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Really Useful Sailing Tips – Passage Planning & Navigation
When off out on the water, whether for a day or for an extended period, a passage plan is always advisable to ensure you get where you want to go, when you want to get there, and in one piece!
Below are just a few considerations when planning your trip.
Tip 1 – Choosing a destination
When at the whim of wind, weather and tides, a flexible approach has to be taken with timing when deciding on a target destination. Is it possible to get into the harbour, lock or over a sill at the time you expect to arrive? Does a crucial tide gate work against you? Check weather and tides, and by estimating your voyage time you can calculate when you should be leaving (or not in the case of bad weather), and when the best time to arrive is. Equip yourself with charts of the areas you are sailing through and a pilot book of the harbour or destination.
Tip 2 – The passage plan
Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulation 34 says that a properly prepared ‘voyage plan’ is mandatory before going to sea. Consider navigation hazards, the competence of the crew and the size and likely progress over the ground of your yacht. The plan can be in note form or as detailed as you like, but it must include the likely timings, tides, knowledge of likely weather forecast and wind direction, and the nature of your destination. If you fail to do a passage plan you could be jeopardising your insurance if, in the event, something went horribly wrong.
Tip 3 – Tidal Gates
It’s important to get to your next tidal gate on time (ie. where the tide changes, and could stop your progress). Keep checking your ETA, particularly if sailing conditions are changing, and put on the engine if necessary to speed up or make the right heading. Before departure you should have worked out your minimum speed that you need to maintain during your passage. Always maintain it!
Tip 4 – Shipping Lanes
The Shipping Lanes in the English Channel are some of the busiest in the world. So try to time your trip to avoid them at night. If you have to cross, it is a legal requirement that you do so, exactly perpendicular to the shipping lane in order to get across as soon as possible, it is also a legal requirement to cross in this manner. Make sure that you have a reference guide to ships’ lights handy at all times, such as Reeds Almanac.
Always, without exception, cross astern of a ship, and make sure your radar equipment is fully functional. Many yachts are now fitted with AIS (Automatic Identification System). This will identify all commercial shipping over 300 tonnes, giving their location, speed and direction. This is a very worthwhile investment if you are going to cross the Channel often, particularly at night.
Tip 5 – Chart plotting
Always know where you are, how fast you are going and what your heading is! Have the right charts on board, both electronic and paper. Admiralty Small Craft Folio Charts are useful. It is important to have a paper plot or written lat/long co-ordinate recorded at regular intervals, in case of the unlikely event of needing to be located by rescue services. Never sail with just electronic charts. Electronic equipment has a habit of failing when they are needed most!
By taking into account the above you are sure to have a great trip.