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Ten Top Sailing Skills Your Sailing Partner Needs to Know!

by John Jamieson on 5 Aug 2011
Idyllic days - but do you BOTH know what to do? .. .
With short-handed cruising sailors, it is often the case that one partner is the excellent sailor and skipper, and the other partner is willing but not really a sailor. Mostly in today's world it is the male who is the more skilled, but not always. Whatever the gender, are you confident that your less skilled spouse or partner can 'take the helm' of your sailing boat in an emergency--or if you become incapacitated?

Whether you sail offshore, along the coast or inside sheltered waters.Prepare your mate ahead of time with this easy 10 step checklist from John Jamieson (Captain John) for peace-of-mind and worry-free sailing !


1. Marine anchor and ground tackle:

Show your friend or significant other how to inspect the ground tackle and explain how all of the parts link together.
Teach them the easy way to estimate scope, choose an anchorage, or lower and raise the anchor.

2. How to steer a compass course:

Your partner should be able to steer a compass course within 3-5 degrees. Show him or her how to average a course by steering to one side and then the other for equal intervals.

Make sure they understand how to plot a basic compass course and plot a position by latitude and longitude from a marine gps.

3. Boat engine operation (and recovery under power):

Go through the pre-start checklist for diesel (or outboard) engines. This includes checking oil, coolant and opening the raw water seacock. Start the engine and let your partner operate the shifter and throttle and maneuver the boat. Show them the proper way to shut off the engine. Explain safe fueling procedures.

Let your partner practice how to come alongside and stop the boat next to a life-ring or other object. Explain how to use wind and current to control drift. If you fall overboard, you want to be confident that your partner can bring the boat close enough to you for recovery.

4. Marine battery and shore power:

Explain how to use the battery selector for startup, charging and house power. Walk your partner through the procedure for shore power hookup and breakdown.

5. Boat sails (and recovery under sail):

Point out the halyards to raise and lower each boat sail, along with sail controls like the mainsheet and boom vang. Go through the steps to lower, furl or reef each sail.

Describe and practice how to heave-to under sail. If you fall overboard, this could be the single most important maneuver for recovery. Unlike complex man overboard maneuvers under sail, heaving-to will be easier for less experienced sailors to learn and put into play in a high stress situation.

6. Self-steering:

Explain the basic settings for the wind vane or autopilot on different points of sail or sea conditions. Show how to engage and disengage the self steering device. Be sure to emphasize that autopilots use lots of juice, so the batteries must be monitored.

7. Marine flares and survival equipment:

Demonstrate the basic steps to use marine hand-held or parachute rocket flares. Point out the emergency 'ditch-kit' and explain how a marine EPIRB works.

8. Marine stove and oven operation:

Demonstrate the procedure for ventilation, lighting, using and shutting down alcohol, kerosene or propane stoves. Describe simple fire fighting procedures with each type of fuel on board.

9. Marine bilge pumps:

Point out the location of all mechanical and non-mechanical bilge pumps. Show how to check a float switch and how to operate each manual pump.

10. Marine radio operation:

Post the procedures for a Mayday distress call next to the marine radio. If you have digital selective calling (DSC), post those procedures. Go through each step with your partner.

All too often, we tend to forget that our less-skilled spouse or partner needs to know how to run our cruising boat too. Give yourself peace-of-mind today and pass on these ten tips to your first mate!

Captain John with 25+ years of experience shows sailing skippers the skills they need for shorthanded sailing success. Visit his website at www.skippertips.com for a free sailing tips newsletter and learn how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles, sailing video tutorials, sailing topic eBooks, and live discussion forums.
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