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George Sass, Jr.
Published: January, 2010
I once worked for a captain who told me that if I ever thought I knew everything, I’d better hang up my foul-weather gear and take up pottery. He was right. That’s one of the many nuances of boating I love. I maintain there are so many scenarios, combined with a multitude of variables, that it would be mathematically impossible to experience every challenge. And that’s why we should give a wide berth to the self-proclaimed know-it-all.
Knowledge on the water is often gained through mistakes. Over a period of time, confidence will increase and hopefully we will search out new challenges to take us to the next level. A summer cruise to Vancouver may lead to an extended cruise up the Inside Passage. A fall delivery through the inland waters of the East Coast could whet your appetite for a Bahamas adventure the following winter.
Each of these moments away from the dock can bring new experiences. However, there are some skills and tricks that I’ve learned after some bumps and bruises that may decrease your challenge factor. Here are 13 of them.
1. Know Every Inch Of Your Boat
When I worked as part of the maintenance crew of a charter company, we had a plan-view schematic on each boat that pointed out all the through-hull fittings, fire extinguisher locations, and emergency gear. This sheet was posted above the chart table for easy reference for captain and crew.
Beside these basics, when you’re cruising take the time to figure out various sweet spots for your boat. You can never know too much.
2. Keep Those Dead Reckoning Skills Polished
I highly recommend you plot your position on a paper chart, especially when your electronics are working. How often you do this will depend upon your distance from land and hazards. Once you have your starting point on the chart, you can draw your intended course. Then it’s a matter of plotting the distance (D) along the course using speed (S) and the elapsed time (T). Three formulas we all should know are D=ST, S=D/T, and T=D/S. You may want to get kids or grandkids involved in learning this as well. It will keep them busy and help to develop future mariners who know the basics. Next steps: Make sure you have a set of dividers, parallel rules, the correct paper charts, and some sharp pencils.
3. Easy Steps To Determine Distance-Off
4. Operating In Heavy Seas
5. Be Able To Read The Clouds
Start by learning to identify cloud forms and how they may affect weather. This may feel like your kid’s eighth-grade science project, but it’s a necessary first step. Although there are infinite shapes a cloud can take, the common classification system includes 10 types: cumulonimbus, cumulus, stratus, stratocumulus, nimbostratus, altostratus, altocumulus, cirrostratus, cirrocumulus, and cirrus. It’s important to learn the characteristics of each cloud type. Books such as Chapman Piloting offer a good overview and helpful pictures. Next, watch how clouds form in your area, determine whether they are increasing or decreasing in amount, and understand what shape they are taking. As a general rule, lowering or thickening cloud formations indicate wet weather is on the way. Then, begin to combine this information with other items such as barometric pressure and wind velocity.
6. First Aid And CPR
7. Action Steps Before The Weather Turns Foul
8. Understand Weather Chart Basics
9. VHF Radio Tips
10. MOB Drill
11. Keep The Water Out
12. l Setting The Anchor
13. Current and Tide Basics
Make tide and current awareness part of your predeparture checklist. Ensure you know the time, strength, and direction of tidal currents. Most new electronic software has a very easy to use tide function. I also keep a tide table at my house to reference before I leave for the boat. Next steps: For those who have dived into the world of smartphone apps, try the Tides or Marine Tides apps.
If you have tips or secrets you’ve learned while on the water, I would love to hear them. please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and include your name and boat type. We’ll be sure to incorporate them in a follow-up article. Happy cruising.
Shared with Permission by Yachting Magazine.