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Top 10 Cruising Seamanship Best Practice Resolutions

In the Northern hemisphere, the summer solstice is the heart of the season for many sailors. It’s the longest day of the year, it usually brings along decent weather, and Summer Sailstice has gotten more people out there every year. This year, with the global call for Summer Sailstice participation, we thought we’d invoke a bit of seamanship introspection with our top 10 resolutions for the boating season.

The truth of the matter is that although the governing bodies of sailing as a sport prepare detailed instructions for safety at sea, they are usually woefully inadequate and totally unfeasible for cruisers and sailors who view sailing as a hobby, a pastime, or a lifestyle rather than a racing sport. They usually sail with far fewer crew and their cruising boats are set up very differently from race boats.  Things like a quick jibe are not so easy to perform on a short-handed cruising sailboat. For many, a quick heave to is much more reasonable and likely to succeed. So here are our top ten resolutions for how we will practice good basic seamanship and help ensure our own safety and happiness at sea. What other best practices have you discovered? 

10. I promise to conduct my routine checks of engine, oil, through hulls, rigging, power, radio, and steering before every start and daily while underway.

9. I promise to learn and observe the COLREGs, keep a close watch, keep a detailed log, and practice navigation without GPS while underway to keep my skills in tune.

8. I promise to learn to use the VHF radio appropriately and teach my crew to make a distress call should it ever be needed. I promise to post the text for a distress call and instructions for the emergency alert signal.

7. I promise to create a diagram of all through hull fittings and install emergency bungs so if something starts to leak, I can find it and plug it in a hurry.

6. I promise to practice heaving to and emergency anchoring under sail so I learn how my boat is best managed before I need to in extreme conditions.

5. I promise to make certain that my crew knows how to handle the boat should anything happen to me. That means regular practice of all key boat handling and navigation skills.

4. I promise to practice emergency crew overboard procedures with my crew to find the best way to handle the situation with our boat and our crew. 

3. I promise NOT to PANIC if something goes wrong. I will stay calm and work through the problem.  I will not yell or scream at crew.

2. I promise to clip my PLB to my PFD and wear them at all times at sea, so that if I do go overboard, I will be easy to find.

1. I promise to STAY ON THE BOAT.  That means I will use one hand for the boat and one for myself at all times, and offshore I will clip my tether to a secure point before entering the cockpit. And I will never pee overboard nor clean fish on the aft deck while underway. And I will finally rig those preventers to keep from being swept overboard in an accidental jibe.

A few more best practices include making sure that your automated radio distress signal is connected to your GPS transceiver so your emergency beacon broadcasts location, and ensuring that your EPIRB (preferably a GPIRB) is registered with the authorities. As these are things you would do one time only, we decided to leave them off the list. For additional reference, please see the Cruising Club of America’s Safety at Sea pages. 

Daria & Alex Blackwell are authors of Happy Hooking – The Art of Anchoring which covers everything you need to know to anchor safely and successfully. It is available at in both print and digital editions.  Daria and Alex serve as Ocean Cruising Club Port Officers for the West of Ireland and Seven Seas Cruising Association Cruising Station for Ireland.

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