Steering by Compass -
When at sea or on a large body of water, steering is done by compass. But steering by compass is an art unto itself. Most newcomers to compass steering end up all over the place.

Say you are trying to maintain a course of 200 degrees. You want to keep the lubber line (which is 1-degree in width) right on 200 degrees on the compass rose. But, suppose you get off course and steering 195 degrees. The helmsman must swing the boat’s head with right rudder to bring the lubber line back to 200 degrees.

Think of the lubber line as the bow of the boat. The compass card actually stands still, while the lubber line swings around it. A magnetic compass does not react quickly as a digital or gyro compass. There is a delay and even a reverse movement of direction of the compass. In our case above, you turn right to get the lubber line back to 200, but initially the compass will appear as if going to the left, rather than the right. And once you get to 200, the compass may keep on going to the right before coming back and finally settling down to its actual heading.

For the novice helmsman this can really drive you nuts. Often you will see a novice helmsman making a zig-zag course, yawing from side to side, trying to catch the compass. A straight course is the goal. To do this you make only slight movements and straighten the helm. Small changes in headings do not cause the radical reaction by the compass.

Even experienced skippers find ways to make it easier. Once on a heading, find an object to steer toward and use the compass as a reference. If no land is in sight, you can use a cloud temporarily, or at night a star. 

Standing Rigging - You will see most folks rinsing their boats off after every dousing of the boat in the water.., fresh or salt. A very good idea unless you live in an area where water is not plentiful and/or expensive.
But, despite all the washing and rinsing of your standing rigging, it may still go bad in a few years. And worse, often you do not know it is going bad – stays often rot from the inside out.
The outside of the cable may show no signs of going bad. It is difficult to assess the wire rope condition by external visual examination and in any event it is not possible when internal deterioration takes place.
Adding to the problem of inspecting the wire rope itself, we also usually like to have our standing rigging plastic covered. Now, there is nothing to see even when it would be obvious to see.

