Top 100 Boating Tips to Keep You Safe on the Water – All At Sea

All at Sea the UKs leading waterfront newspaper presents its top 100 boating and sailing tips to keep you and your boat safe whilst you are out sailing or boating both inland and out on the ocean.

1. First of all, don’t try do everything yourself. Brief your crew, explain if necessary, demonstrate and then delegate. Monitor thereafter.

2. Keep a warp handy in the cockpit if you do not have a throwing line.

3. Always move forward on a sailing boat on the windward side. If you do loose your footing, you have further to fall and more things to grab.

4. To get rid of out of date flares, take them to a chandler and ask him to take them in, then buy the replacements from him.

5. Think boom, particularly on a reach. If you have the slightest doubt of the skill of your helm, rig a boom preventer. Make sure it can be released from the cockpit.

6. Check your lifejacket before putting it on every time. On a long passage, three or four times I had to tighten the gas cylinder because it was loose.

7. On a delivery of 3,200 miles, I went up the mast ten times. Mind you we did have a halyard part during the first 200 miles, so I was a trifle cautious!

8. Remove your jackstays if leaving the boat for some time. Sun will weaken them and they may fail.

9. Think ‘what if?’ as you brief your crew Think in particular of fire, gas explosion, man overboard, collision, and injury.

10. Think about recovering a man who has fallen overboard. A simple 6:1 tackle with a couple of strops and carabinas is easy to make up.

11. If you have black dust around your alternator belt check for alignment and tension.

12. If your boat is connected to shore power never leave it for extended periods even if you have a galvanic isolator fitted.

13. If you have fitted a gas heater to your boat recently be aware that you may possibly have invalidated your insurance policy.

14. Do you service your engine prior to lay-up or during your winter maintenance? The impeller on a boat I skippered failed two days after she had gone back into the water.

15. If you have the slightest doubt about your position or course, slow down, stop engines, heave to or anchor if you are really unsure of your position. Re-check your navigation plan and cross check with radar, compass fixing and soundings.

16. When piloting your boat into harbour at night many have a mass of lights, neon, traffic, street, discos, fish and chipperies all lit up so that buoys and leading lights can be quite impossible to see against it all. Look at the large scale chart of your destination port to find an approach direction that is better than others.

17. Do you know that if a severe gale warning is given, the mean wind speed is expected to reach force 9 (41knots)? Do you know what imminent, soon, and later mean; what the definition of the various of states of visibility are, and do you understand what slowly, steadily and rapidly mean in relation to pressure system movements? I have a simple handout with all the useful expressions.

18. When using an electronic chart plotter do not use the waypoints at the harbour entrances. Anticipate the direction from which you will be approaching and chose a waypoint which will help you to “eyeball” your way in.

19. When laying up ashore be careful about leaving battery chargers and dehumidifiers on. There have been fires.

20. If you are more than a day sailor think about attending a sea survival course.

21. Place two distress rockets and two red hand held flares in the chart table which can be grabbed quickly in an emergency.

22. Keep one hand for yourself and one hand for the boat and warn crew about keeping their centre of gravity down low.

23. In the galley in a heavy sea always wear waterproof trousers and boots when cooking in rough weather, pour water from the kettle into cups or mugs in the sink, no fry-ups at sea, never walk up the companionway steps with hot drink or food, always pass cups or plates up or place them to leeward in the cockpit and no food or drinks anywhere near a chart or the chart table.

24. On long passages have a dog watch in the late afternoon, where the duration is half the normal three or four hours. One team can prepare the evening meal and the other can clean up and get the boat sorted out.

25. Invest in a gas lighter and every now and again spray a whiff of gas at your sensor just to make sure it is working.

26. Taking bearings with a handheld compass at night, the navigator was surprised to find how poor his fix was. The compass was old and the beta light too weak to read bearings so he was using a torch. The metal parts in the torch and maybe the batteries as well, must have caused some deviation, which gave a cocked hat over a mile wide. If the beta light is not giving you clear readings the compass needs a service or replacing. Charge up the Beta light by holding a lighted torch over the compass for 20 seconds or so.

