Chapter 32
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Responsibilities of a Skipper

   The skipper is responsible at all times for the safety and well being of his ship and his crew, and is always the final decision maker on board. In official documents in the Merchant Service he is referred to as "Master under God", and this description, with all that such a title implies, is equally true of the skipper of a small sailing yacht.

  He is, in the first place responsible for ensuring that his yacht is seaworthy, well found and in all respects ready for sea before leaving harbour.  He must be certain that both he and all members of his crew are familiar with the stowage plan of the yacht, the position and method of use of all safety equipment and the action to be taken in case of fire.


  A novice will not know Port from Starboard, or how to coil a rope or that he must not fiddle with flares, or that he is not going to drown when the boat heels.

  An experienced hand will want to know where he's going and when, which sails to bend on, and the plan for getting underway.

  The skipper will need his crew to know these things, and more, they won't if he doesn't tell them. At the start of a trip, and frequently thereafter, a good skipper will tell his crew what he expects of them, and how to achieve it if they don't know, where they are going, and what is going to happen next.  He will reassure the inexperienced, and make sure that all know how to behave on his boat, and what to do in an emergency.

  A short, but comprehensive briefing must be a skippers first action on taking on a new crew.


  This is one of the skippers responsibilities.  Club yachts carry an inventory that is written in the form of a stowage plan and this should be studied carefully by all crew members. This will facilitate the handover at the end of the charter period.

  The following procedure for taking over and checking the ship's stores and equipment should be followed by the skipper or delegated member of the crew:-

    a. Check and take over the inventory of stores and equipment (skipper).

    b. Check all safety equipment.

    c. Check all sailing gear, including sails, sheets, spinnaker gear, handybilly, main sheet, kicking strap, as well as mooring warps, lines and fenders.

    d. Check engine, starting, batteries, fuel, oil, water, maintenance and tools.

    e. Check the heads, including pumps and seacocks and method of operation.

    f. Check electric light circuits, ensuring that all navigation lights are functioning.

    g. Check all navigation equipment, including the compass and all instruments, pilot books and other publications such as list of lights or nautical almanac, and the ship's log book.

    h. Check that the ship's papers, showing proof of ownership are on board.

    i. Ensure that the fuel tank and water tank are full, and that a spare gas cylinder is carried and emergency water cans are filled.

    j. Re-stow all stores and gear according to the inventory, bearing in mind the maxim "A place for everything and everything in its place".


  After completing the takeover of a club yacht and stowing food and drink, inexperienced skippers may be tempted to cast off and sail away without any further preparation. However, the more experienced and seamanlike skipper will know that additional preparations are necessary if the first passage of the cruise is to be successfully completed.

  The first and most important consideration must be the state of the weather, both actual and forecasted. Conditions inside a sheltered harbour can be misleading, and very different from what may be faced at sea. If in any doubt, a walk or ride to a vantage point where open sea conditions may be observed could be time well spent. A reliable weather forecast must always be obtained before starting a passage. BBC transmissions do not cover Baltic Areas, the nearest areas being Fisher and German Bight, but they give a good overall picture of the weather state, and are very helpful in assessing the possible future conditions.

  Another important factor in passage planning is the strength and competence of the crew. It may happen that a skipper finds himself in charge of a novice crew, in which case it may be wiser to spend a couple of hours sailing in sheltered waters in order to give everyone a chance of learning the ropes and finding their sea legs before setting off on the actual passage.

  The time of departure on passage is also important.  It is generally most un-seamanlike to take a novice crew in a strange craft straight off into the rigours of a night passage.  This should only be done in settled weather with an experienced crew; otherwise it is often better to plan for a night's sleep and a crack of dawn departure.  There will be time enough for night sailing later in the cruise, when the crew is more familiar with the yacht and the cruising area.

  If the cruise has no particular objective it could be good planning and even better psychology to make the first passage sailing in a free wind if possible.  Nothing could do more to dismay and disenchant a novice crew than a long hard flog to windward on their first day at sea. Such conditions are almost certain to occur at some time during an extended cruise, but when they do the crew should be well settled down and able to cope with whatever nature has in store.

  Having to spend long periods working below deck in even a moderate sea is a common cause of seasickness, and this unpleasant possibility can be minimised if not avoided by a little forward planning.  The navigator should decide on and record his passage plan before departure, thus avoiding having to spend much time at the chart table under sail.  Similarly, a midday snack and beverages prepared beforehand would lessen the time required to be spent in the least congenial of all places during rough weather, the galley.

  The skipper will finally have to decide which sails he will use, bearing in mind the weather forecast and his own observation of conditions. He should also remember that, at sea, it is far easier to increase sail area than reduce it.

  When considering the extent of the cruise, some thought must be given to the unpopular subject of the return journey. Changes of weather can play havoc with a well planned itinerary, with adverse weather conditions resulting in a hold up of the yacht a long way from the home port. It is a wise precaution to keep some time in hand to allow for this eventuality.

