Passage Planning when Sailing!  

Good passage planning is the first step to you realizing your cruising dream and setting sail!  Why not start now!

So you’ve made the decision to ‘live the dream’ … to go cruising, sailing to places you have only dreamed about. 

You’ve talked about it … the pros and cons and time passes as it does with so many like yourself.  So what’s stopping you?  For most sailors it is one of these reasons/excuses  that hold you back …

·         Fear of the unknown, and leaving your past life behind.

·         Conception of lack of budget … how much is it going to cost.

·         Failing to have a written plan and checklist.

The first step is to just start the passage planning on paper, a note book is good to write down any details and every aspect of what is necessary to set sail!  And tick it off when done … you want peace of mind when you cast off!

Passage Planning & Your Boat!

1.  Check the hull of your yacht and if necessary get a marine survey to make sure it is sound and totally waterproof.   Anti-fouling before heading off should be done.

2.  Every hatch must be able to be sealed from any bad weather and water over the bow, especially the for ‘ward hatch and cockpit opening.  Make sure water cannot come in near electrical equipment and damage it.  Check your sea-cocks and bilge pumps, have a hand bilge pump too, if electrics fail better safe than sorry.

3.  Check all the rigging.  Any chafing, check the shrouds and chain plates for cracks and check the cotter pins, and shackles that need replacing.  Maintenance now can save a disaster at sea miles from anywhere.  While checking the rigging it would be a good time to check the sails, sheets, halyards and all that is connected.

4.  Have your engine serviced and have spare parts and know how to do some basic mechanical work.  Have engine and transmission oil, clean fuel and coolants you may not find readily available where you are going, or in the middle of the ocean.  Even though it is a sailboat an engine can be essential going in and out of ports.

5.  Have all your electrical systems checked out.  How much you have is up to you but a good 2 way radio, GPS and hand held of both are handy on deck … so keep in mind a good amount of batteries.

6.  Inside the cabin should be made ready for the voyage by stowing everything so it’s not flung around and a projectile in the first lot of bad weather.  Have a special place for wet gear and keep the rest of the cabin and sleeping areas dry, cosy and comfortable.  House batteries should be well charged for inside lighting and any other home comforts.  If off shore you will probably need lee cloths so you can sleep comfortably even when the yacht heels over.  And there are ways to organise your clothes too.

Safety Equipment!

1.  Safety equipment is essential so make sure you make a list and if you haven’t got them already put aside a budget for the important items. 

2.  List everything from a grab bag to a life raft if off shore.  And all the other relevant gear.  Itemize the most important equipment first and work down the list.

3.  A sound dinghy and motor for trips ashore that can be secured on-board or with davits.  

What About You?

1.   What is your experience?  Have you prepared for the ‘big’ offshore adventure with short passages?  Built your knowledge and confidence? Have you completed any courses like the Coastal Skippers Course, RYA courses, and navigation courses?   Around the world there are different websites and sailing schools try or  if in Australia.

2.   Are you competent with radio procedures, man overboard skills, and meteorology?

3.   Make sure you have, and have studied all relevant charts for the voyage you are making when passage planning.  You still need up to date charts even with a GPS … what happens if you lose your electrics?

4.   Also study cruising guides and tide charts and any other information you can … talk to other sailors who have done the trip and get some local knowledge.

This may all sound like a lot at first but when you make your list for passage planning I find its usually amazing how much you already have or know and that it’s not so daunting when you keep doing and achieving one thing at a time.

Some Extra Tips when Passage Planning! 

1.   It’s a good idea to study the charts and put all the ‘way points’ into your GPS before you cast off on the first leg of your journey.

2.   Calculate the time it will take to get from one way point to the next and if coastal sailing time between anchorage stops.  Avoid coming into strange anchorages at night.

3.   Keep a Log Book or exercise book with all these notes in them in a clear plastic zip lock bag to refer to and keep it dry from bad weather or waves over the toe rail.

4.   Prepare meals for at least the first 3 days ahead before you leave.  Ones you can heat up along with a lot of handy snacks.  Fill some thermoses with hot water for soup, coffee or tea.  If the wave action is choppy or rough when you head out it can be unpleasant … even unsafe to spend time in the galley mucking around with a gimbals stove swinging madly.  And this gives you time to get your sea legs too and avoid sea sickness if you are prone to it.

5.   Organised a watch system that is going to suit you and the number of people on board … discuss it ahead of time. 

6.   Go on a ‘shakedown cruise’ especially if you have a number of crew on board that have not sailed … talk about what to expect … all aspects from the wonderful relaxing days to the all hands on deck emergency’s.

7.   The day before you leave, relax have a good sleep and DON’T get stuck into the alcohol!  Fatigue at sea not only saps your enjoyment but can be dangerous.  Wake up and have a hearty breakfast BEFORE you cast off… and remember you are going to be living the dream, be happy not stressed!!

I have known more than one couple that have never got out of the passage planning stage and never realized their dream!  Yes you must always be ready when heading out to sea, no argument there … the ocean can be very unforgiving … but for most of us neither the boat nor ourselves can ever have ‘all’ the equipment … ‘all’ the knowledge and some we pick up or discover we need along the way.

Passage planning is just a bit more detailed than planning your average holiday but the anticipation and excitement… OK a few frustrations too are well worth it.  So go out and live the dream! 

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