Think before lassoing

‘Lassoing’ a mooring buoy by dropping a bight of line over it then heaving in the slack is a useful means of securing temporarily, especially where there is neither mooring ring nor pick-up buoy with its promise of a strop. The technique should, however, only be used as a last resort and never as the […] Read More

No misunderstandings

Any possible ambiguity can be cut out of helm orders by making all references in terms of the boat herself. ‘Keep it on the left’, when approaching a buoy could mean the helmsman should sail to the left of the buoy, but it might also mean that the buoy will run by to the left […] Read More


Always discuss the deal before you accept a tow. If you’ve run out of fuel on a calm evening, a friendly fisherman might pull you in for a bottle of scotch, but if your boat is in undisputed danger and you accept a tug, you may be rendering your insurers at risk of a salvage […] Read More

60-mile rule

By some quirk of mathematics, a one-degree course error delivers a vessel a mile to one side of a destination that is 60 miles distant. Two degrees sets her two miles off and five degrees will result in five miles (5.25 to be strictly accurate). The system keeps going more or less up to fifteen […] Read More

How far off?

From time to time, we all imagine we’ve anchored closer to the shore than is actually the case. To assess how far off the beach you are, don’t rely purely on first impressions. Spot something whose magnitude is recognisable in everyday terms – a person walking a dog, perhaps; or a bus, a flagstaff or […] Read More

Tugboat hitch

Securing a spring line to a winch barrel where there is no handy cleat is best achieved by the tugboat hitch. This is also the favoured method anywhere a single post or bollard must accept a line that may need to be released under serious load. Read More

Look, no sails

Because most modern yachts sail well downwind under bare poles, dropping a mooring with wind against tide is easier than it looks. It’s often possible simply to make sure the sails are ready, then slip the mooring without setting anything at all. The yacht will be lying stern to the breeze, so, in a two-knot tide, there is plenty of water passing the rudder to ensure steerage. Read More

Dipping your loops

Where more than one rope must be made up on a shoreside cleat or bollard, always pass the loop of the second and subsequent lines through the loop that was there first. The geometry of this is hard to explain, but the result is that no matter what loads are on the ropes, when you […] Read More


Few abominations can compare with a ‘motoring leech’, but the leech line should really be the last resort in subduing the horror. If you over-tighten the line, it will end up by 'hooking’ the leech of the sail and ruining the clean airflow off its trailing edge. Before attending to the leech line, first make sure the sheet’s fairlead car is correctly set in its fore-and-aft position; now ease the line until it is slack, then carefully pull it down until the leech goes quiet, AND NOT AN INCH MORE. Read More


When applying kicking strap or mainsheet tension to control the leech twist of a conventional mainsail, the question arises as to how hard you should be pulling. In the context of a cruising yacht, the answer is as simple as this: Heave down until the top batten of the sail lines up parallel with the […] Read More


When you are aground and struggling to heel the boat over so as to reduce her draft, a handy method is to swing the boom as far out as it will go with a crew volunteer hanging onto the end ─ the heavier the better. If there are no takers for the job, a 5-gallon […] Read More


Learning all the code flags is no longer a part of any yachting syllabus, but every watchkeeper must be aware of the meaning of flag ‘A’. It says, ‘I have a diver down. Keep well clear at slow speed.’ Sometimes these flags are made of plywood, sometimes of fabric, but they are always shown by […] Read More


Occasionally it is necessary to sail off a mooring with other yachts moored abeam on both sides and all of you head to wind. Having decided on the favoured tack, you will usually be confident either that you can gain enough way to sail out to windward of your neighbour, or that you have enough […] Read More


A useful aide-memoir when crossing another vessel in daylight with both boats under power, is to ask yourself which of her sidelights you would be seeing if it were dark. A red (port) light would suggest that you are to take care, so stay out of her way. Green is for ‘go’, so if you […] Read More


The cold front is often the most spectacular feature of a weather system, with violent squalls, towering cloud formations, veering wind and perhaps dramatic quantities of precipitation. After the front, a clearer, windy scene usually brings fairer weather in its wake. Sometimes, the bending of the isobars on the front leads to a brief period […] Read More


