Select Page

Effective crew briefings are a vital part of the good on-board communication that helps everything to run smoothly on a sailing vessel at sea, whether it is cruising or racing.

Involving everyone on board, including children, with sailing a boat will make the experience more satisfying for all and will also maximise the chances of remaining a motivated team if conditions start to get tough. This process starts with a safety briefing before departure, which is especially important for crew who have not sailed on the vessel before.

When underway it is also important to get into the habit of briefing everyone before each manoeuvre takes place. When hoisting the mainsail, if everything goes perfectly it may feel as though it’s easier to just get on with doing it yourself, however, it only takes a few moments to talk though the procedure first:

“Jo will take the sail ties off, working forwards from the back of the boom, and then stand at the mast ready to bump the halyard up. Once she’s there we will slow down, I’ll let off the mainsheet and Claire will turn the boat to point into the wind. When I give the signal, Jo will start hauling the sail up and Pete will tail the halyard at the companionway.”

This simple explanation gives even those with minimal sailing experience a clear vision of what’s going to happen and what their role will be. At the same time, you’re free to keep an eye open to spot any problems at an early stage.

Preparation and planning

Preparation and planning are key elements of effective skippering that help to identify potential hazards and reduce the time you will need to spend on navigation and pilotage. Time spent below with your head in the chart, pilot book or tide tables is time that you’re not in tune with what’s happening on deck, so as part of your planning make sure you have all the information you might need at your fingertips.

Even for a short day sail returning to initial home port you should have a clear understanding of the weather and tidal patterns for the day, as well as knowledge of any local regulations that may be in place. On a longer passage it’s also important to have a plan B that you can execute in the event that the it doesn’t go according to expectations. This plan should include ports of refuge accessible from your expected route.

Don’t let events overtake you

Relaxed skippers think ahead and are prepared for a wide range of eventualities. However, there may still be times at which things start to happen too fast, with a risk that events will overtake the rate at which the skipper can cope with them.

A common example of this is a tricky pilotage situation, potentially at night, when it’s critical to recognise times at which the boat is travelling faster than you can navigate. The obvious solution, slowing down, often does not come to mind in such situations, but reducing speed from say 5 knots to 4 knots gives a lot more thinking time than the 20 per cent difference in speed suggests. There may even be occasions in which it’s helpful to stop for a short while – so that you can catch up with events and get ahead.

A variety of strategies to buy additional time when necessary is therefore one of the most useful elements in a skipper’s armoury. Heaving to, furling (or partially furling) the headsail, and stemming the tide are prime examples.

All the above is not to say that good skippers don’t enjoy a stint on the helm, taking part in deck work when in open water or, for instance, preparing a meal under way, but it’s important to recognise that these tasks are secondary to their skippering role. However, if you’re sailing short handed, maybe with only one other crew member, then it is likely that all tasks will be shared equally, even if important decision making affecting the safety of the vessel and crew will always remain the responsibility of the skipper.

Winch Servicing

It is not essential to service the winches when a boat is ashore, but if time allows I prefer to do this maintenance job when the boat...

Boat batteries

Under-sized battery banks are one of the key factors behind power failure at sea, as well as the premature failure of batteries, so make sure that your boat battery measures up to the use you want to put it to.

Pre-start engine checks

According to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) almost one third of emergency call outs at sea are caused by mechanical failure. Many engine breakdowns are avoidable. The best way to avoid a breakdown is to carry out pre-start checks before heading out to sea.

Fire safety advice at sea from the Marine & Coastguard Agency

Fire safety advice for boaters Top fire safety advice at sea: 1. Fit smoke alarms, carbon monoxide and gas detectors 2. Turn...

Repairing chips and dings in gelcoat

The gelcoat topsides of a GRP boat can be pampered and restored to their former glory relatively easily when it is ashore. Gelcoat is only a very thin outer layer of the hull, often less than 1mm thick, so you should avoid cleaning it with highly abrasive cleaners, or an-ything that could potentially damage its surface.

