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Top Ten Cruising Sailboat Checks Before You Cast Off

Does your sailing crew know the location of survival equipment, fuel shut-off valve and how to test a seacock? Make these ten items your first stop when you step aboard any boat, power or sail. Did you know the Coast Guard can board your boat anytime they want to check safety items whenever they want? No “probable cause” needed!

Fire Extinguishers

Fire on a boat means big trouble. Check fire extinguisher locations and gauges. Recharge any extin- guisher where the dial points into the red sector. Once a month remove each dry chemical extin- guisher from their brackets, invert, shake, and mount again. That way, any powder packed into the bottom will loosen up. Point out each portable fire extinguisher to your sailing crew. Remember to mount them to the left and right of the galley. If the chef has a flash fire, they need to get away from it and it won’t help if the extinguisher is right by the stove. In an emergency, you’ll be glad you did!

Flare Kits

All items in your emergency flare kit have two stamped dates: a manufactured date and an expira- tion date. If they’re expired, keep the old ones that still appear to be in good shape as backups but you must replace them with new ones. The ones that fit in a hand gun and look like 12 guage shot- gun shells will swell with time. They won’t fit when needed the most. Flares save lives, so keep them accessible and ready to use in an instant.

Stuffing Box

A leading cause of boats sinking is from leaking stuffing boxes. At the dock, on a mooring or at anchor–not underway! The stuffing box is where the engine shaft exits the dry boat and enters the water with a prop on it. A lot of rotation and vibration everytime the engine is used. Get your flash- light and shine it onto the packing and lock nuts. Water lubricates the packing, so you should see a drop or two every minute. Excessive leaks indicate worn packing. Address this right away before you cast off.

Bilges and Engine Drip Pan

Check the bilge for excess water. Look for leaks around keel bolts or transducer through-hulls. Look under the engine in the drip pan. If you see water, dip your fingers in and rub them together. Clear, oily water indicates a engine fresh water coolant problem.

Engine Fuel Shutoff

Make sure you know the location of the fuel supply shutoff valve. In an emergency, you need to turn this off to stop fuel flow to your engine. Trace the fuel line between tank and primary fuel filter. Test the valve to make sure you can turn it off and on.

Marine Seacocks

Another top cause of boat sinkings are seacocks with frozen handles or blown hoses. Every seacock aboard must have a handle that works. Test each handle in the shut off and open position. A tiny leak of salt water will quickly corrode the valve and handle. The handle will often just break off. A gentle tap frees up most handles, frozen from corrosion. Look for tapered plugs, tied to the base of each seacock. In an emergency, they’ll plug a leak. A cone shaped foam plug can be twisted and quickly inserted in a broken valve, hose or hull breach.

Head Valves

Another boat sinker. The head seacock often stays open while underway. With a defective valve, this could cause the commode to fill and overflow, especially when heeled over. Make it a habit to shut off both valve and seacock after every use to prevent this problem. I believe it’s vital to make a physical demonstration of this procedure to your crew. Not all crew will tell you if they know how to use the head, so a short 30 second demonstration could save your boat. The last boat they were on may have had a different style of flushing, from foot peddles to levers and instuction labels that fell off years ago. Just show them!

Port, Hatch and Cowl Closure

Do the opening ports and hatches secure tightly? In a squall, spray or rainstorm, you must button her up below. Do you know where the cowl vent cover is? A dry cabin pumps up crew morale, second only to a hot meal!

Marine Bilge Pumps

Electric bilge pumps are nice but floats that stick and wire connections around and in salt water are a disaster. Install trusty “works-every-time” manual type bilge pumps too. Check for a large capacity manual bilge pump, like the whale pumps, in the cockpit. Find the handle and show the crew to keep it handy.

Make sure you have a bailing bucket or two aboard, too. They’ve kept more than one boat afloat when other methods failed.

Battery Covers and Tie Downs

Most sailboats have two banks of batteries, one to start the engine and one for general (house) use. Each battery must have a strong tie down to prevent movement when you heel. Test the cables for tight contact to the battery terminals. Now you know they’ll give you juice when you ask for it.


Don’t forget to file a float plan.


Some Interesting Yachting History

What is a Yacht?

The word “yacht” is derived from the 16th century Dutch word jagh that later become jacht. The word is short for jacht-schiff, which a 1559 dictionary defined as a swift vessel of war, commerce or pleasure. It is commonly accepted that a yacht is any boat, other than one propelled by oars or paddles that is used for pleasure. For many people, the word has a connotation of luxury or large size but in fact it is the purpose of the boat that determines it is a yacht. For sailboats, Yacht Racing Rules (Now called the Racing Rules of Sailing) apply equally to an eight-foot Optimist and the largest ocean racer.

How did yachting begin?

Although there is no clear historical record, we know that in 1660 the Dutch presented a yacht to Charles II when he was crowned King of England. We should be so lucky! The king and his brother, the Duke of York, had other yachts built that were raced. The sport caught on quickly and spread to Ireland and mainland Europe.

Origin of yacht clubs

In 1720 the Water Club of Cork (Ireland) was formed. It was actually a coast guard and cruising associa- tion. The club developed a formal protocol, including a dress code. In 1828 it become the Royal Cork Yacht Club. It is the oldest continually organized boating club. In 1815, “The Yacht Club” was formed in England; it later became the Royal Yacht Squadron. There is controversy about the first yacht club to be formed in the United States. The Detroit Boat Club was formed in 1839 but was actually a rowing club. The New York Yacht Club was formed in 1844 and is generally regarded as the oldest. The second oldest club is the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans, founded in 1849.

