Skipper’s Tips #17 – Magnetic or True

plotter-picture

I’m sure most boaters or walkers or anyone who navigates their way around using charts or maps will have come across the situation where their compass is pointing one way and their maps or charts are pointing in a slightly different direction.

The reason for this, in simple terms, is that the molten core of the earth, which is constantly moving, is what compasses point at.  However, when you look at the globe from a human perspective, it has been drawn with the North Pole at the top and the South Pole at the bottom, a slightly skewed axis and to add insult to injury, the beautifully drawn land masses are not quite in the position that our trusty new GPS gadgetry now correctly indicates.   Here’s an interesting observation to chew on; if you went out into space and looked at the world, how would you know which way is up? Is the North Pole actually at the top?

I digress…

Obviously, if we are to sail around without bumping into things we need to work out how to work on the same page as the compasses we are utilising.  What we do, is allow for the difference in opinion (Variation) and once applied to the (True) or unadjusted heading, we end up with a (Magnetic) heading figure.  The story doesn’t end there though.  Stick a compass on a boat and all the electronic and magnetic forces on the boat will have a further effect on the compass, confusing the ‘poor dear’ even more, this we call (Deviation).  Making an allowance for the Deviation inaccuracy of the compass gives us the most accurate heading and is called a (Compass) heading.

Do not despair. When you buy a new boat, a compass adjuster will get on board and eradicate as much of the Deviation as possible.  The bit that’s left will be listed on a compass Deviation card so you can allow for it when navigating.  Beware though.  If you change any electronic equipment, or bring items onto your boat that have any electronic or magnetic properties, they will have an effect on the compass and it will have to be ‘swung’ again!

By now you must be starting to wonder how you’ve managed to navigate safely between ports without bumping into rocks and chunks of unexpected land. The answer, of course, is that we all readily use the chart-plotter/GPS equipment that’s become almost as intrinsic as the hull!  The chance of this equipment failing is remote and I have touched on this in another tip but if it were to fail or cease to operate correctly we will have to deal with Variation and Deviation before we can start to steer a course by the boat’s compass.

So, how do we work with Variation and Deviation?  Importantly, you must remember to make these ‘allowances’ in a specific order.  Allow for Variation first and then Deviation. You will also need to decide how you apply the correction.  When dealing with Variation this correction is essentially adding or subtracting the appropriate amount of degrees difference between what the compass is indicating and what the local Variation is shown to be on your chart as either degrees (West) or degrees (East)

Doc 3 Sep 2017, 12-37This is an example of a compass rose on a chart.  The Magnetic Variation shown is 2 degrees, 45 minutes West, correct in 2006.  Each year, this ‘error’ is decreasing by 8 minutes.  There are 60 minutes in a degree, so for 2017 – 11 years on – that’s a reduction of 1 degree and 28 minutes.  Therefore the Magnetic Variation in 2017 is 1 degree and 17 minutes West. Yes, there will come a point when the error disappears completely and then starts to become an East Magnetic Variation.  When I first started teaching, the Variation in parts of the Med was just under 2 degrees West and the last I saw it was almost zero – Point & Go!

N.B. Please remember, Magnetic Variation is nothing to do with whether you are going in a Westerly or Easterly direction, it is actually about your position on the globe relative to that molten core of the Earth which we spoke about earlier.

The question now is, how do we know whether to add or subtract these degrees of Variation or Deviation?  I don’t doubt that there are many different ‘aide memoirs’ but the one I favour, naturally, is the one I made up myself.  If you are calculating from True (shown on the chart) to Compass (the heading you are going to steer to by the ship’s compass) then any Variation or Deviation you allow for that is West must be added.  In other words True To Compass Add West – TTCAW.  It therefore follows, that any Variation or Deviation that you encounter when going from True to Compass that is East must be subtracted; the opposite, see?

Furthermore, when you are calculating from Compass to True, as you might when taking a Magnetic bearing with a hand-bearing compass, you would add East and subtract West. Clear as mud isn’t it?  Have a look at the table below, which has some examples.

