Just how sharp are your seamanship skills? From beginners to old salts, these 10 tips will give you a leg up.
Okay Ahab, you know the red marker stays on the right when returning, you know what boat safety equipment is needed, and you can tell the difference between a shoal and a shipwreck when you look at the chart. Maybe you’re even a licensed captain.
But do you truly qualify as an advanced seaman? Few boaters do.
Those who know these 10 seamanship tips, however, are well on their way.
- Document Everything – A good captain knows his boat like the back of his hand, and one of the best ways to become intimate with your craft is to record everything that happens on it in a log. Whether you do so on your phone or on paper, note everything from fluid level checks to mechanical condition to cruising RPM and speed, on each and every trip. Patterns will begin to emerge and you’ll catch problems before they arise.
- Know How to Tow –Towing is a lot more complex than many people think, and we’d always recommend calling BoatUS or Sea Tow when assistance is needed. That said, towing is also something that every boater should be prepared to do in case mechanical difficulties arise and a towing service can’t be obtained. Study up now, so you’re prepared when the need arises.
- Talk it Up – Step aboard most modern boats, and you’ll have a 50-50 shot at best of being able to find the lifejackets in one minute or less. Next, try to find the fire extinguisher. Or the first aid kit. Or the spare tool kit. Now imagine that you’re on your own boat, and for one reason or another you’re unconscious, incapacitated, or overboard. Will your guests be able to locate these life-saving items? Maybe, and maybe not. So, it’s your responsibility as a competent captain to be sure that the answer is a resounding “yes”. Develop and practice a pre-fishing safety talk, which you can give to the crew at the beginning of each and every trip.
- Are You Certifiable? – We’re not talking about craziness, even though some folks might say you’re certifiable since you were nutty enough to buy a boat in the first place. But in this case, it’s first aid and CPR certification that you need. USCG licensed captains are required to have these certifications, and you should too. Remember: it’s your boat, and you’re responsible for the well-being of your passengers.
- Navigate “Naked” – Modern GPS and chart plotting systems are amazingly helpful, and can turn a newbie boater into a competent navigator. Until, that is, those electronics fail. And fail they do. Sooner or later, you’re sure to lose your GPS at sea. Even if your unit doesn’t go out, the satellite system could. Don’t laugh; two severe solar eruptions in December of 2006 produced 20,000 times more radio emissions than the entire rest of the sun, at the same frequency bands that GPS satellites transmit. It swamped GPS receivers over the entire sunlit side of Earth, leading to signal losses on a massive level. If this happens again – and it will sooner or later, just as long as the sun shines and the Earth rotates – you’d better have the charts and the know-how to get home.
- Be the Weatherman – We all know how lousy the weatherman is at predictions. But short-term predictions made just before you leave the dock are rarely wildly wrong. It’s tempting to just run right out there without first checking the reports, but don’t succumb to temptation.
- Cripple Creek – Any boat can become crippled at any time. Steering systems fail, rudders get fouled, and twin inboards can become single-screws. A good captain will find that it’s possible to steer a crippled boat in a general direction and get home. But it takes a great one to master close-quarters maneuvering while crippled, and get from the harbor entrance to the specific slip he or she moors in without banging pilings and boats along the way. To be that great captain, you need to us a combination of tricks. First off, when you get near a piling grab it, and utilize it to spring off. Bend a line around a fore or aft cleat (depending on which way you need to turn the boat) and create a pivot-point for the boat to turn against. Once you’re pointed in the right direction, slack the line and pull it free. In some cases, you can work your way from piling to piling until you get where you’re going. A second trick: when you’ve lost steerage and the wind’s blowing hard, consider running your boat in reverse. You won’t have as much ability to turn, but the breeze will keep the bow down-wind so you can move in (more or less) a straight line.
- Getting Set – Waves are like unruly soldiers: they line up, then bump into each other, then fall back into line. As a result, predicting them with exactness is nearly impossible. But predicting the pattern they create is easy. When you need to turn in a large sea, run a nasty inlet, or pick a wave to ride over a shoal, you need to look at those lumps and know which ones are your allies and which are your enemies. Generally speaking, you’ll encounter wave “sets” of similar sizes, with a larger set followed by a comparatively smaller set. How many waves in a set? It’s never the same. But within a few minutes of watching you can figure out if it’s a large number or a small one, and how long you’ll have to wait for the next set to arrive.
- Knot a Problem – Effective captains have to know their knots. Can you tie a Bowline in 30-seconds flat? You ought to be able to do so in 10. There will be times when you need a loop in the end of a line post-haste, and this is the way to do it. If you can’t, get a good knot app or book and practice, practice, practice.
- Current Events – Do you keep abreast of the latest and greatest items to hit the water? You should. Modern technology moves forward at lightening speed, and it’s constantly giving anglers a wider safety margin and more tools to work with – captaining a boat should be an exercise in continuing education.