Navigating the Ocean in a Sailboat

Navigation is often one of the most feared aspects of sailing. If you are out in open water, understanding direction can be a dizzying process. Before gearing up for an adventure, you should learn basic navigation skills—reading a chart, plotting a course, and steering accurately by compass. Once you start sailing on your own, you should assemble a kit with essential navigation tools. This will be especially helpful if you are planning to rent boats—few rentals have navigation equipment (other than a potential built-in compass), so you should always bring your own. Below is our recommended list of tools and equipment to keep in your navigation kit.

 

  • A hand-bearing compass. This simple compass is fitted with a sight. To use, you point it at an object and read the direction to that object off the compass. Take bearings of two or more objects, plot them on your chart, and find your location by seeing where the lines cross. This is a great way to check your location if you do not have expensive technical equipment. However, this strategy does not work well for open water.

 

  • Parallel rules. This tool is two rulers hinged together so that they remain parallel with the distance between them is adjusted. Before your trip, use the rules to determine the latitude and longitude of key locations—where you’re sailing from, where you might want to go, and your destination. Write these on the chart and draw lines between key points.

 

  • A chart of the area you’ll be sailing. At this point, we’ve mentioned a chart two time. Purchase a waterproof chart in the largest scale you can find. This will cover a small geographical area with a lot of detail. If you have a marina membership, you may have access to this tool for free. If you plan to sail the same area multiple times, use a plastic or laminated copy and work with dry erase markers.

 

  • A handheld GPS. This tool will help determine where you are and how far away your destination will be. This should be your primary method of navigation. However, it is essential to have the other items in this kit in case your GPS fails or breaks during the trip.

 

  • A handheld marine VHF radio. VHF is the fastest way to get help in the case of an emergency. The Coast Guard, marine patrol, the harbormaster, and other authorities monitor VHF channel 16. This is also a great tool for receiving weather reports and forecasts. A basic waterproof model is relatively inexpensive but be sure to keep replacement batteries on board. Always replace your batteries before a long trip.

Sailing Code of Conduct

Though sailing might be considered an individual or partnered sport, the water is open to both professional and recreational boaters. Understanding the basics of the sport requires sailors to familiarize themselves with essential right-of-way sailing rules. It is necessary to remember that sailboats have different right-of-way and codes of conduct than powerboats. Below, we have reviewed the essential basic sailing rules based on the International Regulations for Avoiding Collisions at Sea.

 

  1. Maintain a proper lookout. Use sight and hearing to avoid colliding with other boats.

 

  1. Maintain a safe speed at all times. This will allow you to remain in control of your boat and prevent collisions if you are taken by surprise.

 

  1. Use common sense to assess the risk of collision. If other boats are near or around you, assess the situation to determine an appropriate speed and movement strategy.

 

  1. Port tack gives way to starboard tack. If two sailboats are approaching each other and the wind is on a different side of each boat, the sailboat who has wind on the port side must always give right of way to the other. For example, if wind is coming from the East and one boat is sailing North while another is sailing South, the boat sailing South must heed to the other.

 

  1. Windward gives way to leeward. If two sailboats are approaching each other and with wind is on the same side, the vessel to windward (the direction of the wind) must give way to the vessel which is leeward.

 

  1. If you are at risk of colliding with another vessel, whichever boat has the other boat on its starboard side must yield right of way.

 

  1. If your boat overtakes another vessel, you should keep out of the way of that vessel.

 

  1. Sailboats should always keep out of the way of any boat that is not under command, restricted by its ability to move and maneuver, and/or engaged in fishing.

 

  1. When passing through a narrow channel, keep as close to the outer edge as possible.

 

  1. Non-commercial powerboats must give way to sailboats unless the sailboat is overtaking the vessel. However, sailboats should try to stay out of the way of large vessels and ferryboats; these larger ships are more difficult to slow or change direction, especially in narrow channels.

 

How Sails Work and Move

Sailboats utilize sails to catch wind, allowing them to move forward. However, “catching the wind” is only possible when the boat is sailing downwind; the rest of the time, the sail works to conduct movement. Here are some basic explanations of how your sail will work in varying wind conditions.

 

  • A sail will “lift” or move toward the lower-pressure side of the boat, causing the hull to move. This happens because sails are curved like wings, which allow air traveling over the topside to travel faster than air traveling on the underside. The curvature of the sail is known as the “draft,” and it is built into the material by the sailmaker through the careful cutting and sewing of panels.