Just to reiterate, don’t fall into the trap of thinking the direction you are pointing your boat in determines whether the Variation or Deviation is West or East.  The Variation figure comes from the compass rose on your chart and the Deviation figure from your boat’s deviation card.

True    Variation        Magnetic       Deviation      Compass

231        6 W                  237                  2 W                  239                             add West

079        3 E                   076                    0                     076                             subtract East

147       4 W                  151                   1 E                   150

013       2 E                    011                   2 W                 013

348       2 W                   350                  1 E                   349

To remember the order try,  ‘True Virgins Make Dull Companions’.  Alternatively, if that’s too racy for you, remember the reverse order with,  ‘Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Very Tasty’.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

 

 

Skipper’s Tips #16 – Green & Clean

Plotter picture

Well there we go, another year over and a new one just begun… I’m sure I’ve heard someone else saying that!

I must put my hands up and apologise for not posting much recently but it’s been a quiet winter for me adventures wise and I’ve had to resort to sitting in front of a computer in an office just to pay the bills 😦

However, the season will soon be upon us and I’m sure it will bring new opportunities in abundance.  In the mean time I’m going to harp on about the environment and our obligation to be mindful of the impact we, as motor boaters, have on it.

This is an extremely important issue which affects us all. Personally, I feel strongly about looking after the environment.  I know this sounds absurd when you consider what I do for a living but motor boats are here to stay and sensibly we should be trying to mitigate the adverse effects we all have on the environment and not just pointing our collective fingers at someone else. A smokey old ‘donker’ on a yacht, will often produce many times more harmful emissions than that of a modern, efficient, common rail diesel engine. So to all yacht owners, don’t get on your high horse just yet – I bet you didn’t cycle or better still walk to your boat the last time you used it, did you?

As boat users we all have a responsibility to the environment; to the sea, the coastline, and of course, to the natural wildlife. It isn’t difficult to be conscientious and considerate, and by following a few simple rules we can all play a part in helping to keep our waters safe and clean for everyone to enjoy. At the very least we should be aiming to minimise the impact our boating has on the environment around us but if we can actually make improvements, then so much the better.

The following items are all very obvious examples of what should never enter the sea:

  • Garbage of any sort, including bio-degradable food materials
  • Oil and oily wastes
  • Sewage – if it is going to be harmful to the amenity value of the local water
  • Toxic wastes

One way to make life easier for yourself, and easier on the environment is to dispose of as much packaging as possible before you load food and drinks onto your boat. Put food into washable, reusable containers to reduce waste on board and keep rubbish in sealed sacks ready to dispose of appropriately when you next get to shore. Another useful tip is to keep a can crusher on board to reduce the space your rubbish occupies. 

We have all had a bilge full of oily water at some stage in our boating career. Instead of dumping it irresponsibly into the water, carry some absorbent pads to soak up the liquid and then dispose of it later in the oil waste drums which are now found at most modern marinas.

Over the years, the practice of discharging toilets directly into the sea has been seen as normal and acceptable yet, at the same time, we are all very aware of the noxious effects this discharge has in busy marinas, particularly when the tidal effect is minimal. I have noticed that more and more people are fitting holding tanks to their boats these days. Sometimes this is because of a conscious decision to take a more ‘friendly’ approach and sometimes it is because local regulations are getting stiffer – many countries in the Med are now insisting on black waste holdings tanks and some are even expecting us to fit grey waste tanks too – I’ve heard of boaters being fined in Greece for discharging their washing-up water from the kitchen sink into the sea. With more and more marinas offering pump out facilities, there really is no excuse to not manage your boat’s waste appropriately. For those of us without a system to contain waste or if your boat lives in an area where pump out facilities don’t exist, nipping three miles out to sea to empty the tanks isn’t a great hardship – we must be mindful of other water users nearby and the tidal movement or indeed lack of it.  It is not always acceptable to simply flush your waste out to sea like sweeping dust under a carpet.

Its not just when we are on the water that we can have a harmful effect on the environment either.  Every year we scrub the hull off and apply new coats of anti-foul. Where does the old anti-foul that has just been scrubbed off the hull go to? Most often, it gets washed into the nearby marina of course.  It goes without saying that anti-foul paint, scrapings and wash-off must not get into the sea as these are serious contaminants.  Make every effort when removing the old anti-foul to tidy up the debris and dispose of it carefully.  I would urge everyone to make a determined effort to use environmentally friendly products at all times to help minimise damage to the environment in the long term.  More and more environmentally products are becoming available.  They are effective substitutes for the existing products and priced the same too.

