Overfalls off Dorset coast, near Old Harry's Rocks

How to Read Water

Tristan Gooley

Clues & Patterns from Puddles to the Sea

A New York Times Bestseller.

A Sunday Times “Must Read” book.

A must-have book for walkers, sailors, anglers, swimmers, photographers, artists and everyone interested in the natural world, How To Read Water unlocks the hidden secrets of water. Natural Navigator Tristan Gooley shares knowledge, skills, tips and useful observations to help you enjoy the landscape around you. You will learn:

How to interpret ponds like a Polynesian

How to spot dangerous water in the pitch black with the help of a clock face

How to read the sea using Viking methods

How to read rivers like an expert

How to find your way with puddles

How to decipher patterns on beaches

Includes over 700 Clues, Signs and Patterns

From wild swimming in Sussex to wayfinding off Oman, via the icy mysteries of the Arctic, Tristan Gooley draws on his own pioneering adventures to reveal the secrets of ponds, puddles, rivers, oceans and more, and gives you the skills to read water.

“I give away lots of very good things on this website and through Instagram, Facebook and  Twitter. The really great stuff… I save for my courses and my books.” Tristan Gooley


Gooley has done his subject proud — this is seriously fascinating stuff.

Robert Crampton, The Times

“This study of the behaviour of rivers, lakes and seas brims over with astonishing facts… His observational skills can be breathtaking… Gooley even manages to explain tides coherently and excitingly in just 14 pages, which is quite some feat, given that they are a lot more complicated than being a mere effect of the moon’s gravity.” 

The Sunday Times

“Quite apart from being well written and an enjoyable read, there is plenty in the book that is revelatory.” 

The Royal Institute of Navigation

“Mr. Gooley misses little in his paean to Earth’s most abundant resource. . . . He starts small, at a mud puddle watching ripples fan out from a pebble drop, and ends big, in the frigid reaches of the Arctic Sea. Along the way he asks and answers many questions. If you like water, as I do, you will learn a lot.” 

The Wall Street Journal

“With the help of this book, and with careful attention and observation, anyone can learn how to interpret the messages water offers to aid in everything from navigation to weather forecasting. A ­riveting and highly accessible book that will appeal to water enthusiasts and nature lovers of all kinds.” 

Library Journal

“Very interesting.”

David Hockney

“He writes with passion, humour and clarity and engages so deeply with the tributaries of inquiry that reading it feels as exhilarating as being towed by a dolphin…There’s so much here that I can’t do it justice; chapters on water at night; currents and tides; reading waves; the coast. I learned I have a huge gap in my knowledge in the latter area, despite having spent a large chunk of my life scrambling around it. This is an absolute gem of a book. A must-have for anyone who loves the water.

Lynne Roper, The Outdoor Swimming Society.

“The goal of the author is to have his readers never look at water the same way after reading this book. He has certainly achieved his objective and I doubt I will now ever be able to walk past a lake or even a pond without checking for surface patterns.” 


The quirks and habits and secrets of good old H2O were crying out to have a book written about them. That said, it had to be written by the right person… Fortunately, the job went to Tristan Gooley… His tales recount wisdom gathered on the ground (literally), often by trial and error, and his joy at discovering something almost makes you feel you did the work yourself…The book doesn’t just cover the rural sections of the waterfront: urban dwellers get a look-in too. 

The Spectator

“The author is a navigator and explorer who is the world’s foremost authority on “reading water” and his detailed observations are breathtaking as he patiently explains how to see. Jam-packed with information, this book will fascinate sailors, fishers, birders, naturalists, hikers, and anyone interested in the natural world.” 


“A wonderful read… It’s one of those books that gives you a new pair of eyes to see the world in a different way. I’ve been transported by it… You’ll love every minute, the writing is absolutely beautiful.”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

The contents page can be seen here.

The UK paperback


🇬🇧 For details about how to buy the book in the UK, please see this page.

🇺🇸 🇨🇦 For details about how to buy the book in the USA or Canada, please see this page.

🇩🇪 In German it is published as ‘Die gehemmen Zeichen des Wassers‘ by Riva.

🇵🇱 In Polish it is published as ‘Jak czytac wode‘ by Otwarte.

🇪🇸 In Spanish it is published as ‘Cómo leer el agua‘ by Ático de los Libros. (There is a Spanish interview here.)

In Catalan it is published as ‘Com llegir l’aigua‘ by Laie.

Waves reflect and refract creating the patterns that navigators have used for centuries