 

  • A sail’s leading edge, also known as the luff, will point into the wind when properly trimmed. This creates a higher pressure on the windward (facing the wind) side and lower pressure on the leeward (away from the wind) side.

 

  • Not all lift will move a boat forward. The direction of lift will likely be at right angles to the sail, so you may experience wind that pulls the boat sideways. However, the shape of your hull and keel, when combined with the rudder, will create enough resistance to drive the boat ahead.

 

  • The total amount of lift will work to pull the boat forward, but the amount of sideways movement depends on your “point of sail.” This is the angle between the boat and the wind. The closer you are to the wind, the more sideways the boat will pull—the sail is trimmed in closer to the centerline of the boat. See below for a point of sail diagram.

 

Most sailboats will move a bit sideways and ahead depending on the direction of the wind and point of sail. This is when tacking and jibing become important.

 

Top Five Tips for Clean and Green Sailing

Environmental hazards sit at the heart of boating. Though sailboats are not the primary perpetrators of pollution and environmental destruction, sailors should remain cautious and respectful of their environment. Whether your sailboat has a motor, runs on wind power alone, or can sleep a full family, there are ways to significantly reduce your boat’s drain on environmental resources. Below, we have included five tips for clean and green sailing.

 

Fuel carefully. If your sailboat has a motor and/or uses fuel, keep your engine well-tuned to prevent leaks. Secure and oil-absorbent pad or pillow in your bilge and under the engine where drips may occur. Check your pads frequently and dispose of them as hazardous waste at a marina. When changing your oil, use a pump to transfer oil into a spill-proof container. Prevent fuel spills by filling your fuel tank slowly, and never “top off” or overflow your tank.

 

Minimize in-water cleaning and maintenance. Save all cleaning and maintenance projects for off-season boatyard stays. If you perform work on the water, do your best to contain waste. Use tarps and vacuum sanders to collect all drips and debris for proper disposal.

 

Choose your paint wisely. Soft-sloughing antifouling paints often have heavy metals, which discharge into the water. Use only non-abrasive underwater hull cleaning to prevent excessive paint discharge and use less toxic or nontoxic paint when possible. Dry storage reduces the need for antifouling paints and saves money.

 

Control your waste. Always keep your trash on board. Never throw cigarette butts, fishing line, or garbage into the ocean. Shore-side facilities will often have receptacles for plastic, glass, metal, and paper. Similarly, properly dispose of hazardous waste, which includes paints, batteries, antifreeze, cleaning products, and oil.

 

Reduce greywater discharge. Greywater is the relatively clean waste water that comes from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other appliances. Some large sailboats may have showers, bathrooms, and sinks. Whenever possible, use a phosphate-free biodegradable soap to minimize the impacts of greywater on the marine environment. Clean dishes and take showers on shore whenever possible.

 

 

Get Your Certification

While on the water, safety should always be your highest priority. The best way to ensure maximum safety is to obtain the proper certification/licensure and subsequent education. In Massachusetts, all sailors must carry a MA boating license, card, or endorsement. For fast reference, we suggest taking a look at the Massachusetts Boater Safety Handbook.

For younger sailors, Massachusetts requires a Boater Education Card; the regulatory authority for all cards and licenses is the Massachusetts Environmental Police Boat and Vehicle Safety Bureau. The card is mandatory for boat operators between the ages of 12 and 17 years. Though there is no age restriction for boat operators, sailors under 12 years of age must operate a boat under the direct, onboard supervision of an adult. In Massachusetts, you must be at least 16 to operate a personal vessel.

To obtain a Boater Education Card or small craft license, boaters must complete an educate course and exam approved by the Massachusetts Environmental Police. Similar to a driving class and exam, the course shows students how to operate and maintain boats, explains the legal requirements for boating, and provides protocol for handling emergencies.

The classroom education offered by the Massachusetts Environmental Police is between 10-12 spread over a few days or across several weekends. To pass the course, students bust obtain a score of 80% or higher. Once you have obtained this necessary certification and licensure, you are ready to launch.

