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 noticed.
- 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.