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How to pre-prepare for a sailing emergency

by Captain John Jamieson/Sail-World Cruising on 12 Mar 2012
Channel traffic can be heavy and too big to argue with - what when your engine dies? SW
You're heading home through the channel after a successful day out sailng. It's thick with boat traffic in both directions. Your engine coughs, spits, sputters, burps, and dies with a shudder. You push the starter button again and again. Nothing doing - you need to get out of the channel right now! But which way to turn? There are sand banks to the left and the right...

Yet, there's one little-known way to find deep water outside of a dredged channel at a glance--if you know what to look for.

If you have a large scale nautical chart handy in the cockpit, you should have no problems. Look just outside the dredged channel line (dashed lines mark the boundaries of a dredged channel). You will see blue water, which indicates shallow or shoal water. But, you will often see white patches of water mixed in with the blue.

And that 'white water' means deeper, safer water. Look at the chart illustration. Notice the white patches located within the blue shoal areas. Aim for one of these in an emergency--or if you feel the need to 'pull off the road' for a temporary rest-stop.

Knowing the information above is vital for the first of these three three easy sailing tips that will help your boat to be emergency-ready and allowing for the unexpected.

1. Take Control in an Actual Emergency:

Lose an engine and you may need to get out of the channel fast to avoid becoming a hazard to navigation, as described above (i.e. high boat traffic). Keep ahead of your sailboat with your navigational chart by constantly assessing the situation. Which way you would turn if you needed to leave the channel at the next pair of markers ahead?

Study the elements. How will the wind and current affect you after you turn? How will you maneuver to get the bow up into the elements, stop your boat's momentum, and lower your anchor? This 'always ready' mindset will keep you ready to maneuver in an instant.

2. Keep Your Ground Tackle 'Emergency Ready':

Get your anchor always ready to deploy within 10 seconds. Before you cast off to go sailing, inspect the anchor, chain, line, and shackles. If you use rope rode or a combination of rope and chain, pull out 10 fathoms (60 feet) from the anchor locker. Inspect it for chafe or worn sports. Then coil or flake it back down into the locker. That way, you know if will be ready to lower without kinks or twists.

3. Mark Your Nautical Chart Ahead of Time:

No matter how familiar your harbor, few folks know the location of these hidden 'white water' pockets. Scan your chart and highlight these areas. At the least, place a large, bold anchor symbol inside the pocket area. That way, you will know right away where to head if you lose your engine or need to pull off the main channel in an emergency.

Follow the above easy sailing tips to prepare your sailing boat for the unexpected. Make your sailing day less stressful and worry free with secret techniques like these--wherever in the world you choose to go sailing!

John Jamieson (Captain John) shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need beyond sailing school at www.skippertips.com . Sign up for a free sailing tips newsletter or join for hundreds of sailing tips articles, newsletters, eBooks, and live discussion forums.

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