Seasoned skippers and Yachting Monthly experts give their advice on a whole range of issues for the cruising sailor

Crew communications

A skipper showing a crew member how to handle lines

Make it clear what you mean

It’s not always obvious that you say what you mean.

I recall an occasion when a brand new trailer sailer was being launched from a slipway.

Brian Black

Brian Black has survived nine Arctic seaons since the mid-1990s and often finds himself getting out of tricky situations at sea

The man was doing all the usual things – reversing the 4×4 with skill, unhitching the trailer, checking that fenders were in place before giving the boat a hefty shove.

His partner, suitably dressed in brand new boating gear, was on the bow as the boat took to the water. ‘Throw me a rope,’ he said – and she did, neglecting to secure the bitter end to the boat.

The exchange of comments is unprintable but as the boat headed for the open water, it ended with the immortal words ‘Don’t you speak to me like that!’

The point of the story is that every skipper should make sure the crew are clear about what is needed. If you are mooring in a marina berth, clearly explain why you
want a mid-ships line secured first or why the bowline should go on to become a spring.

Confusion creates embarrassment and it’s simply not fair on the crew who are just trying to do their best.

Brian Black


A young pair of eyes!

A skipper and his children

Children make great lookouts. Credit: Alamy

Children often make far better lookouts at night than us oldies. They enjoy the novelty of being on deck in the dark (and if they don’t, they should!).

Plus, their eyesight is likely to be far sharper.

When briefing lookouts, of any age, tell them to turn to face you when reporting something.

It is the most natural thing in the world to point and face in the same direction.

Shouting away from you, up-wind, does not help to get the message through.

Andy Du Port


Rigging fatigue

Metal fatigue on rigging

Metal fatigue affects the lower shroud first. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly


Norman Kean, FRIN, edits the Irish Cruising Club’s Sailing Directions. He and wife Geraldine sail a Warrior 40

When we bought our present boat (then 25 years old) the surveyor said: ‘Replace the rigging, not necessarily all at once, but at least start with the lowers.’ ‘Why the lowers? I asked. ‘Because they fail first,’ he replied.

I’d have thought the cap shrouds or the forestay would have been more critical, but the only time I’ve had a stay fail since, right enough, it was a lower shroud.

The surveyor explained that it’s not fair loading that wears out rigging, but metal fatigue due to vibration in the wind. And, because the short lowers vibrate faster, they fail sooner!

Light-bulb moment. It seems to follow that if you slacken back your rigging in the winter (within reason), it’ll last longer, but I didn’t ask him that. We’ve replaced all the standing rigging now, anyway.

Norman Kean


Course to steer

Always try to give a course to steer ending in 0 or 5. No one can accurately steer 243° and 245° is easier to remember anyhow.

Andy Du Port

Clever waypoints

A man plotting a course

Don’t follow the pack when plotting waypoints. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

Don’t be tempted to use waypoints from a published list. You will run the real risk of mixing with others doing the same!

Andy Du Port head shot

Andy Du Port is a Yachtmaster Offshore

Far better to establish your own, which you have checked for accuracy and usefulness.

When putting positions into a chart plotter, work slowly and carefully, and avoid skipping out an entire degree of latitude.

I did this once when on passage in a minesweeper up the Irish Sea.

My captain was not best pleased. Also beware of the old trap of the Greenwich meridian. Need I say more?

Andy Du Port


Man overboard


There is quite enough written on MOB recovery, so I offer just two tips.

First, don’t fall over the side; clip on instead. Secondly, if someone does go AWOL, heave to immediately.

Whatever point of sailing you are on, this will guarantee that you stay close to the casualty — which is vital for a successful recovery.

Andy Du Port