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This article is by Paul Glatzel of Powerboat Training UK and first appeared in Sportsboat & RIB Magazine.

Cruising in a sportsboat

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!

 This 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 efficiently.

 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?

 Where 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.

 The craft: Is the craft up to it, do you have all the safety kit (eg flares, VHF, lifejackets, water etc)

 The 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.

 Weather: 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!


 RYA  -  www.rya.org.uk 023 8062 7400

 Pathfinder Powerboat Club - www.pathfinderpowerboatclub.org.uk

 Biboa (British Inflatable Boat Owners Association – RIBs only!)  www.biboa.co.uk  01902 372975

Author: Paul Glatzel is an Advanced Powerboat Instructor and runs Powerboat Training UK
Contact: 01707 322789, by email at paul@powerboattraininguk.co.uk or via www.powerboattraininguk.co.uk

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