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.

Skipper’s Tips #10 – Sound Signals

Plotter picture

Happy New Year everyone!  Let’s hope 2015 turns out to be a great year for us all and certainly better than the last few years.  The current economic crisis has put a bit of a downer on a lot of people’s boating but the signs are that things are starting to get better; cheaper fuel is one good sign, keep your fingers crossed for less demanding times ahead…

For those of you who know me well, you’ll be aware that like everyone else I’ve had my own issues to deal with in the last few years.  Going from being fully employed to working freelance again has been a bit of a wrench but I recently had some good fortune come my way in the form of an ongoing contract to run a medium sized motor yacht in the Mediterranean. This certainly takes the pressure off financially and will, I’m sure, prove to be a bit of a hoot too!

Needless to say, you can expect many exciting adventures to come and naturally, my personal thoughts on a whole list of new anchorages and restaurants!

In the mean time, I think a new Skipper’s Tip is long overdue.  Given that it’s winter and we are, yet again, in the grips of some pretty fluffy weather I’ll consider some of the theoretical side to boating…

Sound Signals:

It has to be obvious to those of you who operate boats and are also car drivers that, for the most part, we do not travel down clearly laid out tracks, we are not all going the same way and we do not have brake lights and indicators to make other ‘drivers’ aware of our intentions.  So, how do we let other water users know what we are going to do next?

Clearly, if we are in an open stretch of water, with plenty of distance between ourselves and nearby boaters we can generally see what people are up to by studying their track over periods of 5 or 10 minute intervals – most boats tend to hold a steady course for the duration of their passages, only making turns as they avoid hazards or navigate down narrow channels and a significant alteration of course in an open water situation is quite easy to spot and allow for.  In fact, if you want to make your intentions clear to another vessel, making a bold turn in good time is by far the best approach to safe navigation – everyone can see what’s going on and there should be no need for last minute, panic manoeuvres.

However, we need to take a different approach when in sight of other vessels and in situations that don’t allow for ‘bold manoeuvres’, such as in a narrow channel, in a marina or in a harbour.  This is where sound signals take the place of vehicle indicators. Learning the various sound and light signals that vessels make is vitally important.  Although, as with all the rules of the road, it’s not enough to simply know what lights you are required to exhibit or what sound signals you might have to make, you must also be aware of the signals other shipping may show/sound and what action you should subsequently take.

Though often misused by friends signalling jovially to each other across the water, the horn is an essential navigational and safety tool, that is not to be used indiscriminately. A toot to your buddy could easily be misinterpreted by another craft as an intention to turn…

During periods of reduced visibility or whenever a vessel needs to signal its intentions or position, a horn is essential. There are different meanings attached to different sound sequences and to further complicate matters, some vessels will sound different sequences when in reduced visibility situations.

These sound signals are formed by both the length of blast and the number of blasts in a sequence.

By the way, a ‘Short blast’ = 1 second, and a ‘Long blast’ = 3 to 5 seconds or 4 to 6 seconds, depending on which book you read.

Some manoeuvring sound signals that you should already be familiar with are:

  • 1 short blast – I am turning to starboard
  • 2 short blasts – I am turning to port
  • 3 short blasts – My engines are going astern
  • 5 short blasts – I do not understand your intentions
  • 1 long last – I am coming (normally at a blind bend in a river)

Incidentally, a good way to remember the manoeuvring signals is to think of the word SPA, as in the spring water baths that we get in some UK towns like Harrogate, Bath and Leamington.

In other words, Starboard is 1 short blast, Port is 2 short blasts and Astern is 3 short blasts.