The effects of changes of heading on some steering compasses are well known and are tabulated as deviation. Heeling can also displace a compass needle in some vessels on certain headings, especially those with a large chunk of iron ballast. For practical purposes it is all but impossible to tabulate ‘heeling error’, but this will […] Read More


It is well known that three or four times the maximum expected depth of water is a good starting-point for deciding scope when anchoring with chain cable. This rule is not cast in stone, however, and you might safely may opt for less cable if you are tight for space, so long as your anchor seems well set, conditions are not extreme and you will be aboard at high water. Read More


Gybing an yacht below 40ft or so in a light breeze, it is generally a waste of effort to pull in the mainsheet. Just gathering the parts and manhandling the boom across is perfectly safe. As the wind picks up, however, you’ll need to take precautions. Steer 10° or so off dead downwind, then heave the mainsheet right in and make it fast. Read More


Always try to steer through a tack rather than just shoving the helm over and hoping for the best. If you go about too sharply the jib-sheet handlers will have a tough job winding in the genoa. Life will be far easier if, after coming through the wind, you hold the boat 10° or so […] Read More


For close piloting inshore, it is important to steer down a straight track from one navigation mark to the next. Merely ‘aiming’ the boat will not be enough if there is any cross-set. As soon as you round a mark, line up the following one with some convenient object behind it. This will establish a […] Read More


It is unusual for a modern yacht to lie a’hull in a storm, but if this should ever be your lot, lash your helm amidships. If you lash the tiller to leeward and the boat gathers way after being knocked into a downwind attitude by a sea, she may well luff up towards the crest […] Read More


When dealing with a daymark in an area strange to you, it pays to resist the temptation to leap to conclusions. Sometimes its identity will be obvious beyond any reasonable doubt, but if you have even the slightest misgivings, it’s worth cross-checking. Try comparing its charted bearing from your GPS position with its actual bearing […] Read More


Out at sea, collision risk is checked by ascertaining whether or not the vessel in question is maintaining a steady bearing relative to you. Initially, this is spotted by keeping your head still and seeing whether a distant ship remains in place over a particular stanchion, shroud, or other likely item. If it looks like a possibility, but you are uncertain, you will take the ship's compass bearing, and keep checking as range closes. Read More

Climb up for a better look

When you are looking for a buoy or a beacon at long range, don’t stay sitting in the cockpit. Your height of eye down there is so low that you won’t see your target until you are far closer than you need have been. First, stand up where you are. If you still can’t discern […] Read More


The only certainty about how to make fast to a cleat is that there are a number of equally good ways of doing it. In deciding which to use, the questions to ask are: If I secure it like this, will it be impossible for the rope to come off by mistake? ... Read More

Radar watch in the real world

To be fully effective, a radar operator should be watching developments almost constantly. In a small yacht where perhaps only the skipper is qualified to interpret the screen, this may be an unrealistic ideal. Obviously, another lookout must be detailed if traffic is heavy in poor visibility, but in quieter waters when you are the sole watch keeper, it can be hard to decide how long to spend checking the radar screen for other vessels. Read More

‘D’you want salt and vinegar?’

A gallon can of malt vinegar costs next to nothing compared with most yacht unctions, yet it has many uses on board. In addition to revitalising a plate of chips rendered beyond salvation by a route match from the local friary, it can also put the shine back into brass that has tarnished far beyond a quick rub up with the magic wadding. Read More

Lifting a swimmer

The subject of how to lift a man-overboard casualty is endlessly mooted in sailing schools and among cruising people. If a boat has an electric or hydraulic anchor winch with a warping drum, however, her crew need generally look no further. Even a powerful hand-operated windlass may prove more effective than a cockpit winch. All […] Read More

Sea fog cooking in the islands

The sort of fog caused by warm moist air moving over colder water often clears up as you approach a shore-line with the wind blowing off it. This is because the air is dried as it passes across the warm land, and it’s especially noticeable amongst islands. Closing a weather shore in fog, you can […] Read More