For those who want to race, teach, or gain further accreditation, becoming an ASA Certified sailor is an important step toward pursuing the sport. Having this knowledge and certification will help sailors to be confident and safe on the ocean—whether you are planning to buy your own sailboat or charter a vessel while on vacation. The American Sailing Association provides certification programs for Keelboat Sailing, Small Boat Sailing, and Multihull Sailing. For more information about how to get ASA Certified, see the organization’s website.

 

Important Terminology

Learning to sail is more than getting your sea legs. In order to truly understand the nuances of sailing and racing, you must learn important terminology. All our aspiring club members must pass a simple vocabulary test to gain entry—here are a few necessary terms to start your studying.

 

Bow—The front of the ship. This is a very important term, as all other sailing directions relate to the bow.

 

Port—The left side of the ship when facing the bow.

 

Starboard—The right side of the ship when facing the bow.

 

Aft/Stern—The back of the sailboat when facing the bow.

 

Windward—The direction in which the wind is currently blowing. Sailboats tend to move with the wind, making this a very important term.

 

Leeward—The direction opposite to the way the wind is currently blowing.

 

Rudder—A flat piece of wood, fiberglass, or metal used to steer the ship. Located beneath the boat, the rudder can be controlled via a wheel or steering mechanism at the stern.

 

Mast—­The upright post at the center of the sailboat used to secure the main sail.

 

Boom—The horizontal pole which extends from the bottom of the mast. This secures the bottom of the main sail; adjusting the boom allows the sail to capture wind, thus creating momentum and speed.

 

Jibing—A basic sailing maneuver referring to the turning the stern through the wind so that the wind changes from one side to the other. The boom of the sailboat will shift from one side to the other. This maneuver involves the boat turning directly into the wind.

 

Tacking—The opposite of jibing. This basic maneuver refer to turning the bow of the boat through the wind, resulting in a turn.

 

 

Upcoming Regattas

This is a list of upcoming Massachusetts regattas. It will be updated as races are announced, but if we have left out any important events, please let us know.

 

4/29/18—Women’s Sprints; Worcester, MA

5/5/18—New England Rowing Championships (NERC); Worcester, MA

5/11/18—NIRC; Worcester, MA

5/12/18—The Amber Zapatka Memorial Regatta FKA Lowell Invite; Lowell, MA

5/13/18—Men’s Sprints (EARC); Worcester, MA

5/19/18—USRowing Northeast Youth Championships; Worcester, MA

5/27/18—MPSRA Spring Championship; Lowell, MA

6/9/18—Provincetown Coastal Rowing Regatta & Mini Triathlon; Provincetown, MA

7/7/18—USRowing NE/Mid-Atlantic Masters Championships; Lowell, MA

7/28/18—Methuen City Sprints; Methuen, MA

9/8/18—Springfield Rockrimmon Regatta; Springfield, MA

9/15/18—CRI Fall Classic Regatta; Boston, MA

9/30/18—Textile River Regatta; Lowell, MA

10/7/18—9th Annual New England Junior & High School Regional Championship Regatta; Worcester, MA

 

Know Your Environment

Though the ocean may be our playground, it is the home for millions of species worldwide. Unfortunately, our recreational habits often collide with important habitat conservation and marine wildlife behavior. Gaining control of pollution (fueling spills), blackwater, graywater, and waste disposal is necessary for the health of local marine life but finding small ways to reduce your impact are just as essential.

Massachusetts is home to several marine ecosystems, but some are more temperamental and fragile than others. The coastal salt marshes and tide pools are among some of the most easily impacted in New England. Though motorboat activity and pollution are their primary threats, sailboats can easily harm the habitats of dozens of species with a simple mistake.

When maneuvering through these delicate ecosystems, be aware of your boat’s size and your personal noise; creatures, such as the endangered piping plover, will abandon an area (including a potential nest) if they sense danger. Additionally, do what you can to avoid grounding your boat in shallow salt marsh waters—the critically endangered Horseshoe Crab, considered to be a living fossil, enjoys basking in a shallow layer of mud along these waterways.

In addition to checking your behavior on the water, boaters can invest in eco-friendly and sustainable materials and engines—from utilizing biodiesel and reducing fuel usage to finding the most sustainable outboard engine, small choices can significantly reduce your overall impact on the surrounding environment. The Green Boating Guide is an excellent reference. For those wanting to increase their sustainability output, we recommend checking out the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management’s Clean Marina Guide, which includes strategies to reduce your personal and community environmental impact.