Ten Sailing Tips for the 2013 Sailing Season

This week’s sailing tip is courtesy of Captain John from SkipperTips.com.

Is your small sailboat and sailing crew prepared for the challenges that might pop up while on a coastal cruise this coming year? Have you thought through the “what if” scenarios and come up with a plan of action? Follow these ten sailing tips for safer sailing throughout the new year–wherever in the world you choose to sail or cruise!

1. Show Your Sailing Crew Your System Operations

Post “how to” instructions for marine sanitation devices (toilets); boat galley stove operation and VHF radio operation. Add diagrams for clarity. Show your crew how to operate each device. Sure, you have instructions in place, but nothing beats a live demo. Make sure you emphasize that all important final safety step to prevent emergencies. What are “final steps”. These are often the ones we forget when in a rush. For example…

When done using a marine toilet, close the intake seacock. This could prevent flooding from a leaky valve. When finished with a propane stove, secure the gas solenoid switch next to the stove and turn it off at the breaker panel. Ventilate the galley. These three steps take just seconds and insure that no gas will flow through the burners. Any gas vapors that have settled low into the bilges will be ventilated to avoid the risk of fire (if you leave the boat, turn off the main tank valve at the tank).

2. Wear This Sailing Gear Aboard Any Boat

Emphasize that all hands wear a knife aboard. That means on your person–not stuck in a bag, purse, duffel, or backpack below. Nor lashed to a stanchion or mast. Those are fine, but secondary to that worn by the individual. If you need to cut away a line or harness tether or cut rope for splicing, whipping, or lashing–you need a knife on attached to your belt or belt loop.

See “Related Articles” below for my recommendation of a super lightweight sailing knife that’s compact, rust-proof and sharp enough to cut through today’s modern synthetic sailing rope like like a hot knife through butter!

3. Keep Your Sailing Crew in the “Route” Loop

Go over the intended sailing routes with the crew. Mark your charts with permanent, labeled magnetic compass courses. This keeps your sailing crew “in the loop” should you become incapacitated.

Circle harbors of refuge along the route. If the sailing weather turns foul, you will want a place to pull in. If your route includes stretches of barren coastline, mark emergency anchorages along the way.

4. Make “Bookend Inspections” Standard Procedure

Think of rigging, engine, deck and hull inspections like “bookends”. You make a pre-sail inspection (one bookend) of these areas before you cast off to catch things that might affect your integrity or safety underway. But, you also need to make a separate post-sail inspection (the opposite side bookend) of those same areas after you tie up, anchor, or hook on to a mooring ball. These two bookend-like inspections form a powerful support system on each side of your small sailboat for safer sailing.

Why bother to do two separate inspections?

Any vessel–even in the calmest weather underway–will flex her hull and vibrate her rigging and hull fittings. More than one boat has slipped beneath the waves because of a fitting that broke, cracked, backed off the threads, or showed its weaknesses after the owner and crew had gone ashore.

So, that final post-sail inspection could be the most vital of all in some cases. After all, with just a bit of practice, you can make these checks in just five to ten minutes tops and have the peace-of-mind to know you’ve done what it takes for safety’s sake!

5. Create a Flexible Watch Schedule

Set up a watch schedule for overnight cruises. In fair to moderate weather, make these no longer than four hours. Rotate the watch once an hour or at lesser intervals in extreme sea weather conditions.

In low visibility conditions, attention span drops to about 30 minutes, so you will want to rotate crew more often or double up with two crew on each watch. Keep your crew rested, hydrated, well-fed and alert to stay safe on the waters of the world.

6. Lash and Stow–Topside and Below

Lash draws, lockers and hatches before you cast off your docking lines. Use bungee chord or twine. A simple eye in one end allows you to open the fitting without much fuss. Stuff foam or clean rags in “rattle zones”, such as flatware drawers and canned food lockers.

7. Bring Your Own Foul Weather Gear and PFD

Instruct your crew that they should come aboard with a full set of foul weather gear–even on the finest sailing day. This includes a jacket, bib overalls and sailing boots. Weather in sailing can change at the drop of a hat. Broadcast forecasts are a start, but local on scene weather can be quite different than that predicted hours earlier or at a location miles away from you. Staying dry boosts the morale of any boat crew.

Tell your crew to pack their own personal flotation device (PFD). A PFD should be custom fit to the wearer. And that will not happen unless they spend the time and effort and money to find a PFD that gives their body shape comfort and that they will wear without hesitation for hours at a time if necessary. This will add to the morale and comfort of your sailing crew or partner in all weathers.

8. Take a Few Hours for Underway Familiarity

Spend an hour of your time on emergency drills. Make this fun, relaxed and informative. Include man overboard recovery, how to heave to and how to start the engine. Let each crewmember take a trick at the wheel or sailboat tiller.

Make mainsail reefing a focal point in your drills. You might have old salts aboard, but do they know how you want reefing done aboard your boat? After all, your mainsail represents a substantial investment. Show your crew how you want it done. That way, your crew will have the confidence and “know how” to do it the way you prefer each time they go forward day or night.

9. Put Together a “Ready Reference” Sailboat Guide

I believe nothing quite beats a single notebook that introduces new salts to your boat and keeps old salts up to date. This can include your vessel specifications, configuration and sailplan. Include seacock diagrams, systems diagrams, and engine diagrams. Keep these specific diagrams drop-dead simple. This Guide is for crew–not for the skipper.

Realize that not all hands are mechanical–so over complex diagrams will not work. You may want to just show shut off valves for fuel; throttle and engine stop locations on the engine body, and so on. Think emergency and safety first, and design your guide with that in mind. That way, your sailing crew or partner will have a single reference to fall back on if they forget something.

10. Reef Before Nightfall

It’s a lot safer and easier to put a reef into the mainsail before sunset. In very light wind, set a larger headsail–but not too large for a single crew member to handle. Give up a bit of speed for safety and all hands will rest better a night.


I believe nothing beats the peace-of-mind a skipper can have, knowing that their sailing crew or partner will be confident and ready to “take the helm” if they need to–day or night. Sail safe and have a great sailing season 2013 – wherever in the world you choose to sail or cruise!

Courtesy of www.skippertips.com

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