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Thread: "Digital Library For Onboard References"

12,268 posts on 2,444 threads   •   From Mar 07, 2004 - Jan 08, 2012


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Digital Library For Onboard References

Jack Webb

(This probably isn't the most appropriate place to start this thread, but I can't find anything that seems to be a better fit. So, lacking the ability to add a new category, this is where it ends up.)

I'm wondering if anyone else has tackled the challenge of replacing paper-based references (books) with digitized alternatives. We all know that books aboard are prone to quick deterioration, due to the humidity and resulting mildew/mold. And I personally have so many good nautical references, that I'd need a bigger boat simply to accommodate the additional weight, were I to take them all along when I begin my cruising. So, the dilemma is to make a decision to 1) leave them all at home (or simply get rid of them), 2) trim them down to the bare necessities and regret not having the one you needed, when you really need it, or 3) find an alternative solution to bringing them along.

As a programmer/developer by trade, option 3 was the logical choice for myself. I would love to hear from anyone else who has adopted this solution and how they personally went about it.

In my own solution, I created an entire web site that runs within my laptop computer's web server as "localhost". (This means that the "site" does not have any need to be connected to the internet, yet it runs as though it were... except that it runs much faster, since bandwidth and connectivity are not limiting factors.)

I personally classify "on-board references" into multiple categories, as follows...

1) References for installation/repair/adjustment/etc. for onboard equipment, electronics, etc. In my own reference site, I have copies of the owner's manuals, installation manuals, and rebuild and parts manuals for virtually every single piece of electronic, electrical, house system and other equipment installed on my boat. In addition, I have related manuals for probably an average of 20 other brands/models of related equipment for each installed item. (You never know when you'll run into someone else who has dire need for it.) The majority of all of these references are in PDF format.

2) Reference books regarding maintenance for onboard equipment and ideas for upgrades, provisioning, etc. For this, I've simply scanned entire books, page by page, and made them accessible via a very sophisticated web page with digitized, searchable links used for the Table of Contents and book Index. Basically, these references are compiled of a collection of high-resolution images, one for each page in the book, and a web site framework that loads an entire book at once with internal links to each page from a digital Table of Contents and Book Index, plus the ability to mark pages as "favorites" for quick access and reference. My own collection currently has approximately 20,000 searchable links, which allows me to search on a string (text) and be presented with a list of possible alternatives, that is itself returned as links that one simply clicks to load the book and navigate to the page in question. Some of the books that I currently have indexed are as much as 900 pages and a partial list includes: "100 Fast and Easy Boat Improvements", "Big Book of Boat Canvas", "Boat Data Book", "Canvaswork and Sail Repair", "Canvasworkers Guide", "Cruising in Tropical Waters and Coral", "Cruising Worlds Workbench", "Optimize Your Cruising Boat", "Pfaff 230 Sewing Machine Manual", "Repairing and Adjusting Binoculars", "Sail Away", "Sailors Sketchbook", "Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat", "Inspecting the Aging Sailboat", "Sailboat Hull and Deck Repair", "Sailboat Refinishing", "Sailboat Electrics Simplified", "Troubleshooting Marine Diesels", "Canvaswork and Sail Repair", "This Old Boat", "Upgrading the Cruising Sailboat", "Voyagers Handbook", "Why Didnt I Think of That", "Windvane Self-Steering Handbook" and a bunch more.

3) Reference movies for how-to topics and travelogue. Some of the topics in my collection include such things as canvaswork and sail-repair, knots, heavy weather sailing, navigation, travelogues for sailing destinations around the world, and more additional topics than I care to list. I haven't recently counted, but believe I have in the neighborhood of 400 such movies, ALL converted to MPEG4 format. Some of these may only be 5-10 minutes in length, but a good many are 60-90 min. Most of the travelogues are about 60 min in length and include all of the Caribbean and most of the destinations along the typical trade-wind routes.

4) General category of movies that one might see in the theater. These all began as DVDs (MPEG2 format), which were ripped and saved to a bevy of about over a dozen, one-terabyte hard drives. Many of these have already been re-encoded to MPEG4 format, which decrease the overall size from an average of 5-6GB to about 1GB, without loss of quality. (This process is extremely time-consuming, but I use a dedicated computer just for this purpose, which "batch-processes" the encoding with very little intervention.) At last count, I had over 2,000 full-length movies, but only part of them have been re-encoded to MPEG4.