Have a go folks!  Its not difficult to do this properly and we all benefit.

GO GREEN for 2017!

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

 

Skipper’s Tips #15 – Whether the weather is hot…

Plotter picture

This subject is truly extensive.  There are a huge number of books that have been written about weather and there are many, many people far more knowledgeable than I, who can wax lyrical about world weather systems.  That said, I do know some of the pertinent bits and that’s what I hope to pass on to you today. 

It goes without saying that it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the weather.  Nobody wants to be caught out in bad weather and frankly, with so much good quality forecasting these days, it’s almost inexcusable.  Weather forecasts can be found in newspapers, on the radio and on the television, on regular VHF broadcasts, on the internet, but even easier than all these options, try using ‘Mk 1 eyeball’; stick your head out of the window!

Essentially, as boaters, the weather we need to know about falls into three categories.

  1. Depressions
  2. Sea breezes
  3. Fog

Depressions occur when warm, wet wind crossing the Atlantic, picking up moisture as it goes, comes into contact with the Polar Front, which lies generally to the north of our latitudes.  The cold Polar winds will get underneath these rising, warm, wet winds from the southwest and set up an anti-clockwise, upwards spiral of wind.  As the warm, wet winds rise, they cool. Cold air isn’t capable of carrying as much moisture as warm air and so eventually, the moisture is released as precipitation – that’s rain to you and me.  The difference in air pressure from the outer edge of the depression to the inner centre varies hugely over relatively short distances – we can see this when we look at synoptic weather charts showing the clustering of isobars around the centre of the depression. These tightly packed isobars indicate the large pressures gradients involved, which to you and me essentially means strong winds.  In fact, the closer together the isobars, the stronger the winds.  If you can get hold of a print out of a synoptic chart, there should be a scale on it, which will allow you to measure the precise wind speeds.

Here’s something to consider the next time you get a chance to look at a synoptic chart. In the Northern Hemisphere, the wind cycles anti-clockwise around a low and clockwise around a high.  So, if you get a High and a Low next to each other the wind is likely to be great where they meet as you will have two wind systems effectively going in the same direction.  However, when you get two Low’s next to each other, they cancel each other out at the point at which they meet.  The resulting wind, at this point, will most likely be light and variable in direction.

If we know what to look for we should be able to spot a weather system coming and this will allow us to make an informed decision on whether to go to sea or not.  So, what does an approaching depression look like and what are the clues?

The classic timeline of a depression moving through is as follows:

  • Falling barometer
  • Lowering cloud base
  • Rain
  • Reducing visibility
  • Complete cloud cover
  • Veering (clockwise) change in wind direction as the warm front arrives
  • Steadying barometer
  • Easing of the rain to a continuous lighter rain or drizzle, in the warm sector
  • Rising barometer, as the cold front arrives
  • Thunder clouds, often with the thunder
  • Gusty winds
  • Showery rain
  • Veering wind direction
  • Crystal clear skies, with fluffy white clouds
  • Excellent visibility

Keep your eye on the barometer.  Make a regular note of the readings when you fill in your deck log and you will instantly notice a change.  A fall of 6mb in a two-hour period means head for port; there’s some bad weather due soon.

Clearly, given the basic level of our weather forecasting skills (up to Yachtmaster level), I would still recommend that you also compare what the traditional weather sources are telling you with your new found skill of being able to spot a depression – the weather we experience in and around the UK is very varied and subject to quick changes. Weather systems continually speed up and slow down, often arriving early or not at all.  

***************

Sea breezes occur on sunny, summer days, when rapidly rising air, which has been warmed by the land heating up, sucks in air from the sea, producing the onshore breeze.  The rising air eventually cools, falling back down over the sea and so the process continues until the evening when the sun goes in.

