April 2015 Newsletter Article
By Neil Kelliher
I've been reading the various articles that have been appearing in the newsletter
regarding potential problems and solutions when sailing small boats. I thought perhaps
the following might be of interest to many small boat skippers, particularly those
with limited experience, new members preparing to get their first check-out or anyone
sailing with crew members they’ve not sailed with before. It’s an off-hand list of
some of the things I’ve picked up along the way which I try to do each time prior
to leaving the dock. Mostly it focuses on prevention of problems and anticipation
of what could happen during a sail so that the skipper and crew will be prepared should
there be an emergency.
- Know your crew. Often I have had two or more people on my boat who I don’t know well or don’t know
their sailing skills or experience. So, before I start, or even begin boat prep, I
make sure everyone is acquainted with one another, knows each other’s names and that
we all have a good understanding of each other’s skills and experience. Should something
go wrong, or someone inadvertently put themselves or others in danger, I want to know
who I can rely on to back me up as I try to rectify the problem. A shaky situation
on the water is no time to be screaming “Hey you. No I mean you.” if someone is about
to go overboard.
- A sailboat is not a democracy. It’s a dictatorship and the skipper is the dictator. When things are going smoothly,
it’s a good idea to involve everyone in the decision making. Everybody likes to have
their ideas heard and listened to and it makes the sail more fun when everyone is
participating. However, it needs to be made clear before leaving the dock that the
skipper is in charge and has the final say. When he or she issues a command it needs
to be responded to. An explanation can come later.
- One hand for you, one hand for the boat. This would seem simple enough to understand but I believe it needs repeating. Many
Newbies see experienced, sure footed sailors moving around a boat with little effort
using nothing for balance and think they can do it too. They don’t realize that wet
decks can be slippery and that things happen quickly on a sailboat, particularly a
small one. When moving about, raising a sail or clearing a fouled line, a person needs
something solid to hold onto to keep themselves stable. New sailors in particular
need to be taught this.
- Preview casting off and sail raising procedures including assignments for each crew
member. This may sound simple but when two bow lines are loose, a crew member is still on
the dock, another is releasing a stern line and you’re preparing to back out of a
slip without dinging the boat, this is not the time to review who will do what. Likewise,
when raising the sails, everyone should know their assignments and how you want them
implemented before leaving the slip.
- What if something happens to the skipper? Most of us assume the skipper will be in charge and will know what to do in any situation.
This is not a good assumption. People get hurt, fall overboard or whatever no matter
how much experience they have. Thus, I always identify a First Mate and remind everyone
that should something happen to me, he or she is in charge. If nothing else, I make
sure that person and, hopefully the rest, will know how to summon help either by using
the radio or a cell phone. (I always bring my own hand held radio “Just in case.”)
- Make sure everyone is wearing a PFD and that it fits and is put on correctly. I know it’s not required that one be worn, and some people don’t think they’re cool,
but wearing one is smart sailing on a small boat. Weather conditions may change, waves
and wakes may be encountered. Assuming you’re a good skipper, you’ll let Newbies take
the tiller at some point. No matter how close you supervise them, mistakes can happen.
That’s not the time to try to get a flotation device to a frightened crew member in
the water who’s not wearing a PFD.
- Advocate everyone wearing sailing shoes and gloves. Going barefoot may look macho but stubbed toes or gashed feet are anything but fun.
Rope burns can result if someone isn’t wearing gloves. They hurt like hell and can
lead to a crew member dropping a sheet or halyard and the boom swinging out of control.
Likewise, make sure everyone has water, sunscreen and proper clothing. Getting a bad
sunburn or getting wet and getting a chill doesn’t make for a fun sail.
- All gear should be stowed below including wallets, keys and cell phones. Even if no one goes overboard, people are likely to get wet and salt water does none
of these things any good. Also, stuff can fall overboard. We’ve all seen it happen
around the docks. Retrieving a set of car keys or a cell phone from even a few feet
of water is no fun.
- Hatch covers should be closed and latched. The small ones on the foredeck need to be dogged. The wind can blow them open and
lines can snag on them. The cabin hatch cover should be kept closed at all times.
People walk around on deck and step on them when raising or lowering sails, putting
on sail covers, etc. I know someone who fell through an open hatch when trying to
undo an improperly tied sail tie. They fell into the cabin and, unfortunately, were
badly injured. There’s no reason to leave a hatch cover open. ‘Nuff said.
- All sails should be prepared to be raised before leaving the dock. The main halyard should be attached, the sail cover stowed and the mainsail checked
to be sure it’s free and properly furled. The mainsheet should be uncoiled and running
free. There should be only one sail tie on the main. The rest of the sail ties in
should be kept handy. I recommend they be put in crew members pockets where they can
be found quickly. Also, the jib and jib sheets should be checked to be sure everything
is running freely.
- Everyone on the boat should be reminded that they are all expected to be lookouts
at all times. No matter what they see whether it be another boat, a buoy, a rock or anything else,
it should be reported. It keeps everyone involved in the sail and keeps the person
on the tiller aware of things going on around the boat that he or she might not have
- There are two sets of commands that I make sure everyone knows and uses. This is critical on small boats where quarters are tight and things move quickly.
I’m sure almost everyone reading this knows them but I’ll review them for any new
sailors as well as explain how I present them. First is the announcement that we will
be tacking: “Ready about.” I tell everyone on my boat that unless I (or the person
on the tiller) hears “Ready” from everyone, the boat cannot tack. The reason is simple:
Sails will be shifting, lines moving, the boom will be coming over and the deck will
more than likely change angle quickly. If a crew member isn’t ready for the tack,
bad things can happen. Once I hear everyone say “Ready”, I follow with “Helm’s A-lea”
and make my tack. When jibing, I follow the same sequence using “Prepare to Jibe”
followed by the requisite number of “Ready’s”, then “Jibe Ho.” Emphasis is always
on hearing everyone call out “Ready”. Otherwise I will not tack or jibe the boat.
I'm sure there's more that I've forgotten and a lot that can be added by other members.
This is just one person's routine.