The Book Swap

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

Great way to get new books to read for free

One of the best things about pulling into a new cruiser “hangout” — marina, laundry, restaurant or even a bar — is finding a new book swap.

Basically, these operate on the “take one, leave one” philosophy — leave the books you’ve already read and pick up a few new ones. Or I should say, new to you. We found we read far more on the boat than previously (no TV!) and getting new books was a big occasion.

The biggest problem with ebooks is that it’s hard to pass them on to someone else. And for just light reading, most of us don’t want to go out and buy a stack of books. That can get expensive if you read one every couple of days! Hence the attraction of the book swap.

Admittedly, most of the books you’ll find are in the “light reading” or best seller types. But it’s where I was first introduced to the Outlander series (a great story and long books that are great in remote anchorages) and Wilbur Smith’s books (the ancient Egypt series and Courtney Family saga are my favorites).

What we learned, however, is that book swaps are often in sort-of unused corners of buildings, sometimes even just open-sided buildings. And bugs seem to love books. After a couple of buggy experiences, we got into a routine for getting books from the book swap:

  • Carry a plastic bag and put the books into it to take back to the boat. Don’t put the bag into a backpack or with anything else!
  • As soon as we got to the boat (because we’d never remember to take it with us) we’d squirt a shot of bug spray into the bag and let it sit for a few hours before taking the books out. Then let them air out a bit before putting inside the boat.

As a side note, if you want some free ebooks, there are a number of services that will send you a daily email with lists of books in your preferred format (Kindle, Nook, iTunes, other). The one I use is Book Bub (if you’re on Facebook, “Like” their page and you’ll get links there too — frequently different books than show up in the email; they also tweet lists). I used to find a fair number of interesting free ebooks but lately I’m lucky to find one a week (maybe I’m getting pickier?).

Got other tips for book swaps or good sources of free ebooks? Leave a note in the comments!

Do You Find The Boat Galley Useful?

You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site and the search bar below. No extra cost to you!


  1. Great tip. I’m a librarian so I NEED books.

  2. I love the plastic bag and shot of bug spray idea! Wish I had thought of that! Thanks!

    We found a great thrift store that benefits dog and cat adoption and they have paper backs 5 for $1 and hard backs for $.75! It benefits the critters and us too…I always feel like I have died and gone to heaven when I leave there. I am like you too…we read soooo much when cruising…and just living aboard too….I have read books I never would have ordinarily read ..especially when we were on the Rio Dulce. I LOVE book swaps…even after having kindles.

  3. We have Kindles, too, but were introduced to authors we never knew because of book swaps. Still, really liking the e readers now, as an allergy to paper mold makes books on board less pleasant…and we can now carry 1000’s of books without the weight and space penalty!

  4. If you have a public library card, check to see if your library has e-books available. Most do. If so, you can probably check out e-books from anywhere, at least in the US.

  5. Getting a new stash of books was always a huge treat. I always thought it would be great fun if we started a tradition of creating a log of owners on the inside cover. • Whenever you got a book you’d add your name and/or boat name along with the date and location. • Can you imagine seeing the travels each book would take? Who knows, they might even go further than you do and meet some of your friends along the way?!

  6. Mariann Ball says:

    I agree with Laura Kohl Dare using the public library. Ours uses Overdrive for ebooks and audiobooks. We download the audiobooks to my iPhone and play them through our CD player using the mp3 port. The books come through our cockpit speakers and make long journeys fly by. When we are in any port I “return” them and download more. Wonderful!

  7. I have checked out ebook and audio books via library and overdrive in many countries. Audio in particular is helpful when underway as reading sometimes makes me queasy. Also great for on watch, at a beach, on trains, etc. where I want/need to look around. But sometimes it’s nice to have a paper book. Thanks for this and your many other tips and great book!

Add Your Thoughts


Please note: I'm currently cruising and don't have internet all the time. Comment approval may be delayed a few days!