27. Propane gas lighters apparently do not completely switch off. They can leave a very small flame which is almost invisible and which can slowly heat the area around it until it catches fire.

28. Diffuse torch lights by wrapping some material around the lens cap and securing it with a rubber band or you can colour the lens with a fibre pen or even nail varnish.

29. Try to use a head band torch with the red bulb to help retain your night vision. Always make a point of turning the light off before looking at someone to talk to them.

30. Encourage crew to leave their strops clipped on in the cockpit when they go below, unhooking from the lifejacket or harness so they can clip on before emerging up the companionway.

31. When rowing a dinghy in a cross tide, line up the head of the person in the stern with a static object, or alternatively two objects in transit. Keep your objects lined up and you should arrive at where you wish to land.

32. Once ashore take a bearing of the yacht’s position before returning and use the compass to help you get back. If returning in the dark, always take a torch to warn other craft. If you have some distance to row take flares, a handheld radio and, of course, all should wear lifejackets. I also take a bailer, the pump, repair kit and oars if I have an outboard motor.

33. A nurse I sailed with covered the split ends of her husband’s fingers caused by salt water with Vaseline and then put rubber gloves on top to soften up the skin and speed healing.

34. Ball bearing blocks are unsuitable for high static loads and may be distorted. Plan on blocks with plain bearings or ones with a higher rolling load rating.

35. If you drive a motor boat from the fly bridge be wary of having your radar scanner on. There is danger from electromagnetic energy, especially to the eyes.

36. To estimate distance, sight over your thumb first with one eye and then with the other, the thumb will move over the background, perhaps first crossing a prominent building and second a church spire. The chart will tell you that these two are say 400m apart, use the ratio of distance between eye and outstretched arm/distance between pupils, usually 10:1 and the distance off is then 4,000m.

37. Check your engine compartment to ensure that there is no combustible material which could help a fire to spread.

38. To get back on course when a transit is open, simply turn towards the nearer of the two objects, leading lights or beacons.

39. If you are correcting your course from a reverse bearing, aim along the bearing the mark should be, and then turn to bring the bearing correct.

40. To avoid setting off with your mains cable still attached to the shore, wind the electricity umbilical around the stern line.

41. The simple way to tell how many hours to sunset is to place your arm fully outstretched so that your palm kisses the lower limb of the sun. Then count down the number of full palm widths to the horizon – that is the number of hours till sunset.

42. If you are not sure whether the wind or tide is stronger when anchoring stop the boat either cross wind or cross tide and see which force takes you in a particular direction. You will then have an idea of which direction you need to point the bow.

43. A laptop power pack can produce interference which may block Navtex signals and you may have to resite some equipment.

44. Put seasickness pills under your tongue to get it into the system more quickly.

45. When you fasten the shackle pin in your ground tackle, hold the open shackle in your right hand with the open end away from you and put the pin through from the left using your left hand. The upward jerking of a pitching boat should tighten the shackle pin rather than loosen it. It goes without saying that the pin must be moused.

46. Go through your first aid kit and make a list of drugs. If there is an accident you ask for medical advice, it is possible that the doctor will ask for the list of drugs.

47. If your gas alarm goes off turn off the gas at the cut off switch, turn off all the burners on the stove, warn everyone and evacuate the boat or at least get up on deck. Open all hatches, deadlights and scuttles. Do not touch any electrical switches. Pump the bilges manually to evacuate any gas.

48. Electronics can fail so make a note in the log of time, log reading and course steered when setting out. If something goes wrong with the GPS, you can at least work up an EP if visibility closes in.

49. If you get lost at night, stop, and gain time to sort out the problem. Motor into wind or tide so there is the least amount of speed over the ground. This gives the navigator a better chance of gathering his thoughts.

50. When crew are working on the boom, it is essential that the main sheet is never eased off. By passing the fall of the sheet between the lower block and the line you can indicate that the sheet must not be touched

51. I think the only way of getting someone unconscious out of the water is for a member of crew to put on a dry suit and help the unfortunate on board. A dry suit does not cost much and could save a life.