In fog/reduced visibility when we are not in sight of other vessels we use a different series of signals to let other water users know that we are about. Normal power driven vessels, not hampered in any way, will sound 1 long blast every two minutes.  Everyone else and this means sailing vessels and anyone who is hampered in some way will sound 1 long blast, followed immediately by 2 short blasts.  This second group, the sailing vessels and those hampered in some way, are sometimes affectionately known as the ‘Lame Ducks’.  There is a hierarchy into which these vessels fit, determining who ranks highest in terms of expecting other water users to give way to them. Starting at the bottom and working up to the vessels that can reasonably expect everyone to keep clear we have: sailing vessels, fishing vessels, towing vessels, vessels constrained by their draught, vessels restricted in their ability to manoeuvre and lastly, vessels not under command.

Of these ‘Lame Ducks’ the two that probably need some explanation are those that are restricted in their ability to manoeuvre and those NUC (not under command).  Some examples of the type of vessel that could be restricted in ability to manoeuvre would be; a towing vessel with a large or awkward tow (this outranks the ‘normal’ towing vessel, a vessel surveying, a vessel dredging and a vessel with a towed underwater array.  NUC (not under command), is a term used to describe a vessel that has lost all or some of its propulsion or ability to steer.  Clearly, this vessel is unable to comply with the normal avoidance procedures laid down in the COLREGS and therefore all other vessels must make every effort not to impede the safe passage of such a vessel.

So, your bedtime reading over the winter months might include a bit of revision on the Collision Regulations and it really ought to include learning, off by heart, the full list of sound signals.

On a more practical note, it’s worth keeping a portable air horn on your boat, in case the boat’s fixed horn fails.

Lastly, here’s one more sound signal for you to consider.  One long blast, followed by three short blasts. Look it up and let me know what it’s for…

Happy boating folks.  Keep looking in for new adventures and skipper’s tips. Don’t forget, you can always post any questions you have in the comments section of the blog and I’ll answer it as soon as I can.

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 #9 – Passage Making

Plotter picture

 

As you might imagine, I have made a few passages in my time on the water and in some ways I’m ashamed to say that I put an increasing reliance on electronic navigation.  Conventional wisdom has always been to use tried and trusted, traditional methods of navigation, i.e. paper charts. However, conventional wisdom is having to adapt to the march of technology and therefore, change is becoming inevitable.  We are all gradually being encouraged to take advantage of these advancements in navigation and in fairness, they do make life easier and importantly also improve safety levels, especially when passage making in unfamiliar or busy waters.  That said, if we are to get the best from our equipment, we must still be able to navigate ‘longhand’.  Planning your route on paper charts, showing the whole crew where you are going and keeping your position marked on the chart as the journey progresses, is by far the safest way to go.

Personally, I like to plan my passages one or two days in advance; this has two distinct advantages.  Firstly, of course, you will have the most up-to-date and accurate weather information.  Secondly, by planning your journey at home, in the comfort of your living room, you will be more relaxed and less likely to make silly errors.

So, lets think of some bullet points to remember:

  • Plan your routes on paper charts before putting the waypoints into your electronic plotter
  • Check arrival time constraints and work backwards to establish departure time
  • Weather forecasts are most accurate within 24 hours of departure
  • You might consider the following weather sites Windguru and The Met Office  as possible sources of weather information
  • Allow for the fact that weather constraints may affect your speed and therefore your arrival time.
  • Make sure you have planned ‘bolt holes’ that are protected from the weather
  • Check your boat is fully operational and capable of making the journey
  • Think about your crew; your decision to ‘go for it’ should be based on whether the weakest member of your crew will cope with the journey
  • Check that you run with wind and tide going the same way; ‘wind over tide, lunch over the side’ (motor yachts) and with the tide (sailing yachts)
  • Use the tidal chartlets in your Almanac to help with time, distance and tide direction planning for an overview of the whole passage

When planning a long distance cruise, you will get a better overall picture of your route by planning the passage on a paper chart; there is less likelihood that you will miss something this way.  Once you have your route planned you can transfer the waypoints to your chart plotter and check the resulting route once again for errors.  This system of double-checking will help prevent mishaps and silly errors.

If you don’t consider your crew and the prevailing weather, you could end up short-handed, slowing down because of worsening weather, with the prospect of arriving in the dark.  There is no good reason to set off into bad weather and put people’s lives at risk.  If you have to get home, leave the boat in the marina and take the ferry.