  Once underway and on passage, a proper system of watchkeeping should be brought into use and maintained throughout the cruise. A good watchkeeping routine ensures that all duties, both pleasant and otherwise, are fairly shared by all, and will do wonders for the morale of the crew. If either by choice or force of circumstances a passage is extended to include night sailing it will also reduce the possibility of key members of the crew becoming overtaxed and overtired, with all the attendant dangers of such a situation.


  This is the general term covering every aspect of the day to day maintenance of the yacht, and implied in the term is good knowledge of the correct way to maintain all the items of the yachts inventory.  The more important of these are given below, but the list is by no means comprehensive, there is always something to be done.

The Hull

  Normally a GRP hull needs no day to day maintenance except cleaning. This must never be done with any type of abrasive cleaner, as this will eventually wear through the waterproof coat of the hull.  Oil and grease should be removed with a liquid solvent, while the hull itself can be cleaned with a warm soap or detergent solution.  Any impact or other damage to the hull should be reported as soon as possible.

The Sails

  Modern sails are normally made of synthetic materials. While they are impervious to rot and mildew, they should not be stored in damp conditions for any length of time, but hung up and dried out in the open air at the first opportunity. Continuous exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun can also have a damaging effect on the fibres, but this can be minimised by the use of sail covers and sail bags when the sails are not in use.

  Synthetic materials can be stored in bags in a random manner without detriment, but if they are "sail-maker folded" in concertina fashion from the foot, they will occupy much less stowage space and will be far easier to hank onto the forestay when being set.

  All stitching on the sails should be checked occasionally, particularly at any points where chafe is likely to occur.  "A stitch in time saves nine" is a doubly true saying in the matter of sail maintenance.

  When folding the mainsail on the boom the sail battens should be arranged to lay flat along the length of the boom.  This will prevent possible breakage of the battens and consequent damage to the batten pockets.

The Rigging

  Adjustments to the tune of the standing rigging is a job for experts only. Others should leave it severely alone, or in cases where something is obviously wrong, ask for help.

  Rigging screws and shackles should be checked regularly to ensure that they are not slacking off, and that the split pins or other locking devices on the rigging screws are still doing there job. Any sharp projections such as the ends of split pins should be firmly taped over to prevent the snagging of sails or sheets.  Running rigging should also be regularly checked, particularly where wire and rope are spliced together, ensuring that there are no fraying strands.

Mooring Warps, Lines and Springs

  Chafe at the fairleads or at the dockside is the commonest cause of wear to warps, this can be minimised by parcelling the rope with cloth or plastic tube at the crucial points.  If a warp passes over the sharp edge of a concrete or steel wall, wear can be reduced by placing a small piece of timber under the warp, so as to raise it clear of the sharp edge.  An even better method is to find mooring points on the face of the wall if possible thus eliminating the source of wear altogether.

  At least two warps and two springs should be carried on board, for it is bad practice to make one warp or spring do the work of two.  All rope ends should be securely whipped, and in the case of synthetic ropes this can easily be done by meting the end strands with a flame and then squeezing them together.  This should not be done with the bare hands!  A whipping should then be added for greater security.

  When not in use warps should be neatly coiled and stowed, and prepared and laid out in position well beforehand when approaching a mooring.  For a normal mooring only the ends of the warps are ashore, any spare length being neatly coiled on deck, turned over in readiness to run out or take in as required.

The Bilges

  The bilges should be cleaned out thoroughly with salt water at regular intervals.  Fresh water will turn rancid and smell abominably if allowed to lie in the bilges for only a few days.  Limber holes must be kept clean and open so as to allow bilge water to flow freely to the pump pick up position.  Diesel fuel in the bilge should be cleaned up with a strong detergent, and the reason for it being there checked and rectified immediately.

  Labelled bottles or cans should never be stowed in the bilges, as the labels will inevitably float off and choke the limber holes and strum box.  It is in any case a most unhygienic practice, and should be avoided if possible.

The Engine

  Before starting the engine, the oil level in the sump and gearbox should be checked and topped up if necessary.

  As soon as the engine is running, a check should be made on the exhaust and cooling water outlet, to ensure that the cooling water is circulating correctly.  If not, the engine must be switched off immediately and a check made on the inlet valves, water pump and pipes.

  Most damage to engine transmissions, thrust bearings and propeller shafts is caused by panic gear changing from forward to astern or vice-versa at full throttle.  Before engaging or changing gear the throttle must always be returned to the tickover position, and then opened up again after the gear has been engaged.

  The level of diesel fuel in the tank must never be allowed to fall so low that there is any danger of air being drawn into the fuel pipes.

Navigation Lights

  When there is any possibility or intention of sailing at night, all navigation lights should be checked and any faults rectified during the hours of daylight.  After darkness has fallen it is usually too late.

The Galley

  The comfort and well being of the crew depends to a large extent on the cleanliness and efficiency of the galley and those who use it.  Frying in fat is a popular and easy method of cooking, but it causes most problems, with oil-laden fumes depositing a greasy layer over the deck head and spilled fat congealing in some hidden corner and turning rancid and evil smelling in a matter of days.  These effects can be reduced by keeping fried meals to a minimum and by making sure that pans are covered when frying.  This may also have the bonus of reducing the incidence of sea sickness in the crew.