Katabatic wind is the wind that blows out to sea from the land. As the land, which during the day was hot, cools down, it cools the air above it. This, now heavy, cool air tumbles down the hillsides and coastal cliffs, rushing out to sea.  This wind effect doesn’t last particularly long and personally, I’ve only experienced this in the Med. 

***************

Fog is caused when warm, wet air gets chilled revealing the moisture content as fog. The classic example of this is in coastal UK waters in Spring, we call this Advection Fog or more affectionately, Sea Fog . The waters around the UK are at their coldest at this time. As the warm, moist air coming across the Atlantic meets the cold waters around the UK, the chilling effect reveals the moisture as fog.  It can often burn off by mid-afternoon but occasionally it can hang around for a few days until the wind direction changes and the temperature differential changes.  I’ve seen waves of fog plague islands in the early Summer months and even in August on Jersey one time when I was delivering a new boat to a customer and got fog-bound myself. 

Radiation Fog or Land Fog, as some call it, happens mostly in the Autumn months. After a warm, sunny September day, the land, which has been warming up during the day, will chill down quickly under clear skies.  This chilling cools the air lying over the ground, which in a Katabatic Wind style, tumbles down into valleys and estuaries where it meets warm, moist air lying over streams and rivers.  The chilling effect of this cold air produces the fog – which gives us those romantic looking photographs that people like me love to capture.

***************

Please don’t base your boating plans on a forecast you had five days ago – 12 to 24 hour forecasts are going to be the most accurate and this is what you should be looking at before you decide to head down to your boat. Then, before setting off on your journey, get the latest forecast as published by the marina.  Remember too, that the weather you’re feeling inside the marina will often bear no relation to what’s actually going on at sea.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

 

Skipper’s Tips #14 – Picking Up A Buoy

Plotter picture

 

These principles work equally well for yachts and motor boats alike. However, there is a caveat to the lassoing technique. I found this out when picking up a buoy in Cowes Roads once.  If you change your mind and decide not to pick up the mooring buoy, when you let the temporary line go – the one you’ve just lassoed the buoy with – you must throw the loose end well to the side before you start to pull it on board, as there is a very good chance that the tide will sweep the line past the buoy and free end will crossover the end of the line still attached to the boat, causing it to knot and subsequently making it exceedingly difficult to get away from the buoy.

Picking up a mooring buoy can be a little tricky at times, especially if it’s windy, the tide is running hard or there isn’t a pick-up line?  The simple solution is to set up a ‘lasso’…

Ask your crew to tie a mooring line to both forward cleats, lead the line around the outside of the ‘pulpit’, then coil the line up into fairly small coils – easier to throw – and split it into two coils. Standing at the bow, the crew can then guide whoever is helming towards the mooring buoy. Approach the buoy into wind or tide, or a combination of the two, whichever will allow you to gently come to halt and hover by the buoy whilst the crew throw the line over it. The line will now sink around the buoy and as you start to drift backwards and will capture the buoy by it’s chain.

This is only a temporary solution – the chain will eventually saw through the mooring line and you will drift off but it does take the pressure off the helmsman by saving them the trouble of having to dance around the buoy while the crew try to put a line through a tiny eye a metre or more below the deck height.

Now that you ‘attached’ to the mooring buoy, you are in a position to pull yourselves closer to the buoy with the temporary line and reach down to put a proper line through the eye on the top of the buoy.  Alternatively, you could get the tender out and motor round to the front of your boat and put the proper line through from a more friendly height.

Another method in light wind and tide conditions, but without a pickup line, is to pass the mooring line through the eye on the buoy at the stern of your boat, or for yachts, amidships. Ask your crew to tie the mooring line on at the bow, pass the line through the forward fairlead, keeping the line outside the rail and then down the deck to the stern. Now, motor towards the buoy, again into wind or tide as explained previously but as you get to the buoy creep past it, so that you stop with the buoy just forward of the stern. Your crew member, standing on the bathing platform, holding the mooring line, can now easily reach the eye on the buoy. They pass the line through the eye and walk up the side deck with the line, which is then attached at the bow as normal. Whilst the crew walks the line forward, the boat will slowly drift backwards and you will end up in the correct mooring position, just as the crew ties the line onto the forward cleat.