Naming Your Boat
By S/C Wes Gary

Boat naming started over a thousand years ago, when sailors named vessels after gods, goddesses or saints hoping to bring good fortune to their travels. The wrong name was the difference between good luck and being lost at sea. Boat christening usually included an elaborate ceremony with wine or champagne poured on the boat as an offering during high tide or a full moon.

When you name your boat, you will need a christening ceremony. Invite some friends and bring the champagne. Not the cheap stuff, either, as some of it will be offered to the Gods of the Sea. Make a speech to the boat and notify her and the Gods of the name. Toast her, the Gods, and her new name. Splash champagne across the hull. Although a custom, there is no need to smash a bottle on the boat but if you do, use a bottle in a net to avoid flying glass. It also helps if your mom is tall enough to avoid embarrassing tumbling:


Unsinkable II  – Passing Wind – Second Wind – Aquaholic
Feeling Nauti – Harden up on the Sheets – Seas the Day
Deep Ship – B-Yacht’ch – Makin’ Luff
Island Time – Happy Hours – Called in Sick
Going Seanile – Your Place Oar Mine –  What’s up Dock
Sleeping With Oars –  Loon-A-Sea
and my next boat, Freedom

As a boater, it’s a rite of passage (and legal requirement) to christen your watercraft with a fitting moniker. And, as the above examples show, this glorious tradition allows for a healthy dollop of creativity, humor, and whimsy. When naming a boat, several criteria should be followed:

  • It should be pleasing to the owner and family. The best boat names reveal something unique about the boater. And, especially if you’re new to the boating world, having a memorable, thoughtful name for your boat can be the best way to integrate yourself into the nautical community.
  • In good taste. A clever boat name is appreciated but think ahead. How will it sound when you are calling for help over the VHF: “This is the vessel: Deep Ship, Deep Ship, Deep Ship. We have run aground and are requesting help at…”
  • Appropriate to the type of boat. Sailing? Fishing? Speed boat? Cruiser or Racer? “The Codfather” or “Liberty”
  • Easily and clearly communicated. The importance of clear communication of a boat’s name is especially important in an emergency. This tends to eliminate names that are odd, lengthy or difficult to spell or pronounce. Boat names are not copyrighted, so you are free to select whatever name pleases you.
  • The best boat names don’t get too cute or force something jokey. If you’re stuck, nothing is quite as tasteful or timeless as using a female name for your boat. Need more reason? Well, the fact is, every boat is a “she” at heart and it’s just a core principle of maritime genetics.

Old timers say that when buying a boat, the name should come to you right away.

Also, a superstition is that a boat should be named only once. This comes from the old days when a boat got to be well know after coming into regular ports to do business over many years. If a recognizable boat came into port with a different name, suspicions arose.


Boating Etiquette

Boating etiquette afloat basically consists of respect for others and common courtesy. But sometimes doing the right thing is not always obvious; thus rules have been developed to define correct behavior.

Know the Rules of the Road – The Navigation Rules are internationally recognized requirements for the safe passage of vessels. They are of the utmost importance for the safety of people and boats and they are mandatory. But it is surprising how many boats are operated in violation of these rules, either because of ignorance or willfulness. Classes presented by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadron are available at little or no cost, making it easy to learn these rules.

Courtesies Afloat – In addition to the mandatory Navigation Rules, there are many simple courtesies that have developed to make boating more enjoyable for everyone. Some of the more important ones are:

Respect for privacy and quiet: Whether docked, moored or anchored, don’t infringe on your neighbors need for privacy and quiet. This is especially important if you are having a party, need to run your genera- tor, have a smoky barbecue or anything else that may offend your neighbors.

Pass upwind of boats fishing: When your course takes your vessel close to boats that are fishing, be sure to pass upwind of them so as not to scare away the fish or become entangled in their lines.

Racing boats don’t have special privileges: There is no requirement that non-racing boats must keep clear of racing boats. However, it is courteous to do so provided that safety is not compromised. It is very discourteous for a racing boat to insist on the right of way just because they are racing.

Anchoring: Boats that have already anchored have precedence. Don’t expect them to move or be pleased that you are anchoring too close or over their anchor rode. If possible, anchor downwind; but in any case anchor in such a way that if the wind shifts there will be no chance of collision. When they “gopher” to see what is going on around them, they are simply checking for their own safety. This is an excellent time to ask how much rode they have out or depth they think they are anchored in. You don’t want to wait until 3am during a wind shift to find out they put out way too much rode and that’s why you are bumping into each other in the middle of the night.

Excessive speed: Remember that you are responsible for your wake. This means don’t exceed speed limits or go too close to other boats. NO speeding in anchorages. Wait until you are away from the last anchored boat.

Mutual aid: It is a long-standing tradition of the sea that you must assist other boats in trouble, provided it doesn’t compromise the safety of your boat or crew.

Float plan: A float plan tells someone about your boating plans. They may be filed with the Harbormaster or left with friends. If you are overdue, someone will know you are missing and can notify proper authori- ties. A float plan is especially important when you will be gone for an extended period or you plan to be in offshore waters.

Guests on Your Boat: The skipper has a special responsibility for guests, especially guests that are not knowledgeable about things nautical. Guests should be informed in advance about what clothing is advisable, including clothing needed ashore after being out on the water. They should also be informed about food they are to bring or informed not to bring any. Upon arriving at the boat, guests should be instructed on safety equipment, operation of the head, where and how to store their gear and sleeping arrangements.