  With the restricted space available, it is also good practice for the cook to wash up and stow all utensils as he uses them, rather than leave the task until an unmanageable pile of washing up has collected. The actual stowage of food onboard is an important subject, perhaps the two most important factors being dry conditions and a good air circulation, the latter much easier to achieve than the former.

The Main Cabin

  The main cabin or saloon is the living room for the whole crew, and as such it should be kept as clean, dry, and as tidy and habitable as possible.  It should be ventilated thoroughly whenever conditions allow all lockers and cupboards opened and mattresses and cushions aired and dried out to get rid of the effects of condensation.


  All yachts should carry a Deck Log.  This is the legal log, and must be completed at regular intervals when at sea, usually every hour.  It will normally record the time, course, distance run, weather, barometric pressure, wind direction and strength and sailing speed.  Other information which may be recorded are course changes, weather forecasts, sail changes, passing vessels or navigation marks and any other happening that affects the running of the yacht. The Deck Log is an invaluable aid to navigation and weather forecasting, and in the event of an incident likely to lead to an insurance claim, a properly completed Deck Log is a most important legal document.

  The Fair Log is sometimes carried and records of the cruise written in narrative form, and is compiled for the benefit of the club records and for the information and interest of future users of the yacht. For this reason it should not be a slavish copy of the Deck Log, but an interesting and informative account of the cruise that will become part of the yacht's history.


  Over the years flag etiquette has become less formal, and varies from country to country.  Traditionally, flags are flown from sunrise to sunset, sunrise being taken to be at 0800 hours during the summer months.  Club yachts should maintain a high standard of flag etiquette, particularly when visiting foreign harbours.

  The Red Ensign is normal flag of any British registered or British owned vessel, and may be worn by British nationals without restriction. It is the ensign of the British Kiel Yacht Club.

  The Blue Ensign, undefaced or defaced, is worn by certain Services and Government departments and by yacht owners who have been granted an Admiralty Warrant by virtue of being members of certain privileged yacht clubs.  The privilege of wearing a special ensign applies only when the owner is on board or in charge of the warranted vessel, but in the case of vessels that are owned by privileged clubs a special dispensation has been made whereby trustees are appointed by the club as owners, and the special ensign may be worn when a qualified club member is in charge of the vessel.  The Admiralty Warrant and Certificate or British Registration must always be carried on board when the special ensign is worn, and any abuse of the privilege can lead to very heavy fines, as well as the loss of the warrant.

  The White Ensign is worn by the Royal Navy, and also by warranted vessels owned by members of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

  Ensigns are flown from 0800 to sunset when in harbour, and when sailing in coastal waters or within sight of other vessels at sea.  Should a yacht be left unattended in harbour until after sunset, it is acceptable practice to lower the ensign before leaving the vessel.

  Paying compliments or Saluting is made by lowering the ensign two thirds of the way down the ensign staff and holding it there until the saluted vessel has responded and begins to re-hoist her ensign. Salutes should be given to the Royal Navy or foreign warships and to Flag Officers of the saluting vessel's club, or to any other vessel as a mark of greeting or respect.

  The burgee is a triangular pennant worn at the mast head or close up on the port spreader signal halyard, and will normally identify the club to which the owner of the vessel belongs. Flag Officers' burgees are swallow tailed broad pennants carrying various marks to indicate the Flag rank of the owner.  Theoretically the burgee should be flown by day and night when the vessel is in commission, but in practice it is acceptable to lower it at night when in harbour. A vessel wearing a privileged ensign must also wear the burgee of the club to which the privileged pennant pertains. When racing the burgee is replaced with a rectangular racing pennant.

  The Courtesy Flag is a small maritime or national flag of a foreign country being visited, worn as a mark of courtesy, as the name implies. It is normally worn close up on the starboard spreader signal halyard, and never subordinate to any other flag.

  House flags, association flags or the burgees of other clubs may be worn on the port spreader signal halyard subordinate to the BKYC burgee.  All ensigns and flags must always be worn close up on tight halyards.


  The laws relating to salvage at sea are very complex, and well outside the scope of this handbook. RYA Pamphlet G6 gives some explanation of the laws as they apply to yachtsmen

  In the event of a Club yacht being involved in a situation where outside assistance is required to safeguard the lives of the crew, this would not normally lead to any claim for salvage.  However, when assistance is required in other circumstances the most important precaution is to obtain some form of agreement on payment of compensation beforehand, preferably based on the "no cure - no pay" principle.  If assistance is rendered by a fellow yachtsman, or member of a recognised yacht club, it should not be necessary to obtain any special agreement, but it is a wise precaution to do so for all others.  The form of agreement included in the ships papers will give adequate legal cover.

  Another sensible precaution is to demonstrate that all hope has not been abandoned and the yacht and crew is not left to the mercy of the elements, a most unlikely situation in the Baltic in any case.  This can be done by the crew being active in their attempts to retrieve the situation, by using the yacht's warps and gear rather than that of the assisting vessel, and by generally showing that while help may be welcome, the situation is not hopeless as far as the crew is concerned.


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