Beware though, some of these mooring buoys bite! They can be metal, rusty, big, heavy and have sharp bits. If you intend to attach yourself to a buoy by having a crew member pass the line through at the stern, I suggest you select the buoy with care, or put your boat on the ‘down wind’ or ‘down tide’ side of the buoy, so you aren’t drifted onto it as you drift back.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

 

 

Skipper’s Tips #13 – Don’t get your lines in a twist

Plotter picture

I’m sorry it’s been a while since my last post; I’ve been a little busy with boating commitments, Christmas and some other bits and bobs.  However, here I am again with my latest Skipper’s Tip.

We all take our ropes for granted.  Shove them in a locker when we leave the berth and sling them back on as we return.  I wonder how many of us actually take the trouble to inspect the lines and consider if they might need replacing?

Now Winter is coming to an end, it might be a good idea to give some thought to your ropes and perhaps even take a look to see what those winter winds have done to them…

© Richard Corbett 2011
Hopefully they look a little better than this one!!

If you’ve ever looked at the array of lines in chandlers or for that matter, on display at a boat show, you will know only too well just what a bewildering choice we boaters have today.  Aside from the number of different types of rope, there seems to be an infinite variety of colours to choose from – I wonder what the rope makers of history would think about the advances that have been made in rope technology, we’ve come a long way since hemp and sisal?

In my opinion, there are two basic requirements for ropes aboard a vessel.  You will need ropes that stretch and ropes that don’t stretch.  For instance, if you want a rope to haul your mainsail up and you want it to stay near the top of the mast, then clearly you are going to need a rope that doesn’t stretch.  Similarly, how are you going to get your headsail pulled in tight if the rope keeps stretching?

On the other hand, if you’re mooring alongside a harbour wall, and you know the tide is going to drop overnight, you are going to need to set your lines a good distance aft and forward of your boat but a little flexibility in the lines also helps allow for that extra, unexpected drop in water level – this when stretch would be a requirement not a fault.

You can get your ropes in 3 strand form, where the rope is normally twisted with a right hand twist to produce the type of standard rope we are all familiar with or you could have a braided rope, that may or may not have a central core.  Another type of rope again, are the woven style ropes, which are particularly soft on the hands. Regardless of the style you decide to go for just make sure you are getting the right rope for the job – stretchy nylon or polyester ones for jobs like mooring lines or anchor warps and pre-stretched lines for sheets and halyards.

A good tip for looking after your lines is to make sure you hang them up to dry before you leave your boat.  Coiling mooring lines into a ‘cheese’ on the pontoon may look pretty but it won’t allow the lines to dry properly and they may rot or at the very least start to smell.  You will find out just how much a rope can smell after you’ve left it in a locker for a couple of weeks without letting it dry first.

It’s worth having plenty of spare line on board your boat.  It could come in useful one day if you have to tow someone or they you.  You might find yourselves rafted up and needing to send independent lines ashore.  Either way, extra lines are a definite bonus.  I make sure that my mooring lines are at least 10% longer than the boat and I like to have two lines twice the length of the boat for shorelines or mooring between piles.

I remember once having to anchor in 45 metres of water, in fog, in the middle of the night.  We had just enough rope on board with it all tied together to make the anchor hold; we were so glad we had all that rope on board.

Keep an eye on your mooring lines at your berth too.  At the point where the line goes around the cleat it can chafe and because you cannot see the inside of the line, where it’s rubbing against the cleat, you won’t be aware that there is a problem.  I’ve seen some people use a chain and a giant spring which helps prevent snatching as well as protecting the rope.  I’ve also seen folk put rubber hosing onto the line at the point where it goes around the cleat and that protects it too.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

Skipper’s Tips #12 – Fog

Plotter picture

The first time I encountered fog on a boat was in the early days of my teaching career.  We were on the school boat Alpha, just having passed Calshot Spit in the Solent.  I could see the fog ahead of us and determined that we should continue towards our destination; fully expecting it to be a narrow bank of mist which we would soon pop out of as we approached Cowes.  Behind us was brilliant sunshine and in my naivety I wasn’t prepared for just how dense and disorientating it was going to be.  We all had life-jackets on, the radar was working and as we entered the fog bank we slowed down to tick-over.   Despite following the correct procedures I have to hold my hands up and admit that I found myself in a very uncomfortable position.  Everyone on board was relying on my experience and skill to navigate us safely through the fog to Cowes and yet my stomaching was churning – I couldn’t see a blinking thing and all I could hear was the engines of the Red Funnel fast-cat, seemingly headed directly towards us.

