Free U.S. Cruising Guides

Who doesn’t like something free? Especially something as valuable as a good cruising guide. Captain John from offers up tips on how to obtain a free wealth of information.

If you are anything like me, you read all you can about new places to sail or cruise. But cruising guides can come at a heavy price…unless you know about a source for the latest, most accurate cruising guides – for free! Take advantage of this goldmine of information if your cruising plans include the U.S. and its territories.

Every year, new cruising guides fill the bookstores, covering the more popular coastal and inland waterways. Many of these offer excellent advice, specifically for the small-boat sailor. But it’s best to use caution when using a recreational guide unless you’re confident in the reliability of the information.

The Office of Coast Survey, a division of NOAA, offers sailors a free cruising guide that’s hard to beat for accuracy and detail. Issued annually, nine volumes of the U.S. Coast Pilot cover all navigable waters within the United States and its possessions, including Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Islands.

You’ll find detailed navigational information on seasonal weather, prevailing local-winds and currents, dangers, physical land characteristics, prominent landmarks for landfall, harbors, anchorages, marinas, repair facilities and emergency services. The National Ocean Service and NOAA constantly update each guide through a constant flow of information from professional and recreational mariners.

Each Coast Pilot covers the coastline and all adjacent inland waters lying between geographic boundaries. Look at the title of Coast Pilot 3 (Coast Pilot 3) below. This guide covers the Atlantic coast from Sandy Hook to Cape Henry. But it also includes the New Jersey Coast, Delaware Bay, Philadelphia, the Delaware – Maryland – Virginia coastlines and the entire Chesapeake Ba. Note that Alaska has two Coast Pilots (8 and 9) because of the vast geographical area.

Coast Pilot 1–Eastport, ME to Cape Cod MA
Coast Pilot 2–Cape Cod, MA to Sandy Hook, NJ
Coast Pilot 3–Sandy Hook, NJ to Cape Henry, VA
Coast Pilot 4–Cape Henry, VA to Key West, FL
Coast Pilot 5–Gulf of Mexico, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
Coast Pilot 6–Great Lakes and Connecting Waterways
Coast Pilot 7–California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Pacific Isles
Coast Pilot 8–Alaska: Dixon Entrance to Cape Spencer
Coast Pilot 9–Alaska: Cape Spencer to Beaufort Sea

Here you can see the latest editions along with those scheduled for release. Always use the latest editions. These have corrections that can affect safety and navigation. For example, a major storm can alter the profile of shoal water and navigable water boundaries. The latest editions of both publications and charts will often include this vital information.

Download Your Free Cruising Guide for FREE!

You can download an entire volume or just the chapter that applies to your cruising area…

1. Type in the site address for the NOAA/Coast Pilot site or click on this link:

2. Scroll down the list to the Coast Pilot of interest. Move your mouse over the cover of the Coast Pilot that interests you. Click on the cover.

3. Click on the download link desired. Note that you can download the entire book onto your computer or mobile device. Or, you can download just one specific chapter.

Use a highlighter to mark those parts of the Coast Pilot that apply to your sailing route. Use the Coast Pilot along with the nautical chart and mark your chart at the same time as applicable. That way, you can refer to both publication and chart at-a-glance while planning or underway.

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