What to Look For -
There are some things you can look for, however:
  • Look for any kinks in the wire, that will be where a weakness may occur.
  • Look for rust or any deterioration around the ends where the wire has been compressed into an ending fitting. If there are any cracks in the end fitting, it is ready to let go which is dangerous.
    Another obvious problem is broken strands of wire. Any single wire that is broken means the rest are getting close to breaking as well.
  • A good idea is to replace your standing rigging every few years. The cost is by far less than it would be if the mast should fall down while sailing or in dry sail. You can buy standing rigging and other wire products that are already made up for your boat make and model. However, made up wire rope is not an exact science. Many boat manufacturers do not put out exact lengths for shrouds and forestays, Rather the lengths seem to change from time to time. If you have your boat tuned well and are happy with the length of your standing rigging, measure it and order your new standing rigging to your specs.
  • At Catamaran Sailor’s OnLine Marine Store they have wire rope already made up for most popular brands, and do custom work for beach cats as well as large sailboats of any kind. And they also can rig your boat with non-stretch, UV-coated line for lighter weight aloft. For beach cats we recommend HYDRAULIC SWAGED SHROUDS W/ STAINLESS FITTINGS for various boats. Hydraulic swages produces a cleaner, stronger shroud. A marine eye is installed at the bottom end fitting where breakage commonly occurs. Electrolysis is reduced because both wire and marine eye are stainless steel. Wire manufacturers recommend stainless steel marine eye terminal fittings for 1 x 19 wire to assure full rated strength of wire. Purchase two to ensure equal lengths.
Going Aground and What To Do About It - Hopefully you were not going at full blast when going aground. Usually one is going slow in a strange harbour, feeling things out.  After grounding the first thing to consider is the tide, is it coming in or going out.  If it is coming in and rising, you have time on your side, things will only get better and you should be clear soon.  If the tide is ebbing, you may have to act quite swiftly or you will be there for some time.
  • Reversing engine is a start. If you can work the stern to port and back to starboard with reversing power, that should help ease the grounding area. This is easily done with twin engines or with an outboard.  A single shaft inboard will have trouble doing this manoeuvre.
  • Kedging is the next step. Take an anchor into deeper water with your dinghy or perhaps even swim it out. Get the anchor out as far as possible and get it set. Once done you can use the power of the engine and winching on the kedge to get free.  If the kedge is set off to one side it is better. Best is to set the kedge off the stern toward the wind or current, whichever is strongest. This will also aid in swinging the stern back and forth to release from the bottom.
  • If you can get outside assistance, that is far better. Be sure to secure the pulling line to a very strong place on your boat. And the pulling boat should heed the same warning. The best bet is to run a bridle all the way around each boat's hull. That way there is no small part of the entire boat being stressed.
  • Always have another anchor ready if necessary to deploy once off .
Taking Care of Rope - To ascertain the line you are using on your boat serves you well, you must take good care of it.
  • Keep rope clean - Dirt, sand, oil and acids will destroy line, whether it is natural or synthetic rope. To wash your rope, put it in a mesh bag or pillow case (to keep the rope from knotting and fouling up the washing machine), use a mild cleansing product and toss it in the washer.
  • Don't Let it Kink - When you first take rope off the spool it must come off with a direct unwind pull. Taking the rope off the spool over the end will give you endless kinks and will be a nightmare to remove. Three strand rope needs to be coiled with the lay.
  • Keep Ends Clean - The end of a line should be neat. If there are any frays, they will continue to grow and ruin more and more of the rope. Ends should be whipped (using whipping line), back spliced, dipped (there are dipping products on the market wherein you simply dip the end and it seals the rope), or burned (an excellent way to seal off modern line -- heat the end of the rope until it melts and seals itself).
  • Don't Let Rope Chafe or Abrade - You never want the same area of a rope rubbing somewhere over and over. It will fail sooner. Chafe guards are good for moored or docked boats. You can use leather chafe guards, or if the line is small enough you can split and use an old garden hose. 
River Navigation - Unlike open water or coastal navigation, rivers have a nearby shoreline all the time. Local lore often outweighs good piloting since the rivers bed and edges are constantly changing. Most rivers have very easily identifiable marks and landmarks, so knowing where you are is not all that difficult. The big problem is avoiding hazards.
  • Water level changes quite often in a river. Spring waters are usually much higher while summer and fall waters become low. Also, in the spring you need to be aware of flooded areas and debris that runoff waters bring to the river.
  • Aids to Navigation in most rivers are maintained by the US Coast Guard. They use lights, buoys, day beacons and ranges to keep you in deep water.
  • Right and Left Banks of a river are designated as such by a downstream direction. So, left or port is determined by your downstream direction. Still facing the direction of the stream, the right side is the starboard side. The exception is the New York State Canal System where the sides are determined when you are heading west.
  • Distance markers (kilometres or miles) are shown in many of the rivers and are very helpful in determining where you are. Unlike coastal navigation, usually the mile markers are in statute miles.
  • The big thing to watch for is floating debris. If you are traveling at high speed a lot of damage can be done when you hit a floating refrigerator (and it has happened). Generally, when a River Bends, the outside of the bend is usually deeper water, while the inside of the turn will be shallower water. 
When the Anchor Drags - Here is the scenario: You have set the anchor at minimum of 7:1 scope (Let out 7 times more anchor rode than the depth of the water) and gone to bed. But, during the night you feel the boat rolling. This means the anchor is dragging and the bow is no longer into the wind. With a quick check of a transit you see that the boat is definitely not sitting in one place (Earlier issues had defined a transit – line up two objects and if they do not stay the same you are moving).
  • Let out more anchor rode. Warning: don't just throw more line overboard and tie it off. Ease the extra line out. Take a wrap around a cleat and slowly ease the new line out. Yank once in a while to help get the flukes to set.
  • Use an additional anchor, if you have it.
  • Use a Sentinel or Kellet. This is nothing more than a weight sent more than half way down the anchor rode. That will put greater sag in the line (It will take more to straighten out the line and put more load on the anchor) and get the line lower so the pull on the anchor is lower. To do so, shackle on a weight to the anchor rode with a retrieving line attached and lower the Sentinel to more than half way.
  • Use a buoy. Similar placement to the Sentinel, the theory is the floating buoy will allow more exertion before the line straightens and puts more load on the anchor. Additionally, it will keep the bow up and over the waves. The Sentinel will tend to pull the bow down into the wave and put more exertion on the anchor.
Anchoring in Changing Wind and Current - It is a good idea to use two anchors when anchoring in tidal current or when a weather front is approaching. In both cases the boat will be swinging on its anchor to a new direction. When that happens the anchor will likely break loose. Some anchors can reset quickly and safely, but many do not. Even the good ones may cause a problem. The best bet for these conditions is to set double anchors.