My training kicked in and after a sustained squint at the chart plotter it soon became apparent that the fast-cat was actually a mile to the south of us and not on a collision course after all.  With no particular reason to go to Cowes that day and glorious sunshine behind us I made the decision to retreat and we were soon out of the fog and heading for Southampton Water to do some Man Over Board practice instead.

 

*********************

 

No matter where you do your boating, fog or reduced visibility situations will arise at some time or another.  Don’t forget, that a heavy rain shower or even snow can make it exceedingly difficult to see and truly disorientating, so it is supremely important that as you approach an area of reduced visibility, you make an accurate note of your position and indicate this on your chart: all your subsequent navigation will be based upon this position fix so get it right.

Big shipping, the kind you really don’t want appearing out of the gloom directly in front of you, will be staying to the main shipping channels, it therefore makes sense for you to run outside these channels but only if it is safe to do so, obviously you must check your position on the chart before moving to the shallows.

A really handy tip is to follow a suitable contour line around the coast until you come to a safe harbour. Once you are within 100 yards of the entrance you can normally make out the entry channel markers; get yourselves safely tied up and wait for the visibility to improve.

For those of you with radar on board, the processes of navigating in reduced visibility and avoiding other vessels are that much easier.  However, you are obliged to know how to correctly decipher the information presented to you by your radar screen; if you were to have an accident based on this information and you had misinterpreted what you had seen on the radar screen, you could be found liable for the accident.

 

Here are some of the procedures you might employ when heading into an area of reduced visibility:

  • As soon as you see the weather deteriorating, take a fix
  • Make a note in the ‘Deck Log’ and on your chart of your position
  • Slow down and move outside the main channel if you can
  • Turn on your navigation lights and navigation equipment
  • Make sure everyone is wearing a life-jacket and the life-raft is ready to deploy
  • Sound the appropriate signal for your vessel every two minutes
  • Keep alert for the sound of approaching vessels

Over the years I’ve found myself enveloped in varying degrees of fog, walls of rain and snow storms.  I have to tell you it’s not much fun.  You have to put a lot of reliance on your equipment and if you’re not that confident with using radar this can leave you very dry mouthed.  If you keep your head and follow the procedures listed above you will, most likely, be fine.  I would encourage you to attend a radar course when you get a chance as there have been many instances of people misinterpreting their radar and ending up colliding with other vessels.  Remember that some of what you learn in the COLREGS is based around vessels being in sight of each other – when you are in reduced visibility you are no longer in sight of other vessels.  In situations like this your immediate reaction to avoiding a collision might not be to turn to starboard but to turn to port instead! 

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

 

 

 

 

Skipper’s Tips #11 – VHF & DSC

Plotter picture

As an SRC (Short Range Certificate) assessor, this tip has particular significance for me.

I often hear people using VHF radio when I’m out on the water and in my experience it’s possible to post these radio users into three quite distinct categories.

  • Category one – all the people who clearly know what they are doing and operate their radio set in the manner for which it was intended
  • Category two – these guys put a smile on my face.  They are obviously new to VHF radio and not that relaxed with talking to a microphone. However, they are sticking rigidly to procedure and importantly, they are doing everything properly – big pat on the back for you
  • Category three – you are the people who who have decided that you are somehow above the rest of us, you don’t need to take any training or a test and you really don’t know how to use your VHF radio correctly. You are breaking the law and potentially putting lives at risk.  The SRC course takes less than one day and costs very little money in the big scheme of things, go and do it!

****************

Anyone who uses a boat will surely be familiar with VHF radio, even if they haven’t actually had occasion to use it themselves. Unfortunately, all too often, people seem to be unaware of the obligations that come with utilising this equipment in the public forum. It’s not hard to imagine that there will be rules and obligations that go with using any equipment that transmits a signal and allows you to interact with other people.  Therefore, as this system is designed primarily for safety, it makes sense that it’s use should be governed.

