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Common-sense cruising advice

I realize that when you plan a trip on your boat you have already done some preparation. I hope there may be at least one thing useful in this list for your prep work or while you are under way.

1. Check the weather for departure and return conditions before you leave home, if possible. If bridge openings are required, make sure you know vertical clearances and schedules.

2. When you arrive at the boat, have a checklist for everything relevant, such as the engine room, bilges, anchor winch, dinghy and running lights. Make sure the heads, freshwater systems, etc., are working and, of course, that you are fully provisioned.

3. Turn on all navigation instruments and make sure they are working correctly. Check your route. Remember, if you’re charting electronically, your course could get skewed, and electronics can fail. Always have an appropriate chart or chart book available. Confirm your marina reservations or survey possible anchorages.

4. Have a backup plan — places en route to which you can detour if the weather changes, you have a mechanical problem, or anything else comes up that requires you seek shelter or a dock. You may even decide to return home, leaving the boat behind. You can always go back and get it at a later date.

5. Show your guests, or anyone who is unfamiliar with your boat, where the safety equipment is stored, such as PFDs, first-aid kits and fire extinguishers. Show them how to use the heads, etc., and ask if they have any issues with motion sickness. You may want to suggest they premedicate. Leave a float plan with TowBoatU.S. or Vessel Assist. If you’re not a member of this type of service, leave the information with a friend or relative, or someone at the dock.

6. Stow everything that moves, even if you’re only going to be on the ICW, because the wake of another vessel can create havoc on yours.

7. If you cruise in areas where fog is a concern, plan safe approach and exit routes for the harbors and areas you frequent — safe routes that go from buoy to buoy, or marks you can identify visually or on your radar. If there is fog, delay your departure if you are uncomfortable. If you decide to leave, make sure your route is planned from the dock, that you have extra eyes at the controls, and that your fog horn is functioning properly. Remember, the rule of thumb in restricted visibility is to proceed at a safe speed, which means you can stop the boat in half of the distance you can see.

8. If you have to leave the controls once you are under way and in open water, the person assuming command should understand the operation of the autopilot, throttle, transmission, radio frequencies and procedures (including mayday), radar, depth sounder, ECDIS (electronic chart display), and how to use paper charts. If you are going to require standing watches, all of the above applies, but as captain you are still responsible and should be notified of any issues of concern, including planned course changes on the route.

9. You should always be at the controls upon arrival. Call the marina and get docking instructions or resurvey the anchorage. Stop and recheck your controls to make sure they are working properly, check wind and current, and then proceed.

10. Now that you have arrived, enjoy yourself and repeat everything above before you continue on or head home.

Read the related article "A Hollywood-scripted trawler tale."

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue.



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