This actually only describes a very small percentage of the digital references already comprising my onboard library. While copyright laws prevent one from legally sharing the contents of most the actual references, there is no restriction in creating your own digital library made up of your own personal references. To this end, I would be happy to share some of the methods I've used to compile my own collection. I've developed a set of very sophisticated applications to streamline the process of creating such reference collections. Their use requires a programming knowledge for use, and it would take me far more time to develop user "front-ends" to make them usable by a non-programmer. Further, I cannot share any of my personal library, comprised of copyrighted material (books, movies, etc.).

But, I would be willing to assist others who might have an interest in compiling such a library of their own. For example, some of my programmed routines can automatically create a site layout for reference books you've scanned (or had scanned) on your own. This includes a way to digitize the Table of Contents, Book Index, etc.

I would be interested in knowing if and how others have approached this need, and even if you have not, if you feel this is something that might be of benefit.

Jack Webb

Gary and Charlotte Burton

What about the kindle? Seems like it would do what you are describing.

Jack Webb

Amazon's Kindle application is a good suggestion, Gary, and certainly a good augmentation to what I do in my own application.


There are a lot of good titles available for the Kindle format and many for sailing and boating topics. The system I use myself is far more flexible than Kindle, though Kindle could certainly be added to the mix. Kindle alone has a few big drawbacks...

1) PDF is not supported. At all. Even via the conversion process. PDF is an extremely good format for documentation of various references for your boat equipment, because such references can typically be found in that format and because it is a universal format that works on any platform.

2) There are only two fonts: Caecilia and Neue Helvetica, both from Linotype. You cannot select which font to use to read (the book texts are in Caecilia), but can select from six font sizes.

3) The majority of the references I do for my books are very graphical. The vast majority of the titles, are almost entirely graphical, with photos or illustrations of how-to projects or upgrade ideas. I've not yet seen

4) Titles are still somewhat limited and my purpose was to convert the many resources already in my extensive library into something I could take along without having to take the paper-based versions.

Nonetheless, your suggestion is a good one, and my well serve many users.

I failed to mention that among my collection are about 450 "Books on CD" (read to you) that have been converted to MP3 format for "reading" (playing) on the laptop or iPod.



PS: I will send you, in a private email an example of the kind of page that works well for this application.

Gary and Charlotte Burton

Hey Jack, is that your boat with the title "safe and stable under any sea" under photographs of "S/V Drifter" and her captain?

Looks a lot like Saraband with the cove stripe photoshopped......

Jack Webb

Good eye! That photo is indeed not "Drifter", though I don't recall where I got the photo. When I originally built that site, I only had a few photos of "Drifter" and none were very large. As such, I grabbed some "representative" photos of the Westsail. When I began looking for "Drifter" (previously "Xapic"), I collected hundreds of W32 photos from online. Do you know the link where this one came from?

Drifter has been on the hard for almost 3 years as I've been doing the refit and have not yet had the opportunity to renew them. I've done so much work to the interior it doesn't even look like the same boat. One of these days, I need to get around to updating the site with newer photos.


Aaron Norlund


For my few cents worth, I haven't really approached the question of how to carry all of my books, movies, manuals, etc, as I know it is impractical in the traditional manner. Instead, through the years my father and I have been reading, learning, and trying to retain the information as broad concepts that can be employed to create our own style and methodology.

Having a huge information system available all of the time would be very convenient, but I'd be worried that I would take advantage of that convenience by not spending as much time reading and studying. As a full time college student, I have come to expect that if I know I'll have access to info whenever I want with a simple click, I won't bother to actually assimilate it so that it can be fully employed.

That said, I think having a modest information base that could be taken along digitally is pretty superb. Very much as people have come to accept electronic charts, I'm sure, especially now that terabyte size drives are affordable, we will begin seeing more of this marketed to boaters in a pre-packaged form.

Anyway it crumbles, I'll stick to my core texts and be resolve to creativity when I don't have something that tells be how to fix my problems!

Best of luck!
Aaron N.

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This site is provided as service to Westsail Owners by Jack Webb on Westsail 32, Hull #438, at http://HighSeasDrifter.net,
This site is provided as service to Westsail Owners by  Jack Webb (s/v Drifter, Westsail 32, Hull #438)