So here are some of the rules for you to consider:

  • The equipment must be licensed and comply with approved manufacturers standards (CE marked)
  • The user must have an operator’s licence or be in the company of a licence holder
  • The use of the VHF/DSC equipment is limited to emergency, safety or navigational purposes only
  • Correct procedures should be followed at all time

There are only 59 channels available to maritime VHF radio users and literally hundreds of thousands of users, so it makes sense that there should be a structure to the way radios are operated. The system of procedural words and the use of the phonetic alphabet both contribute to efficient communication, which frankly, can be a little bit ‘hit and miss’ sometimes. The VHF signal can often be weak and broken, so having a structure to what we say makes it easier to fill in the gaps.

Before going out to sea, many people like to test their VHF to see that it is still operational.  This is most commendable, especially if you have not used your boat for a while or you have recently been working on the boat. However, it is more appropriate to call another vessel or the harbourmaster to make a radio check, than it is to call the coastguard.  Especially on a busy Bank Holiday, when the coastguard will not appreciate hundreds of people calling on channel 16 (Safety and calling channel) for a radio check – if you really must speak to the coastguard, it would be better to use channel 67 (Solent Coastguard) or whatever the channel for the coastguard is in your locality.

The most important of calls is, of course, the Distress Call.  You can assume that a situation can be classed as ‘Distress’ if there is ‘Grave and imminent danger to a person, ship, aircraft or other vehicle requiring immediate assistance.’

The ‘Distress Call’ procedure should be memorised or at the very least displayed by the VHF radio equipment, so that every person on board is in a position to send the call if necessary. Since I first learned to use VHF radio there have been some changes and the most recent of these changes is to the Distress calling procedure.  It is now appropriate to make an initial ‘Distress Call’ and then make a second, follow up call, with the details of your situation.  Personally, I think this is wasting time and the call should stay combined.  Perhaps this is appropriate for a large ship, which will have a number of crew doing different roles and will therefore have the time to make these two calls but on a small vessel with only two people on board, having to make two calls, whilst watching the water level in the cockpit get higher and higher, is not appropriate to my mind – make one call and get back to pumping out the water or putting out the fire or getting off the boat.

I’m sure someone will take issue with me on this and if you do, write to me and we will discuss it.

But, before you do, consider this.  Over the years, all the rules and regulations we use today, which keep us safe and help to prevent accidents, have been learned from experience.  For the most part, these rules and regs are sensible and logical. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that most of you read through my Skipper’s Tips and say to yourselves, “I knew that!”  But the fact of the matter is, these guidelines have been created by human beings like you and me – generally, someone with some considerable experience of boating has said let’s do it like this and because everyone else has said, “OK”, that’s how we do things now. Does that mean this is the best way to do these things? I don’t think it necessarily is.  I suspect that, one day, someone else will come along and say, “Let’s do it this way now” and we will all change to the new method.  What I’m driving at here is, that these rules and regs are, for the most part, a guide. There is some legislation which we have to follow but a lot of what you learn when you take up boating is a guide and it is up to you to use and adapt that information to suit yourself.  If you are happy with what you’ve learned and it works for you, great.  If you’ve adapted what you’ve learned and that works better for you, great.

Let’s come back to VHF Distress Calling procedure.  Once, many years ago, I attended a talk in Seaton, Devon being delivered by a member of the local coastguard to the sailing club.  At the moment I walked in, the coastguard was talking about the procedure for sending a Distress Call.  Having explained the correct procedure he then went on to say, “Frankly, if someone picks up the mic and shouts, ‘HELP’, we will respond and it’s better that they do something rather than worrying about not doing it properly!”

Can you see how utterly sensible that approach is, I can?  If your boat is on fire and you have your wife and children on there with you, are you really going to stick rigidly to procedure? Do it properly if you can but don’t worry if you get it wrong, it’s not the end of the world!

So, if you take issue with what I’ve said write to me, let me know what you think and we can discuss it.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.