Cruising in a
Most of us with sportsboats probably started out in
the same way – skiing, blasting around the local
bay, trips to the beach with friends and so on.
After a while though, and as your confidence grows,
you start to cast you thoughts wider, what about a
trip around the headland to the next bay, or to the
next large town or perhaps even across the channel?
What you want to do is cruise!
article aims to start you on the road towards going
cruising, we will look at the issues that you need
to consider, the qualifications you can take and the
ways to safely make your first passages. So where
do you start? The one thing that is certain is that
you will need to start to get to grips with charts
(the nautical name for a map), buoyage (those big
red and green buoys that mark channels), tides and
some basic navigation.
Most boaters start to build their knowledge by
buying a chart of their local area comparing what
they see on the chart with what they know is there.
This is a great way to learn but the chart really
can only start to make a great difference to your
use of the local area when you start to marry
reading the chart to the use of a tide table. For
example, by taking the depth of water at any given
time from a tide table and adding it to the minimum
depth you see marked on the char
t (this lowest depth
is known as chart datum or lowest
astronomical tide and represents the minimum
depth of water at that point (eg 26 =
2.6m , or 26 = 2.6m above the
water level)) you can find out what the depth will
be at any given point. If you do what I first did
and assume the tide height changes at a consistent
rate between high and low tides then you will get a
rough idea what the level will be at any time
between high and low water, use this knowledge to
navigate safely from one point to another in the
harbour and you’ve executed your first passage!. As
your thirst for adventure grows and you want to know
more about passage planning and the like then you
will probably buy a book such as Peter White’s
excellent Powerboating. Reading such a book
will soon highlight to you how much there is to
learn and its probably at this stage that you will
start to think about expanding your knowledge by
taking a course.
So what courses can you take?
RYA Powerboat Level 2: If you don’t have a
powerboat qualification then this is where you
should start. The level 2 course gives an excellent
grounding in Powerboating and if taken at a coastal
school will cover reading charts, tides and Pilotage
(using buoys and features to navigate). If you are
already an experienced powerboater then you might
consider adding a day to your course to plan and
execute a passage plan with your Instructor. Your
Instructor should marry traditional navigation
methods and GPS to give you hands on experience of
how to move between two points safely and
Motor cruising courses: Historically the difference
between the National Powerboat Scheme and the Motor
Cruising Scheme was that Motor Cruising courses were
aimed at vessels which cruised, had accommodation
and most probably were slow whereas the powerboat
courses were for boats up to about 26ft without
accommodation and were fast. Over the years the
advent of fast 26ft four berth cruisers and faster
still 40ft boats has blurred this distinction and
it’s really down to size now. (c26ft being the rough
cut-off). The motor cruising equivalent of level 2
is the Helmsman’s course but it is the Dayskipper
course which might be of interest to a powerboater
interested in cruising. The course is typically
taken over four days and assumes a level of
navigation capability similar to what level 2 would
give you. During the course though you cover course
planning and execution and thus really learn how to
put these techniques into practice in far more depth
than can be covered in level 2.
The other option is to take your Dayskipper theory
course (typically studied for at an adult education
college over the winter months) and use the very
good theoretical knowledge you will gain alongside
your existing Powerboating skills and start to
execute small passages gaining confidence before
moving onto larger and larger journeys.
So you’ve got the qualification or acquired the
knowledge and now want to cruise, what do you need
to consider before setting sail?
to go: Plan a passage that can reasonably be
achieved in an hour or two – this may not seem like
long but in a fast powerboat this can be some
distance and the concentration involved in your
first trip or two very intense. Write the passage
out detailing bearings, significant features or
marks, distance to travel, speed/time. Write this up
and seal it in a plastic wallet for use on board.
craft: Is the craft up to it, do you have all
the safety kit (eg flares, VHF, lifejackets, water
crew: If there is any question as to whether
they are up to the passage you have planned then the
passage is too tough! Remember that invariably a
crew will ‘fail’ before your boat does and that for
safety’s sake someone else on board should be able
to handle the craft if you are incapacitated.
Let someone know: Make sure someone knows where
you are going and arrange to call them when you are
there, make sure they know what boat you have , what
make it is, colour schemes etc so that if they do
need to alert the coastguard they can describe it
somewhat better than the typical “err, its white
with a blue canopy” Even better, use the Coastguard
CG66 scheme to record a detailed description of the
craft with the Coastguard.
Should you go at all? Even seemingly fairly
insignificant winds can cause problems if you
haven’t factored into consideration wind against
tide conditions around the local headland.
Damage limitation: Factor into your plan escape
routes in case you run into trouble and need to make
for the nearest safe haven, does the tide give you
clearance over the harbour bar, where do you moor?
Go in company: Its more fun in a pair and
infinitely more relaxing if another boat is with
you. Better still join a club and cruise in company
with others. Clubs such as Biboa and the Pathfinder
Powerboat Club are great places to start.
Hopefully this article has given you a flavour for
what to do and has whetted your appetite to cruise.
Around the UK we have a beautiful coastline and
there’s no better way to boat than getting away from
the crowded bay cruising with others against a
backdrop of rugged unspoilt cliffs – happy cruising!
Pathfinder Powerboat Club
(British Inflatable Boat Owners Association – RIBs