Heads down, but take it easy

The secret of happy gybing lies in how the boat is steered. With enough breeze to make gybing an issue, steer 5° or 10° above a dead run, then heave the mainsheet right in and make it fast. Now steer the stern carefully across the wind just far enough to gybe, AND NO FURTHER. The boom will flop across like a lamb, but the radical change in sail balance will make the boat want to round up sharply, especially as she is already being steered towards the wind on the new gybe. Read More

Running a Back Bearing

This method for keeping a boat on track as she moves down a safe line from a known charted object is moderately accurate. The trouble is that deciding which way to turn when the reversed bearing becomes larger or smaller than the ideal is the sort of brain-teaser nobody but a maths professor really wants. […] Read More

Checking for drag

By far the best method of observing whether or not an anchor is dragging is to find a natural transit of two objects more or less abeam when the boat is head-up to the hook. For crispness, these want to be reasonably close. You can even use another boat that looks good, so long as she doesn’t join you up the beach when all goes pear-shaped. Read More

Instant relative bearings

Everyone knows that at sea, a collision heading can be defined by noting whether the relative bearing of the other vessel remains constant. Out in the open, there is time to take compass bearings or wait to see if a ship moves along the guardrails from a fixed helming position. Inshore, it’s a lot easier to line up an approaching craft against her background. If she remains stationary, you will collide. If she’s moving, you’re OK Read More

Tidal observations

Sailors in the central Solent can always tell the direction of the tide at Calshot by noting how the light float is lying. The authorities gave this vessel an anchor ball when they towed away the old lightship many years ago. The ball is on the side of the float nearest to its mooring, so […] Read More

Check if in doubt

If you’re in doubt about the identity of a land or seamark, the easiest way to make sure of it is to plot a GPS fix on the chart and see what the bearing of the object ought to be from there. Next, nip up on deck with the hand bearing compass and make sure […] Read More

Give them the end

When rafting up alongside another yacht, you often have to pass a line to someone on board her. There is a tendency to give the other crew a long length of rope, then ask them to feed it around a cleat somehow, and back to you. This fixation on rigging everything as a slip-line can cause no end of messing around at a time when you probably would rather be snugly secure alongside. It is far easier to run your lines as big ships do. Read More

Read the water

Working into a narrow river or harbour entrance in a strong tide, you can generally discern by eye where the deep water is, especially if it’s breezy. Tide running against or across the wind cuts up the water where it is flowing fastest. This is also usually where it’s deepest, so if in doubt, stay […] Read More

Keep it on the winch

Before self-tailing winches, a sheet was always cleated off after winding it in. Many of today’s yachts don’t have sheet cleats, leaving no choice but to rely on the self-tailing jaws. This is all very well until someone tumbles against a winch where the jaws weren’t completely clamped into the ropework. The sheet is knocked […] Read More

Never stop Communicating

Any skipper can become so involved with the challenges of command that he or she forgets to keep the crew in the picture. It’s as important for a briefing to include the basics of the coming passage as to explain where the liferaft is and how to use the heads. As the miles roll along, […] Read More

Doubling up on anchor power

Anyone who usually anchors in tidal rivers could be forgiven for abandoning any ideas of setting an extra hook. It’s all very well reading about swivels, rolling hitches on the bight of a cable below the water, and ‘Bahamian moors’, but the possibilities for any of these to lead to tangles and grief can put you right off. With good reason. Read More

Explore that plotter

The first thing some people do when they buy a new piece of equipment is study the manual. Others fall back on the old maxim of not reading the instructions until all else has failed. Many of today’s electronic chart plotters will deliver a full breakdown of the tidal height for numerous points on the […] Read More

Easy on the tide

Novice skippers have lots to think about, but if secondary port tidal heights are making you doubt whether you are ready to take a yacht to sea yet, stop worrying! Remember for now that only in exceptional circumstances will there be less water than it says on the chart. If the soundings indicate that you […] Read More