52. A couple of years back I had what seemed like an engine fire when the bendix on the starter motor failed to disengage from the fly wheel and with the engine running the starter motor became a second alternator and overheated producing clouds of smoke. A marine engineer advised that starter motors should be taken off engines annually and the lubrication checked to ensure that the bendix worked properly.

53. The purpose of an EP is to tell you where you are going to be in the future. You will then be able to tell if you are going to be set into danger.

54. Remove dry powder fire extinguishers from the bracket occasionally and shake it until you can feel the powder shifting inside.

55. 40 per cent of boats checked by the RNLI have lifejackets which will fail, many due to gas cylinders being loose.

56. Bear in mind that if you are using French charts over the other side of the Channel, most of them are based on the datum ED50. Your UK charts are based on WGS84. So change the datum point on your GPS.

57. Mark your fuel and oil filters with the date and engine hours when you change them, using an indelible pen.

58. Draw up your pilotage plan and write it down using indelible fibre pen on the inside of a used fruit juice carton which has been well washed, you then have a permanent record which is waterproof.

59. An easy way to find out the rise of tide at any given moment is to take a quick fix and note the echo sounding reading. Compare the sounding at the fix with the depth shown on the chart and you have a good idea what the rise of tide is at the time of the fix.

60. The anchor windlass is for laying or weighing anchor and not as a strong point for digging in.

61. To avoid starting the engine with the inlet seacock closed I turn off the engine inlet seacock and hang the ignition key on a small lanyard over the seacock handle.

62. If the ignition key fails to return to its correct position once the engine starts the solenoid will stay engaged and then heat up. Lubricate the switch throughout the season.

63. Wait 20 seconds after firing up the engine to check for water coming out of the exhaust because there could have been a pint or two left in the engine casing after shut down.

64. I am told that if you have a dud handheld flare which fails to go off, you can light the dud from one which has worked properly just before it expires.

65. Anchoring factors: Seabed and holding ground, is my anchor suitable? Tidal flow, currents. Clear of fairways, channels and ferry routes. Adequate marks to find clear exit if we have to leave in a hurry. Length of stay. Depth of water now, next low water’s depth, how much chain? Swinging circle, clear of other moored craft. Weather now and the forecast, do we have shelter? Distance to shore, suitable landing places. Distance to nearest pub.

66. A valise liferaft should not be stowed outside. If water gets inside the covering, it may prevent proper inflation. They should be stored in a locker or down below but easily accessible.

67. On a long passage the barometer is one of the most important instruments on board. It is the trend and its speed which really matter. Keep an accurate record.

68. Sea sickness: I always keep a bucket in the cockpit, much better that the sufferer is sick into a receptacle of sorts than tries to be sick over the side.

69. Apparently we are all made with our hand size in similar proportions to our height of eye and length of arm. So even if you have arms like a gorilla, your hand will still be able to give a rough idea of how many degrees away from a fixed object something lies. I tend to use the forestay or some object stored on the stern, a horseshoe buoy, danbuoy or perhaps a GPS antenna.

70. On a long passage we did all our washing in a bucket with a sealed lid and the motion of the boat cleaned all our shirts and underwear. With soap which works in salt water, you can save on fresh water. You cam dangle your laundry in a bag with suitable soap over the bow whilst at anchor; the pitching motion of the boat agitates the washing. Not advisable in most harbours or marinas.

71. Never hang up your hand bearing compass on its lanyard so that it swings. It could swing against a polished wooden bulk head surface and score it or the compass could be damaged.

72. When piloting a yacht into a port or harbour with a tricky entrance, with many course changes and plenty of dangers, record your track on your chart plotter. Getting out can be made easy by following the reverse of the track.

73. When cooking in a heavy sea, wear oilskins and boots.

74. When buying a lifejacket that it comes with an integral crutch strap and sprayhood.

75. Checking with the manufacturer that it is acceptable to store a canister liferaft on its side because with some the CO2 bottle will put pressure on the canister seals and moisture may get in.

76. Hold handheld flares over the side and wear a very strong glove. Look away from the flare because of its brightness. Point the flare down so that burning plastic dross falls into the sea.

77. A lifejacket should be flaked like a sail and it will then inflate more quickly and effectively. Practise putting on our lifejackets in the dark.

