simple presentation of a subject that stymies so many during the practical section of the U.S. Merchant Mariner Exam.

The table of chart symbols is still the best reference for a quick glance when you find an unfamiliar marker. The brilliance and durability of the presentation is it's simplicity and logical order. Modern software to teach skills like chart navigation are great tools but they leave out the reasons for each step. Knowing each step, and reason for each step, is essential for safe and accurate navigation. After all, instruments like GPS can fail and then you only have charts, a manual compass, a clock, dividers, and a parallel rule to get you back home.

There are only a very few classic seamanship books which are still used today. Chapman's Seamanship, Ashley's Book of Knots, and a few others hold the collective knowledge of four centuries of modern merchant maritime operations.

It's rare to be able to look back on your career and be able to pinpoint the place where you first learned a skill but any time Chappy's book is open to the page with illustrations of light schemes and day shapes, or chart navigation, or pennant signals the memories of those first days of study come back.

A couple new copies of Chapman's are still in the old dock office along with older editions carefully notated in the margins to warn of local hazards. The blue cover with gold lettering is instantly recognizable and one of the icons of maritime publishing.

Although the sophistication of modern commercial operations have surpassed many of the ideas presented as purely recreational, it cannot be emphasized enough that this book prepares you to act professionally on the water whether for work or pleasure.

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