Look out for the cook

Safety equipment doesn’t always come pre-packed and labelled with an MCA sticker. More accidents happen in the galley of the average cruising yacht than ever occur from crew tumbling over the side ─ and they don’t all involve fire and gas explosion. A cook is far more likely to be scarred for life by a boiling pot jumping off the stove or a dish that takes charge when a moronically designed oven decants its contents over the crouching galley slave. Read More

Bleeding obvious

You don’t have to be a mechanical genius to know that if you run out of diesel or the engine stops because of a clogged filter, you are probably going to have to bleed it to get it going again. Most modern engines bleed from the engine fuel filter which is often found high up on the block, as this one is. Crack the nut at the top as shown. Read More

Creative courtesy flags

It’s well-known that all yachts must fly the ensign of a nation they are visiting from their starboard cross-trees (spreaders to us). However, if you’re cruising an area with a strong ethnic presence, such as Brittany, Normandy, Wales, Scotland ─ or Cornwall if you hail from what the Cornish describe as ‘The Mainland’, you’ll be […] Read More

All hands to the plotter

Running a plotter isn’t all that hard. Even if some of your crew aren’t officially navigators, teach them at least to use the plotter as a common-sense visual tool. Show them how to pan and zoom and make sure they understand the scale of things. Then when you’re off watch, they have another tool to […] Read More

Log book – keep it simple

No need to spend a fortune on a cruising log. An A4 exercise book ruled off with a few sensible columns is all you need. The columns speak for themselves. The remarks keep the navigation record but they also supply you with a reminder of who was aboard and how things went along on your […] Read More

Eyeballing a gap

When you’re entering a harbour or a narrow bay and you need to give one side a certain amount of clearance, bear in mind that while it may be impossible in practice to be sure of keeping a certain measured distance from a point, the eye can readily divide a picture up into halves or thirds. Read More

Natural transits to clear the horrors

It’s surprising how often a little chart-reading can save a lot of complicated pilotage. Take this example. Working close-in to the west of Cowes Green, a large heap of bricks with evil intent awaits the unwary. However, if you take a bead along the beach toward the Castle, and stay on it or north of […] Read More

Sort your prop

If you foul your propeller on a rope when going ahead and you can reach the offending line, it’s worth trying to unravel it as follows: Grab the rope and pull steadily. Activate the engine ‘stop’ toggle so that it can’t start (decompress it if it has this facility). Engage astern gear and turn the […] Read More

Keep coils turning with the sun

Braidline rope with a braid core can be coiled clockwise or anti-clockwise, but three-strand line is only happy if it is turning ‘with the sun’, or clockwise. This is to do with the construction of the lay of the rope. To force it anti-clockwise creates excessive kinks. You may get away with it on a […] Read More

Making up larger coils

Most of us make up coils for stowing by using some variant of the gasket coil hitch. This makes a neat job by wrapping one end around the whole coil a few times. Sadly, some dock lines and kedge warps are too big to achieve this conveniently. A good compromise is to clove hitch one […] Read More

Pump her in

When a moored boat must be hove in closer to the dock, it’s a lot easier to grab the bight (the middle) of a rope that’s made fast ashore, then heave up on it while a mate on board holds it with a turn on a cleat. When the boat is significantly shifted, take off […] Read More

Don’t snub her up!

Nothing makes a skipper look so stupid as when a well-meaning person takes a bow line ashore from a moving boat and promptly catches a turn to ‘stop her’. This is guaranteed to spring her bow hard into the dock with the stern swinging out of control – a horrid series of events to which […] Read More

Heaving it over

Before you heave a line, re-coil it, however good the original coil looks. Next, if you’re right-handed, hold the whole coil carefully in this hand, divide it into approximately two halves, and take the second coil in your left hand. Now lower the end of the left-hand coil so you can step on it (or […] Read More

Just how far from shore are you anchored?

Any old hand knows that an anchored boat looks tighter in to the rocks from her deck than she ever does from the shore. A useful reassurance if you have radar is to set the electronic range ring to touch the nearest bricks and see how close they really are. In this case, the skipper has set the ring to the same diameter as the scope of cable he has laid. As a further refinement, he has estimated the probable position of his anchor and placed the cursor on it to delineate his swinging room requirement. Read More