78. Before a long distance delivery find out what rescue services there are in each country. We are all so used to the RNLI, it may come as a bit of a shock to find out what little there is available elsewhere.

79. If aiming for a mooring where there is a cill in the approach, always enter on a rising tide.

80. As well as a grab bag with essentials think about a bucket for a loo, two sponges, one to mop up seawater, one to mop and keep condensation to supplement the water, plenty of Carnation milk, extra sea sickness pills and unbreakable spectacles?

81. Ever since I heard of a crew member cross threading the regulator whilst changing the gas bottle and causing a gas explosion, I have made it a two man job. One man does the actual change, and a second checks that it has been done properly.

82. If you have doubts about GPS accuracy it may be worthwhile checking whether you have the correct datum entered.

83. To fill a bucket with sea water under way drop the bucket in by its lanyard upside down. Pull the bucket up sharply, providing your boat speed is not too excessive, the bucket will come up nearly full.

84. Skippers often underestimate the additional demands placed on inexperienced crew when things began to get difficult and try to do too much themselves. Budding skippers should show crew what to do and then delegate wherever possible.

85. Know your IRPCS (International Rules for Preventing Collisions at Sea) and be aware of how you should approach or cross a traffic separation scheme (TSS).

86. When mooring to a pontoon, quay or rafting, use one rope for each job, each one able to be eased under load.

87. Discourage crew from leaving mobile phones close to your chart table to avoid damage to electronics. Better still, have the damned things turned off!

88. At anchor before nightfall I take a bearing of the best and clearest course out to sea, so that in an emergency I know in which direction I have to steer to get away. With GPS it is a simple matter of entering a few waypoints marking a danger free route to sea. A really slick skipper will have a crew member pressing the waypoint button on the GPS at each turning point whilst navigating in.

89. Pull loops on to the ends of halyards so that messenger lines can be rigged to replace them.

90. Depth soundings are an essential aid in navigation and your fix, whether using the compass or a GPS must be cross checked. I always put my mark on the chart, check against the echo 84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90. sounder and enter the time, log reading and course steered on the chart.

91. Some extremely experienced sailors timed the interval between sighting a vessel on the horizon and it reaching close to their position at 15 to 18 minutes so they decided to scan the horizon every 11 minutes to give a buffer for safety. Once visibility deteriorates, the interval must be reduced.

92. When teaching power boat skippers I ask them to find out how much wash a boat produces at certain speeds. See how far away you have to go so that the wash will have no effect on a boat being overtaken or at anchor. Add 50m and then ensure that you go no closer.

93. An old tomato or orange juice container, split open. laid flat and washed can be used as a waterproof notebook.

94. A transit between a part of the boat, your eye and a vessel considered on a collision course will soon show you whether you are, in fact, going to pass close. This can be useful for passing headlands too.

95. Crossing the Channel be aware that there could be fog around which may not be mentioned in our shipping forecasts but may be forecast by the French. Fog often occurs in the area of the Alderney race and the Cotentin Peninsula when the tidal stream changes to the west.

96. The key to finding the mark is to run a bearing from a really prominent charted feature to the point you want, convert this bearing to magnetic. Then ensure you are to seaward of the mark (by sounding or fix) and steer down this bearing line. Take tidal push into account.

97. Given that you know your position, take a bearing on the chart to the mark you wish to identify. Convert this to magnetic, go up on deck with your hand bearing compass and swing it round until the magnetic bearing you have worked out from the chart is in the compass window. You should see the mark you are looking for.

98. Research has found that after a fall, the more dangerous conditions occur when the barometer starts to go up again. There are times when there is a lull and shortly after that the wind comes in more strongly and from a different direction producing a more dangerous breaking sea.

99. With the large genoas it is difficult to see under the headsail. If sailing off the wind, harden up momentarily and sail for a few seconds closer to the wind and to observe the arc which had previously been blanketed. If sailing close hauled, bear away for a few moments.

100. If you leave your lines “cheesed” and left for a while when moored they will collect pollution, grow mildew and they will not benefit from the odd dowsing from rain. By cow hitching, your lines can be quickly and easily available with one simple tug and they will stay cleaner, longer.

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