There are two ways to use double anchors. If the change of direction is not too radical, you can place two anchors ahead of the boat. It is important that you lay the anchors out at an angle.., not in line. To do so, lower the anchor and allow the boat to drift back slowly applying more and more resistance on the cleat until you have the minimum 7:1 anchor rode (length of anchor rode let out is seven times the depth of the water) and then some. Now, go forward at a 45-degree angle to the present anchor until you are abeam of it, lower the second anchor and drift back to where the anchor is set at 7:1 ratio. Secure them both and you are safe. A real advantage of this technique is that the boat hunts very little for peace of mind when sleeping. 

For radical changes (i.e., a total reversal of tide current) you may need to set the second anchor at 180 degrees from the boat. To do so lower the windward anchor, then let out enough anchor rode to more than double the 7:1 ratio. Then lower the downwind anchor. Now go windward again until you are directly between the two anchors and secure them both. This will allow the boat to swing in either direction. Pleasant dreams! 

Dead Reckoning Navigation - Even though you may be an lake sailor, it is still a good idea to learn about dead reckoning. It is a way to have knowledge of where you are on a chart. In order to calculate where you are, you must first have the definite knowledge of where you were. So, before you start on a journey, determine where you are on the chart.

To calculate you must use the following three equations (D = Distance in miles, T = Time in hours and S = Speed in knots or mph): D=ST or S=D/T or T=D/S. 
However, you might want to calculate in minutes instead of hours. In that case the formulas are:
D=ST/60 or S=60D/T or T=60D/S

Some examples:

  • You are sailing at 14 knots. How far will you go in 40 minutes?
    To find the Distance use the formula of D=ST/60. You would multiply the Speed of 14 by the Time of 40 and divide by 60, giving you a distance of 9.33 nautical miles.
  • Determine your speed. You leave a known sea buoy and arrive at another known buoy. It took you 40 minutes and you measured on the chart and know the distance is 11 miles. 
    Using S=60D/T, simply multiply the Speed of 11 by 60 and divide the result by the Time of 40 minutes and you then determine you are traveling at 16.5 mph
  • You have a 9.5 mile reach to your home port and you are sailing at 6.5 knots. How long before you get home?
    Using T=60D/S, multiply 60 by the Distance of 9.5 and divide by the Speed of 6.5 and determine you will in port in 88 minutes.

Oh Sure! You are asking, "Why learn to do all this when I can use a GPS?" Good question, but learning dead reckoning is a basic skill that should not be overlooked.., just like learning your A, B, Cs.

