Before Leaving the Dock: Advancement to Basics

Let me start off by speaking of a different kind of discipline than sailing, the martial arts.  In many schools the way one advances is by demonstrating the basics, and it does not matter how high up one is.  In karate it could be the basic movements and katas or in tai chi it is the first movement that encompasses all movements.  More than just martial arts, the basics are the foundation of whatever one does.  If you are in finance, you cannot get away without knowing basic math and if you are a writer, then grammar is your basis.  To take this even further, to be social in a positive way is to have basic manners, which gives one substance; such is called being civilized.  Sailing is no different and, as a new teacher to sailing myself, I am writing about this so it is more engrained in my own mind.  Though much of this might sound trite, it all carries over to the more advanced, and sadly, many of the advanced sailors seem to forget the basics.  The smallest is often the largest.  In sailing there is nothing functional that is trite and Tradewinds well keep us all vigilant to this.

Without a doubt, stepping on and off a boat properly is basic to all who are to be on that boat, just as there is a proper way to enter someone’s house; one does not just walk in without ringing the bell or knocking.  If one is to board any boat, permission needs to be asked.  Of course, the skipper with whom you are sailing will say come on board, (hopefully) but maybe a hatch is open or something is slippery on deck; thus, the skipper might say just wait a little.  The real reason for announcing yourself each time you get on or off the vessel by saying “stepping aboard” or “stepping off” is that the boat may rock and someone on board might be caught off-guard and get hurt. If you continue to have issues with the dock you can reach out to someone who works with dock equipment to prevent you others from  to help with your estature.

If permission is given or when one is announcing to come aboard, one then holds the shroud, say on a Capri, puts one foot on the deck before the lifeline then the other foot, followed by then putting one foot at a time over the lifeline onto the deck, all while holding on.  Very advanced sailors, forgetting the basics, stumble over lifelines often by doing it wrongly, and if there is a slip, one’s head could crack against a winch.  We can never forget the basics.  It is analogous to the statistic that most people receive great injuries not so much at work but at home.  In this context the boat is home, but we can never get too comfortable, even before departing from the dock.  Also, if there is luggage of any sort, pass it to someone on board rather than doing a balancing act at the edge of a boat.

Once on the boat, then watch for any lines and do not step on them.  Of course, this is a very good habit to have, especially when underway, but even in port, one may be attaching the halyard to the main sheet and the strained line under foot could make it difficult, if not trip someone.  When underway this is utterly important and it is mandatory that all lines be coiled or secured that they are not on the deck.  This may sound simple but such carelessness could cause great injury, if not flipping someone overboard.  Also, lines can fall over and get tangled in a propeller, so do practice being vigilant.

Once on the boat, it is always necessary to have one hand securing yourself to the boat, and this is so even at the dock.  Moving around a boat can be hazardous and maybe someone got on the boat without warning.  Accidents do occur and most accidents are called accidents because they could have been prevented.  In this life we always have to have one hand on earth, metaphorically speaking.  I know many of us can see those who have lost their grip. On life.

We are so used to engines that we do not pay attention to the machine that transports us.  For example, how many of us actually put on the auto seat belt prior to starting the car, which is the way it should go?  So, when starting an outboard engine on a boat, we all need to be aware of anyone standing to our back and maybe in the way, by which we could hit them with our snapping arm.  In any aspect of life, take note to those around us.   Also make sure the engine works prior to departing.  A good idea is to start the engine well before getting the boat ready in that if the engine does not work, then you did not waste time getting the boat ready.  Also, when starting an inboard engine, make sure you are in neutral and see if there might be any lines near the prop.

When it comes to departure, prior to leaving the dock, all crew need to be on the boat and not jumping on after the lines have been released.  A person rarely lets the child just jump out of the house but rather eases them out with a connecting line. Of course, this is also the case when it comes to docking as well, but docking is a separate subject that needs to be addressed by itself.  Basically, wrap the line from the boat’s cleat to the dock cleat and back again and release as the boat departs.  I will say that Tradewinds, maybe more than most, has a strong focus on docking and will much give anyone who shows interest, methods to always dock well.  I highly suggest taking one or more of the docking classes offered; they are invaluable.  I believe most accidents happen during docking.  As a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who works as crew, I often see bad docking as far as jumping on the boat when coming in or departing.  I believe Tradewinds has trained me well, allowing me to notice many flaws.

If any have read this far, you are probably good at docking in that you have patience, something needed for not just good docking but life itself.  For me the basics for pre-departure are:

  • stepping on and off a boat properly
  • watching for any lines and not stepping on them
  • always have one hand securing yourself to the boat
  • when starting an outboard engine on a boat, we all need to be aware of anyone standing to our back
  • all crew need to be on the boat and not jumping on after the lines have been released.

Again, for me this writing is a learning experience and I would look forward to any suggestions as to what are the basics for you before leaving the dock.  Also, I would look forward to any who can give me correction in my own thinking.  The more discourse we all have the more we learn and come to better understand the complexity of sailing.

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3 Responses to Before Leaving the Dock: Advancement to Basics

  1. Chuck B says:

    These are all good things! Thank you for the reminder that asking permission to board also serves a safety purpose.

    I like to instruct crew and passengers about keeping one’s center of gravity low while on deck. Often I see folks leaning precariously over the lifelines to do this or that.

  2. Peter Detwiler says:

    Back to basics. Your advice reminds us how careless actions erode safety, thanks.

    I spent two weeks as a sail trainee on “Hawaiian Chieftain” a few years ago and brought back some of their safety practices when I sail Tradewinds boats with my buddies. One important practice is announcing “hatch is lively” when inspecting bilges or checking through-hulls. It’s way too easy for a fellow sailor on some other chore to walk through the cabin, not realizing that there’s only air between his foot and the bilge below. Likewise, “hatch is secure” is the call-out when I replace the hatch. Everyone knows.

    We also do “call backs,” the simple practice of repeating a direction. That way everyone knows what’s going on. If my buddy opens up the bilge and says “hatch is lively,” then the rest of us within earshot repeats “hatch is lively.” Situational awareness, right?

  3. Herman Haluza says:

    Chuck and Peter:
    Thank you for the replies. The center of gravity is very important and I will even forget this myself at times. Regarding the open hatch, I have worked on large boats myself and to call hatch is open or closed is all important. People often do not look to where they are walking. For Tradewinds, is is also very important in that one could walk down below only to find there are no stairs in that the skipper is checking the oil. Accidents happen when least expected.

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