The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship first appeared in 1794, relatively early in Steel's career as a publisher. Its success confirmed Steel's reputation as a publisher of nautical works and spurred him later to produce his other great discourse, The Elements and Practice of Naval Architecture.
The appeal and success of this book stemmed largely from two factors established by steel himself.
First, it was aimed at those aspiring to succeed in the largest single industry in Britain - and probably the world.
Second, it was essentially a practical man's guide to a practical business. Every skill that was required to be in the head - and hands - of a Master Mariner is dealt with in a logical sequence and in simple language: this is the essence of Steel's style.
This work was the bible for many midshipmen who joined the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. The coverage includes how to make all the sails, the masts, the anchors, how to tie knots, rig the ship, and actually sail the ship. Lastly, how to fight the ship. Where Naval Architecture shows you how to build the hull, Rigging and Seamanship covers everything else which formed part of the ship as well as how to use the ship.
The two volumes Quarto contain nearly 600 pages of which 150 are tables. These provide all the dimensions for Standing and Running Rigging for every type of ship in the Royal Navy in 1794. There are also tables which cover the same information for Masts and Yards, and for each and every Sail used onboard every ship, whether of the line or smaller. There are also 95 plates to illustrate the above and these plates include:
6 plates referring to Mastmaking.
2 plates referring to Ropemaking.
2 plates referring to Anchormaking.
34 plates referring to Sailmaking.
3 plates referring to Blockmaking.
3 plates referring to Knots and Rigging.
4 plates which cover the position of all sails and rigging of a fully rigged ship.
12 plates describing the features of sailing craft from around the world.
2 plates and 2 moveable vovelles describing the sailing of a fully rigged ship.
3 plates referring to the Mooring, the Stowing, and the use of a ship's Anchors.
19 plates referring to Naval Tactics.
2 Miscellaneous plates which refer to Emergency Rudder Repair, and Awnings on the Upper Deck of a Ship.