I once worked for a captain who told me that if I ever thought I knew everything, I'd better hang up my foul-weather gear and take up pottery. He was right. That's one of the many nuances of boating I love. I maintain there are so many scenarios, combined with a multitude of variables, that it would be mathematically impossible to experience every challenge. And that's why we should give a wide berth to the self-proclaimed know-it-all.
Knowledge on the water is often gained through mistakes. Over a period of time, confidence will increase and hopefully we will search out new challenges to take us to the next level. A summer cruise to Vancouver may lead to an extended cruise up the Inside Passage. A fall delivery through the inland waters of the East Coast could whet your appetite for a Bahamas adventure the following winter.
Each of these moments away from the dock can bring new experiences. However, there are some skills and tricks that I've learned after some bumps and bruises that may decrease your challenge factor. Here are 13 of them.
Know Every Inch Of Your Boat
It seems like a basic prerequisite that you should be familiar with the innards of your boat before leaving the dock. But ask yourself: Do you know the location of every through-hull fitting? If you begin to smell burning electrical wires, can you access your battery-disconnect switches easily? When was the last time you inspected the steering gear?
When I worked as part of the maintenance crew of a charter company, we had a plan-view schematic on each boat that pointed out all the through-hull fittings, fire extinguisher locations, and emergency gear. This sheet was posted above the chart table for easy reference for captain and crew.
Beside these basics, when you're cruising take the time to figure out various sweet spots for your boat. You can never know too much.
Keep Those Dead Reckoning Skills Polished
It's my opinion that if we don't understand the basic navigational principles, we can't fully exploit the capability of our electronics. And yes, if you have a solid understanding of navigation you'll be able to get home in case the electronics fail. Thus dead reckoning is a key skill that any prudent yachtsman must understand. It's the plotting of an approximate course on a chart relying on speed, time, and distance traveled. A key to dead reckoning is knowing your previous position, and then plotting the course using course steered, speed, and elapsed time.