Seamanship involves having the skills, knowledge and expertise to successfully handle any situation or condition encountered at sea, and how to use those skills and that knowledge to avoid having to apply them.
Seamanship involves having the skills, knowledge and expertise to successfully handle any situation or condition encountered at sea, and how to use those skills and that knowledge to avoid having to apply them. That’s a mouthful; however, itreally says it all. In “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu states — and I’ll paraphrase — if you know yourself and you know the enemy and you know the land, you need not fear the outcome of a thousand battles. The same applies to seamanship. Remember, “good enough” is never good enough. Master the essentials, and you’ll be confident and safe, and it’ll be a pleasure to boat in your company.
1. First and foremost is attitude. You must want to develop your seamanship skills and must be willing to put forth the effort.
2. Learn the basics and strive for excellence. There are just a few knots to learn, and you should be able to tie them quickly and correctly. You also should know the correct way to cleat a line and how to deploy and retrieve an anchor — not to mention which anchors are appropriate for which bottom conditions.
3. Develop situational awareness and be prepared. If you are aware, you can prepare.
4. Know yourself. Understand your limitations in knowledge and ability, and take steps to overcome them. For example, if you aren’t comfortable docking in all conditions, practice. Don’t be embarrassed if you screw up. (If you’ve read my columns you know the things that I’ve done.)
5. Know your boat. You might not be mechanically gifted — I’m certainly not — but you should at least know the basics, like where your engine’s filters are. Know the location of all seacocks, and make sure you can get to them. Understand how your boat maneuvers at high and at low speeds and in different wind and current conditions. Learn how it backs down and how it turns. I’m not implying that you open her up on a beautiful, calm day and congratulate yourself on knowing how she handles at high speed. How much of an advance occurs when she turns? How quickly does she get on and off plane? How does she handle rough water running into or with seas, or with seas on the beam?
6. No one wants to be out when it’s ugly, but Mother Nature and Murphy likely will conspire at some point to put you in conditions you’d rather have avoided. Learn to handle those situations under controlled conditions. Don’t go out in a gale, but you might want to experiment in fresh conditions.
7. Know the waters in which you’ll be boating. Take some time to look at charts of the area where you’ll be. Study the bottom characteristics, where the good holding ground is, and the nature of the bottom — mud, sand, clay, etc. It’s nice to know what anchors to use in advance; it’s also good to know how much rode you’ll need. Make note of currents, rocks, etc. Be aware of wind and tides.
8. Look for hidey-holes to go to if the weather deteriorates — locations that can give you a safe lee in different wind directions. A seaman never wants to be pinned against a lee shore. On cruises, plan for alternative destinations, and designate them as waypoints for emergencies.
9. Know the weather. Check forecasts before getting under way, and become sensitive to weather signs. Learning to read the clouds and other indicators can help you avoid bad weather.
10. Be prepared for bad weather. It may be bright and sunny when you get under way, but we all know that can change quickly. Being cold and wet can become dangerous rather than merely uncomfortable. Hypothermia can rob you of energy and, along with that, good judgment.