Your boat must be fit to make the journey.  Check all your safety equipment; when was your life-raft last serviced?  Fill the boat with fuel and water.  Make sure you have enough food on board for at least two extra days. 

 

In the SOLAS (Safety of Lives at Sea) regulations, Regulation 34 states that it is mandatory for all ships to create a plan before going to see.  This is not something you can ignore. How detailed your plan is, is up to you as the skipper and is often determined by the size of vessel, the number of passengers and the length of the intended trip.

I strongly advise that you read and inwardly digest this information (click on the link below) and also have a look at the accompanying links, so that you are fully conversant with your obligations as a skipper.

SOLAS Regulation 34

P.S. Your Almanac has a section devoted to safety and things like the Distress Signals are listed there…

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

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 #8 – Documentation

Plotter picture

I can’t stress enough, the importance of carrying the correct documentation on your boat and following the correct procedures for transiting from one country to the next.  For those who spend their time mooching around local waters this is not something that is ever consider at any great length and that is probably the reason some of us have come unstuck in the past – setting off on our first adventures to foreign climes, blissfully ignorant of just how zealous certain foreign officials can be when determining ownership and VAT status of your vessel.

During my early years as Principal of Sealine Sea School, I have to admit that I fell foul of this myself.  The school boat was on a ‘Cruise in Company’ to France and the Channel Islands. They turned up in Cherbourg, on the first leg of the trip, only to be met by a ‘Penalisation’ of French customs officials. The school boat carried a complete set of documentation but photocopies not originals, as there was always the possibility they could be damaged or lost.  Normally I would have put the originals on board for cross-Channel trips but on this occasion I had forgotten to do so. The customs officials swooped on the boat, almost as though they’d been tipped off and in short order handed out a 1500 fine for not having an original registration document on the boat.

So, my tip today is:

Carry all the relevant documentation (originals), both for the boat and for yourselves

If your boat is registered on either the small ships registry or the Lloyds part one registry; you will need to display the registration number in a prominent position on your vessel.

When leaving EU waters, you are required to post page 1 of the HM Customs form (C1331) in the HM Customs post-box at your marina and on your return post page 2.

When arriving back from a non EU country you must fly your yellow ‘Q’ flag and telephone HM Customs National Yachtline when you get back into UK waters to gain clearance (0845 723 1110). You must not leave your vessel (unless it is to telephone HM Customs) or take anything off your vessel until HM Customs has cleared you to do so.

Take the time to check the local regulations for the area you intend to cruise in, as they may have additional requirements, such as requiring you to have fitted and use a holding tank for black waste.

If you are intending to make or start making regular extended passages it is worth going online and filling in a CG66, registering your vessel with the coastguard. http://www.mcga.gov.uk

The documentation and procedures for going on longer cruises, especially when travelling outside EU waters may seem tiresome and bureaucratic, but if you ensure you have the correct paperwork with you at all times and comply with HM Customs regulations then this aspect of your cruising need not be too painful.

The sort of paperwork required is documentation showing ownership, VAT status, insurance and certificates of competence: these must all be originals.

If you are intending to use inland waterways such as the French or Dutch canals, then you will need to have a CEVNI endorsement on your ICC (International Certificate of Competence).

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 #7 – Chart Plotter Rules, OK?

Hello all!

Please excuse my prolonged absence, I’ve been rather preoccupied with work lately and everything else has had to take a back seat.  However, I have finally managed to find the time to sit down and post a new Skipper’s Tip.

I do hope you enjoy this tip and also that you find it informative.  If you have any questions or are at all confused by what I write, then please contact me and I will try to explain.  

This tip is all about paper charts and the tool we use to extract navigational heading information from them. Electronic chart plotters are amazing pieces of technology these days and they hardly ever go wrong.  Nevertheless, we must not forget that as good as these pieces of equipment have become, they are still no substitute for knowing how to navigate ‘manually’.  You should always plan on a paper chart and always keep a paper chart with you when you are on your passage and you should make a regular note on the paper chart of your position.