Line Handling - Ever watch a new boater approach a dock and try to throw a line to someone on land. Usually they bunch up the line and try throwing it. And usually it is a disaster. Funny, but line is hard to push. So, you need to know how to coil line properly.
  • Laid Line - This type of line has a natural twist built into it. Consequently, you should always coil this line clockwise, the way it was laid. Otherwise it will kink, buckle and tangle. Always start with the secured end and work toward the free end of the line. This will ascertain that any twists will go out the end.
    Start by holding the line in your left hand and with an even sweep with your right hand feed the line to your left and hold the coil with your left. If you use an even sweep of the same length the coil will be nice and even.
  • Braided Line - Unlike laid line there is no built in twist, so you must add a twist when you do your sweep. With your fingers you simply add a clockwise twist to the braided line. Do not let the coil start to develop a figure 8.
  • Don't try to wind up the line over your elbow.., unless you are rolling up a clothesline.
  • For both types of line get in the habit of coiling clockwise, no matter what type of line you are using.
  • Stowing Lines that are Coiled - The most universal way to stow a coiled line is to take an arm's length of the end and wrap it around the coil with four or five wraps. Using the rest of the free end of the line, make a loop, pass it through the entire length of the coil, then take the loop up and over the entire end of the coil. This will lock the coil tightly. Now it can be hung up and allowed to dry.
Getting Your Boat Off a Dock - Sounds easy enough, right? Just push until you are clear of the dock and off you go. But, if your boat is rather large, there is a lot of wind or adverse current, it is not that easy.

If the wind or current is moving parallel to the dock, this is a pretty easy scenario. Then you simply need to use a spring line and some good fenders. The spring line should be used on the opposite end of the oncoming current or wind. For example, if your bow is into the wind/current, then you would put a spring line from your aft cleat and go forward on the dock. Just release the bow line and hit reverse a bit and the bow will swing out. Once clear, motor forward and retrieve your aft spring line.

NOTE; if there is nobody on the dock to undue your mooring line, here is a good tip. Use a dock line that has a clean end – no knots, kinks or unravelings. Then for your spring line secure it to your cleat, around a piling or cleat on the dock and back to the boat cleat. Once you have sprung the boat off the dock, untie the clean end, let it go and retrieve the line. The loose end will slide around the dock cleat and back to the boat.

If the wind is perpendicular to the dock and blowing you on to the dock, this is a much more difficult situation. You best bet is to spring your bow line. Use hard rudder in the direction that will kick your stern out and away from the dock. Once the stern is out far enough to clear, reverse rudder and engines and retrieve your bow spring line.

Reading the Weather - When venturing out on any body of water it is wise to always check the weather. But as we all know, the reports are not all that reliable for boaters. And most weather forecasts are for a very broad area and may not be specific to your cause. So, it is a good idea to look for signs of bad weather coming.

The following are portions of an excerpt from Chapman’s Piloting:

  • First, identify the cloud form in the sky and note if they are increasing or decreasing in size, and if they are lowering or lifting. Thickening and lowering of a cloud layers is a sign of approaching bad weather.  On the other hand, when clouds show signs of evaporation, when holes or openings appear in the layer, or when altocumulus layers are frayed and indistinct at the edges, that is an indication of improving weather, or at least, a delay in oncoming foul weather.
  • Secondly, note the sequence of cloud forms over the past few hours. Cirrus clouds are usually the advance agents of approaching extra-tropical cyclone, especially if they are followed by a layer of cirrostratus.
  • Another trick used by pilots: if the wind is coming from the left of your heading (port tack for sailors), you are heading for inclement weather. If the wind is coming from the right of your heading (starboard tack for sailors), you are going toward improved weather. Opposite in the Southern hemisphere. So, keep your eye on the sky and have safe boating.
Towing - While towing sounds pretty simple, it usually is only simple in perfect conditions – calm winds and seas. When things are easy like that you need only get in front of the other boat and toss them a line.
(Note on tossing a line: coil the throwing line so there are no kinks. Separate the coil in two with the bitter end of the coil in your throwing hand, the rest of the coil on the other hand. Then toss the line over and past the receiver. The hand not throwing should be laid open and pointing toward the receiver so the rest of the coil will easily exit the hand.)
  • Nylon is the best line for towing because it is very strong and yet stretchy. When waves or wake make the distressed boat jerk, the nylon line will absorb the jolt.
  • Most folk just tie the line to the stern of the towing boat. But, that is the worst place you can secure it. Remember, when you turn a boat the point on which it turns is usually near the bow and the stern swings out. If the tow line is on the stern, this restricts the stern from swinging out and thereby makes steering the towing boat almost impossible. So, the tow line should be as far forward as possible.
  • Keep the boats in the similar wave patterns by adjusting the length of the tow line so that both boats are either going up a wave or down a wave at the same time.  This applies to towing your tender as well. 
  • Always tow at moderate speeds. Think safety.
How to Handle a Squall or Storm - First, do not purposely go to sea when a storm is forecast.
  • If you are caught in a squall or heavy seas, you should immediately slow down and try to keep the bow into or at a small angle to the wind and waves.
  • Everyone should wear a Personal Flotation Devise (PFDs).
  • On a sailboat you need to keep the sails as flat as possible and sheeted in just enough to make way, being sure not to get into irons in the process. Don't try to blast through waves or speed in order to get to safety. That is sure to make things worse. Take the seas smoothly as possible. 
  • If your power fails, try to jury-rig some sort of sea anchor to the bow in order to keep the bow into the wind and waves. You can use almost anything on the boat that would cause drag, i.e., a tackle box, a bunch of line, cushions, etc.
  • Don't let water accumulate in your boat as it will make the boat unstable. Bail out any water ASAP. 
Docking Your Boat - Hope you don't think just because the left side of your boat is called the "Port Side" that you always should dock with that side toward the pier. There are several reasons why you should dock on one side or the other, but here is the most important:

