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

Tidal trick for ladders

Yachtsmen who sail in areas where tidal ranges are large (4m or more) will have experienced the problem that ladders pose.

A diagram shoing how to tie up to a ladder a low water

A line taken through a rung at low water can prevent damage to your yacht

At low water the mooring springs will hold the yacht reasonably close to the quay wall.

However, at the top of the tide in offshore winds it will be liable to be blown a couple of metres away.

Headshot of Vyv Cox

Vyv Cox is a chartered engineer and has been sailing for more than 50 years

The problem is greatly exacerbated where there is a raft of yachts that are liable to surge fore and aft. If the ladder protrudes from the wall, rather than being recessed in it, the result can be considerable damage to the inner yacht’s topsides and toe rail.

An excellent way to avoid these problems is to attach an additional line tightly between the low-water and top rungs of the ladder, after first running it through a block.

The fixed end of the block is shackled to a strong point on the boat, via a well-padded line.

The yacht is now held positively, both laterally and fore-and-aft, allowing the reliable placement of fenders and fender board, regardless of tide height.

Ideally the lower end of the line would be taken around a rung at low water and attached higher up the ladder to aid departure.

Vyv Cox


Devil’s in the detail

Skippers filling up a yacht with red diesel

Keep all your fuel receipts to avoid fines

Whatever the ramifications of Brexit, always keep an accurate record of all fuel purchases, noting whether they are for ‘red’ or ‘green’ diesel.

A neat table of quantities and where bought, backed up with receipts, proof of consumption and engine hours might just persuade an officious official from levying a hefty fine on you.

Andy Du Port


Calibrating your echo sounder

Two echo sounders

An echo sounder calibrated to read depths from the waterline (i.e., the actual depth of water) is more useful than one set to read from below the keel.

In shallow coastal waters a skipper should always know the approximate height of tide and, therefore, the expected depth of water.

Readings from the keel will tell you when you are about to go aground, by which time it is probably too late.

Andy Du Port


Radio Checks

A woman in a blue jumper doing a VHF radio check

Don’t get carried away doing radio checks. Credit: Andrew Sydenham

How often do you hear a merchant ship or fishing vessel conducting a radio check? The answer is never, so why do so many yachts feel it necessary to call up the coastguard every time they go to sea?

Andy Du Port head shot

Andy Du Port is a Yachtmaster Offshore, and formerly an RN specialist navigating officer and RYA Cruising Instructor

Modern VHF radios are remarkably reliable: if they are receiving clearly there is a better than average chance that they will transmit when required.

Besides, a fault could develop at any time, and a successful radio check is absolutely no guarantee that it will work when you next need it.

So, what’s the harm in a radio check? First, it is an unnecessary transmission, and we are duty bound to make the minimum number of calls, and to keep them short.

Secondly, radio checks are horribly irritating for the rest of us in busy sailing areas when we have to listen to them almost continuously.

Thirdly, and most pertinently, most radio checks are conducted on channel 16 which is not really meant for this sort of traffic, and they often interrupt or block out much more urgent traffic.

If you must check your radio – and there are times, such as immediately after installing a new set, when it is prudent to do so – use a working channel: a marina on channel 80, another yacht on a pre-arranged channel (or by a routine call on DSC) or the National Coastwatch Institution on channel 65.

Otherwise, allow the peace to prevail!

Andy Du Port

Fishing gear at night

A container marking a lobster pot

This pot might be visible during the day, but at night you could easily miss it.

Fishing gear around the UK is notoriously badly marked and difficult to see at the best of times.

Your best bet at night in crowded waters such as the Solent is to stay in well-used shipping lanes, albeit close to the starboard side if possible.

Not even the most thoughtless fisherman are likely to lay their floats where they’re at the mercy of multi-ton container ships plying their trade.

In open waters this ploy is not practical, so it is far better to sail rather than motor.

It is much less of a hassle to free a rope round your keel or rudder than a ball of netting tightly wound round the prop.

Andy Du Port