The single best tip I can give you regarding navigation, is to know exactly where you are, at all times!

The Chart Plotter

When you first see a paper chart and start looking carefully at the detail, it can be a little awe-inspiring. Imagine all the work that went into collating that information.  Especially impressive, is the fact that charts have changed very little since the world was first mapped.  I have a mental image of a couple of men in naval uniform in a small boat with a long piece of string and a heavy weight, a big pad of paper and infinite patience.  Today, we take for granted the effort that must have gone into making the world’s seas and coastlines appear in 2D, so that we can safely navigate in our boats. However, if it weren’t for the efforts of these determined explorers we wouldn’t stray very far from home would we.

To use a chart effectively you need to understand a few basic rules.

  • Always measure distances from the side of the chart nearest to where you are planning to sail
  • Look at the compass rose shown on your chart to determine what the allowance for variation must be
  • All the numbers peppered across the chart are ‘charted depths’ or ‘drying heights’ and as such make no allowance for tidal height
  • These depths or drying heights could be in feet, fathoms or metres and you need to look at the key for the chart to know what you are dealing with
  • Make sure the chart is designed to be used with GPS, if that is how you intend to navigate
  • The squiggles, lights, lines, abbreviations, etc. are all explained in the Admiralty publication ’Chart 5011’
  • The tide stream data will be referred to one specific port and will be listed as ‘true’
  • In fact, everything shown on the chart is ‘true’ not ‘magnetic’
  • Pay particular attention to the scale of the chart

In order to work out which way to point the boat or indeed, to describe a line on the chart to show where we have been, we will need to employ an accurate process.

Enter the ‘chart plotter’.

There are many incarnations of the modern chart plotter, a great improvement I have to say on the ‘parallel rules’ of the past. Essentially, the one I am going to describe using in this example looks like a very large and wide rule with, in the centre, a dial that you can swivel.

There are two key things to remember with ’chart plotters’. Firstly that whenever you place the plotter on your chart, the centre dial, which spins, must always have ’N’ (North) pointing to and aligned accurately with, true North on your chart.  The second rule is that the big arrow at one end of the plotter will always indicate the direction or heading of the bearing.

If you are trying to draw a line in an easterly direction, i.e. 090 degrees and yet the arrow on the plotter is pointing west (270 degrees), then you have it upside down…  It will be really helpful if you try to think of these numbers as directions, rather than just random numbers.  000/360 is North, 090 is East, 180 is South and 270 is West.

So, the way it works, is that you lie the plotter on the chart, parallel to a line which you want to know the bearing of, spin the dial until the ‘N’ at the top aligns with North on your chart and then read the bearing figure from the dial, which lines up with the large arrow at the end of the plotter.  This will tell you the ‘true’ bearing of that line or indeed, the bearing between two points on your chart.  The next thing you will need to do, of course, is to convert this ‘true’ bearing to a ‘magnetic’ or even ‘compass’ bearing, so that you can use it with the ship’s fixed compass to navigate your course.

If you are using the chart plotter to show your course travelled on the chart, in the way you might if you were showing your passage as part of your log, then you will need to do all this is reverse. Firstly, assuming you know the direction you have been travelling in, convert that direction from compass or magnetic back to true. Then align this number with the chart plotter dial and the large direction arrow.  Lastly, place the chart plotter on the chart, being careful not to turn the dial and align the whole plotter with true North (use the N on the dial for alignment; DON’T TURN THE DIAL, TURN THE WHOLE PLOTTER) and then draw a line down the length of the plotter to show your track.

I have to say, trying to describe this process in words is not easy.  It is much easier to actual show someone this but if you sit down with my explanation, your chart plotter and a chart you will soon get the idea I’m sure.

I think my next Skipper’s Tip had better be about True, Magnetic and Compass bearings!

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.