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


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 tow willy-nilly, you may be rendering your insurers at risk of a salvage claim. Read More