Increasing confidence as a result of gaining experience, is an invaluable result of time spent on the water. Each time we find ourselves in a new situation, we put additional ‘tools’ in our ‘toolbox’, build more confidence and become more ambitious.
Maybe keen to undertake a longer passage, a trip that involves an overnight stay or a night-time entry into a familiar destination, only previously entered by day.
Once we reach a certain level of competence, it is easy to rely on gaining knowledge-by-doing, but it is important to be aware that there may be certain gaps that can be better filled by training, rather than experience.
Emma Clayton, RYA Chief Instructor for the Shorebased schemes, says: “Practical training, like the RYA Powerboat Level 2 course, is geared towards hands-on, boat handling time and introduces the practical application of theoretical elements through executing short passages. Whilst this provides a seeing-and-doing approach, it does mean that the acquired knowledge is largely limited to what was experienced on the day, and does not necessarily provide the breadth of knowledge required to deal with the infinite number of situations that could arise, even on short passages.
“The RYA shorebased courses provide a greater depth of knowledge in a number of areas, and with options for online and distance learning - as well as in the classroom – it’s never been easier to pick up those tools.”
Understanding charts & publications
Whilst most of us will have that go-to list of favourite and familiar destinations we’ll happily visit time and time again, you can’t beat the thrill of going somewhere new and unknown.
But exploring new areas requires planning; how far away is my destination and how long will it take to get there? When will the tidal stream assist the journey and provide enough height of tide to enter - and to leave? What hazards are there on route? What type of traffic am I likely to encounter? What does that chart symbol that looks like an asterisk mean?
Anybody planning a passage needs to know where - and how - to find the answers to these questions. As well as understanding what impact this will have when out on the water.
Often, the most rewarding places to explore tend to be those that involve close-quarters navigation. The estuaries, beaches and harbours, or little nooks and crannies at the shallow end of a river – the ones that are likely to be inaccessible to bigger boats, or even to people on foot.
Unless you have local knowledge, the only safe way to explore these hidden gems is through close scrutiny of a chart, consultation of available pilotage information and making a few notes for quick reference.
Pilotage techniques - buoy hopping, bearings and clearing bearings, leading marks, charted and improvised transits and back transits, turning points, depth contours that are adjusted for tide, to name a few – can help to make the first, final and trickier stages of a journey far less stressful.
Knowing exactly where you are at all times is key. Not only to ensure that you are safe at the present moment, but also to ensure that you are safe to continue on a current or new course. This is even more important when travelling at high speed.
Electronic and paper-based techniques for position fixing, usually work best when used together and provide a means for one to verify the other.
Being aware of how accurately or approximately you need to know your position is another skill. In open water an approximate position might suffice, but in confined, shallow, hazardous or busy waters, a greater level of accuracy is usually required.
There are a diverse number of techniques available for position fixing and it is unlikely that they can be taught from scratch on a single trip. A shorebased course teaches these techniques so that they can be pulled out of the ‘toolbox’ at the right time.
Rules of the road
On a practical course or out on-the-water, the ‘rules of the road’ are generally taught, as and when they arise. But with such a vast number of nuances that affect decision making in different situations, are you properly prepared?
Does your position as a stand-on vessel change if you spot a day-shape on the other vessel? What about if you’re both in a narrow channel? Is there a local byelaw that affects your course of action? How will a change of course affect other nearby vessels? How would you know if you are technically in ‘restricted visibility’ and what impact would it have on your decision making?
Having the knowledge to perceive a potential collision situation, comprehend its significance and project its future status is essential for any skipper.
As far as passage making is concerned, even a basic understanding of weather can mean the difference between a good and a bad decision.
The RYA shorebased navigation courses cover everything from; obtaining different types of weather forecast, understanding the terms used and making decisions based on your interpretation; to real time observations, such as a sky with thickening and descending clouds, the development of a sea breeze and its possible effect on the sea state, or whether to factor in an exceptionally high barometer pressure reading on your smart watch, before entering a shallow river.
Just a little bit of extra knowledge can give you the confidence to go exploring further afield safely. Top up your ‘toolbox’ with the RYA Essential Navigation and Seamanship or RYA Day Skipper Shorebased courses.
Find out more at www.rya.org.uk/go/courses
Back to the classroom
After a youth sailing with the Sea Cadets and a career with the Royal Navy, when Paul and his wife bought a motor cruiser of their own, they were keen to get stuck in and learn.
“We started with the RYA Helmsman course, which gave us the initial confidence to get out and use the boat. At this stage we were happy navigating our way around the Solent, building experience and improving our practical skills. But as we became more confident, we wanted to explore further afield,” says Paul.
“With a view to being a bit more adventurous, I did the RYA Day Skipper Shorebased course and we joined a ‘Cruise in Company’ to Guernsey. Applying the knowledge I’d gained in the classroom to a real world setting, put everything into context, and meant we were happy to go further afield for longer. The most useful part was bringing it all together in planning and executing passages.”
From his first trip out on the boat, Paul was hooked, but little did he know that it would lead to a new career in the marine industry. Now a commercially endorsed RYA Yachtmaster™ Offshore, Cruising Instructor and Principal of RYA recognised training centre, Mendez Marine, Paul says: “Most students who come to us for training appreciate the importance of not only being able to handle a boat confidently, but also the theory knowledge that will make their boating more enjoyable. They feel safer and more able to explore nearby cruising grounds with the appropriate, supported knowledge.”
RYA Essential Navigation and Seamanship
This course is great for those who have completed their RYA Powerboat Level 2, RYA Start Motor Cruising or RYA Helmsman courses, or for anyone looking for an introduction to navigation and safety awareness.
Available online (approximately 6 hours) and in the classroom (16 hours), the course is designed to give the essential knowledge needed when you’re afloat. Topics include:
RYA Day Skipper Shorebased
A perfect precursor to the RYA Intermediate Powerboat or RYA Day Skipper Motor courses, this is a must for skippers thinking about cruising further afield or taking their boat on holiday. With an introduction to chartwork, navigation, meteorology and the basics of seamanship, you’ll have enough knowledge to navigate familiar waters by day, with a basic introduction to lights.
Delivered in the classroom or by distance learning, the course is taught over 40 hours. Topics include:
To find a course near you, visit www.rya.org.uk/go/wheresmynearest