Top five windvane self steering installation questions

Top five windvane self steering installation questions answered by Sarah Curry of Hydrovane International Marine, courtesy of Viki Moore from Island Cruising NZ

Essential Knots: Round turn and two half hitches

Essential Knots: Round turn and two half hitches Use: Tying a rope to a pole or a ring. Step 1. Pass the end around the object. Step 2....

Essential Boat Spares for Safety

  Boats Spares Tool kit What you carry in the boats tool kit will be useful for many boat repairs, but you might want...

Keel maintenance and repair – Part 1

Keels are designed to act as underwater foils that generate lift as the boat moves through the water, counteracting the leeward force of the wind and enabling the boat to sail closer to the wind. Keel maintenance and repair is essential for the performance of your boat.

Boat electrics

All boat owners should have a basic knowledge of electrics, both to avoid encountering electrical problems at sea and to stand a chance of solving them should they occur.

Dag Pike’s Boat Survey

We're really pleased to be working with Dag Pike on some great new apps for iPhone & Android. Here'a a bit more about the first app: Dag Pike's...

ColRegs – avoiding collisions at sea

ColRegs - avoiding collisions at sea ColRegs Rule 8: Action to avoid collision (a) Any action taken to avoid collision shall...

Rig check – how to prevent failure at sea

Regular rig checks prevent the risk of mast and rigging failure at sea. This includes regular rig inspections of the spars, ...

Boatyard Health and Safety

Boat storage facilities are potentially hazardous environments and it is the responsibility of both boat owners and boatyards to ensure that the...

Essential Knots: Sheet bend

Essential Knots: Sheet bend Use: Joining two ropes together. A sheet bend is particularly useful for joining two ropes of different...

An explanation of the IALA maritime buoyage systems – IALA A and IALA B

What are the differences between the two IALA buoyage systems, IALA Region A and IALA Region B, and where are they used?   As recently as the 1970s...

Sailing at the touch of a button

Easier and more controlled sail handling can also be achieved by powering up a furling mast. I came across some interesting solutions at the Southampton Boat Show this week on the Selden Mast stand, where they were running demos of their E40i electric winch and SMF furling system.

Passage Planning Advice & Safety for skippers

Passage planning helps you to: • Decide where to go • Calculate how long it will take to get there • Avoid bad weather •...

Sailing into fog – being prepared and staying safe

Most skippers will sensibly delay their departure, if fog is forecast. However, if fog begins to form when you are at sea it is important to be prepared, and know what precautions to take, to help make your vessel detectable or visible in fog and keep the crew safe.

Jester Challenge 2022 – Sailing single handed from Plymouth UK to the Azores: Part 7 – Motivation

Jester Challenge – A modern experiment in old-fashioned self-reliance, self sufficiency, and personal responsibility. This is the seventh of a 10-part post where solo sailor, Bernie Branfield, shares his first-hand account of his single-handed, 2022 Jester Challenge, from Plymouth, UK to the Azores, in his 26′ Invicta Mk2, Louisa.

Cleaning & polishing painted topsides

The gelcoat topsides of a GRP boat can be pampered and restored to their former glory relatively easily when it is ashore. Gelcoat is only a very thin outer layer of the hull, often less than 1mm thick, so you should avoid cleaning it with highly abrasive cleaners, or an-ything that could potentially damage its surface.

How to cope with an emergency at sea

A safe skipper will be mentally prepared for all kinds of potential emergencies happening at sea, including medical emergencies, engine failure, fire, a holed hull, capsize and dismasting.

ColRegs when sailing single handed

  Don’t neglect the Colregs when sailing single handed Sailing single-handed represents several challenges for skippers, not least how to...

Keeping boat records and doing checks

A boat’s records should provide information about maintenance schedules, when major work was done and when equipment was replaced or added to the boat. Without this information you are left guessing when things are likely to need replacing in the future and also what the costs are likely to be.

Boat interior varnishing

Most boat interiors have a combination of varnished and painted surfaces including solid wooden joinery, plywood laminates with thin hardwood veneers and glass reinforced plastic. When making your assessment of what you are going to do, bear in mind that the varnishing process consumes a lot of time, especially if the existing surfaces are in poor shape.