Pre-departure Training for Non-Sailors

Quite often I am asked what skills should be taught to a non-sailor before leaving the dock for their first sail.  I am sure each skipper has a different list, however, here are a few of the things I personally consider essential.  Its seems like quite a list, however it only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to run through it.

  • Marine Heads 101 … not the most glamorous topic, however, messing up the head can ruin a sail.  I teach how to use fresh water to fill and flush the bowl.  I also instruct that “If it didn’t go thru you first, it doesn’t belong in the head.”  That includes toilet paper, which gets deposited in the waste basket next to the head.  While on the topic of heads, I am a guy, however, I hate cleaning up after guys!  Here’s a little jingle for you.  While at sea, all good sailors sit to pee!
  • Line handling … Some basic line handling makes for a safer sail.  Make sure everyone knows how to double up a line so it runs from the boat, around a cleat on the dock, and back to the boat.  Demonstrate how to use a boat hook to capture a dock cleat, and how to “cast” a coiled line around a dock cleat.  Finally, demonstrate how to use friction by going around both horns of the boat’s deck cleat to control motion of the boat.  How about one more line handling tip.  Making figure 8’s around a cleat.  I think teaching a cleat hitch is asking too much of someone’s first sailing experience, and in most cases, several figure 8’s around the cleat does just as well as a temporary solution.
  • One hand for yourself and one for the boat … Always hold on to something sturdy while moving around.  Don’t stand up while reaching for lines or while the boat is maneuvering in close quarters (e.g. slips and fairways).  Kneel down instead, it’s much safer.
  • How to use a winch.
  • DO NOT jump in the water after someone (even your child)!!!  If you do, now we have two rescues to make.
  • Basic motoring … Part of this will be completed after we leave the dock and reach safe water.  I want my guests to be able to get the boat back to me if I go overboard.  I also want them to be able to drive if I am otherwise occupied (such as handling sails, reefing, or using the head).  They need to know how to start and stop the motor.  How to shift the transmission and handle the throttle, and how to steer.
  • And last, but certainly not least … “The boat will NOT tip over.”  It is normal and safe to be healed over.
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1 Response to Pre-departure Training for Non-Sailors

  1. Scott says:

    The last comment is incredibly important. It can really ruin the first impression of sailing if one of your passengers is so scared that they are white knuckled frozen in the hatch. I always try to get them to visualize that as the boat heals, the sail area gets smaller and gets more angled to dump the wind. I also point out that if I let the boat heal too much, I suck because I just lost all my efficiency.

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