Almost always and almost without fail you should first determine the direction of the wind and/or current before deciding which side should go to the pier. Whichever is the strongest determines the direction into which your bow should be pointing. For example, if the wind is blowing lightly from left to right across the dock, but the current is roaring from right to left, you would want to approach with your bow into the current and dock to the port side. That is because the current is stronger than the wind. To determine which is strongest just park in idle off the dock and see which way the boat wants to go. If you see that the forces of wind and current push you from right to left across a dock, plan your approach from left to right, with your bow into the strongest force. 
The point of all this is that the boat will be pushed away from the dock by either the current or the wind so it is easy to leave. The hull also doesn't rub against the dock so it protects your gel coat. 

Navigating a Channel (e.g. Wabamun or Sundance) - Unlike a car, you should not always hug the right side of the road (channel) while navigating with a boat. Of course, in a heavily traveled channel with lots of traffic, you want to stay toward the right side and have oncoming traffic pass to your port side.
If you have the opportunity, you would be prudent to stay toward the windward side of the channel. Current also should be a factor in the decision on where you should be steering your boat. Staying to the windward side, or the side from which the current is flowing, is very prudent and can be looked upon as "defensive navigation."
You always want to anticipate what you would do if something went wrong with your power:
  • On a power boat, any engine can stop operating at any time.
  • On a sailboat, any sail can suddenly malfunction at any time
    This is basic Murphy's Law

By being on the side of the channel that is upwind or up current, you have a lot more room and time to handle the dilemma. And if you go aground, the wind and/or current will help you get off. Had you been on the leeward side, the wind and/or current would get you stuck even worse.

Magnetic Compass Errors - The most basic compass error is "Variation" which is the angle between the magnetic and true meridian. In other words, the straight up and down the globe longitudinal lines of the earth are considered the true meridians, but the magnetic latitudinal lines are not straight at all.
Variation is the angle between the straight line true meridians and the magnetic meridians. It can be designated as EAST or WEST. The magnetic angle is either east or west of the true meridian. The amount of Variation differs dependent on your location. In the USA west of the Mississippi you will have an EAST Variation, while the east coast has a WEST Variation. And there is nothing you can do about Variation except recognize its existence and make a steer allowance for it.

The boat compass hardly ever exists in a magnetic-free environment. It is subjected to magnetic forces in its surroundings in addition to the earth's magnetic field. Any other magnetic influences in its environment will cause the compass to deviate from its ideal position along the magnetic meridian. This deflection is called "Deviation."
Just like Variation it can be either EAST or WEST.
While Variation does not change in a given location nor a different heading, Deviation changes when you change headings and does not change in a different location. To handle these changes you need to have a Deviation Table – a compilation of the degree of difference, either East or West, and usually for every 15 degrees of your headings.