The Nautical Blog

Suddenly in Command: Spare Parts and Tools

This article was published in Winter 2020 Nor’Easter for TONE (Tartan Owners Northeast). For the rest of the series go here.

It’s 4:00pm and the last tender from Grand Cayman Island left the dock an hour ago. Everyone’s safely on board and we’re heading for Cozumel. As I prepare to get ready for dinner, I realize I lost my prescription reading glasses. I had been wearing my distance glasses; and thought I tucked my readers into their case. Nope! Now I’m stuck for the next three days unable to read or write anything.  Too late to go back and get them.  I remember wearing them to write postcards. That’s it. I have others at home, but they don’t do me any good on the yacht.

Two women I know lent me their readers. They didn’t work either. One pair kept falling off; too wide. Neither were strong enough.  I went the rest of the trip (three days) unable to read anything or write. The positive outcome was a topic for this article.  

Now is the perfect time to make a list of any repairs and updates necessary on your boat. Then take inventory of the spare parts and tools you have. Make sure you have:

  • Washers to stop leaks in the head, sinks, and fridge.
  • Bulbs – LEDs, navigation lights, flashlights, and inside cabin. LEDs last a long time. However, until they have fully run down, you don’t know they need replacing.
  • Batteries for flashlights, engines/power, radios, carbon monoxide detectors, and clocks.
  • Lines – dock, bow and stern, spring, sails, lazy jacks, and anchor.
  • Patch kit – sails and tender.
  • Mechanical fluids – oil, gas, propane, kerosene for cooking, lamps, and engines.
  • Tape – splicing, electrical, plastic for whipping, and adhesive.
  • Hoses – leaks in bilge; use T-connection and strainer.
  • Ditty bag – sailmaker’s needles and palm, sharp-nosed pliers, scissors, marlinespike, sharp knife, wax, tape, candles, matches, and electric rope cutter.
  • Miscellaneous – screws, nuts and bolts, plugs, cotter pins, nails, wire, cloth, clamps, zincs, and filters.

Wherever you get your parts and tools from, make sure they’re specifically for boats – not cars. And equal to what you are replacing. Especially for your fuel, electrical, and ventilation systems. Plus, your navigation lights. You also want to make sure they have a UL symbol, if warranted; for that added safety protection.

Keep (or start) an operations manual to log your repairs. Add an inventory page and photographs with labels pointing to each part. This helps with repairs, insurance claims and when it’s time to sell your boat.

Finally, if you wear glasses or contacts of any kind, make sure you bring an extra pair with you.  The last thing you need is to find yourself suddenly-in-command. Responsible to get everyone on board to a safe destination. And, unable to see where you are going. Unlike my trip, you may be sailing alone. No one else on board who can captain the boat for you. No one to help with repairs, navigate, read charts or any of the manuals.

Remember, boating season will be here before you know it. Start today!

Suddenly in Command: Check Your Emergency Equipment

This article was published in Winter/Spring 2019 Nor’Easter for TONE (Tartan Owners Northeast).   For the rest of the series go here.

Woohoo! Sailing season is right around the corner. That means it’s time to check your emergency (safety) equipment. There’s nothing worse than being out on the water when an emergency strikes.

Your loved one or friend becomes suddenly-in-command. They can’t find your equipment. Or, worse yet, it is old, falling apart or missing.

According to the Chapman’s Piloting book there are seven items the US Coast Guard inspects on a boat.

My list below has eight. Other items include Life raft, bilge pump, boat hook, alarms, charts, and sails for heavy weather; to name a few.

Flotation Devices (PFD) – life jackets, life slings, throwable ring or square.

Family size and friends may vary from year to year. Before you set sail this year think about who will be sailing with you. Make sure you have enough life jackets for each person.

If you’ll have little ones or pets onboard, make sure you have life jackets for them also. Check that they are out of the wrapper, clean and free from mold. Does each life jacket have a whistle, personal location beacon (PLB), light and active cartridge?

If you’re going off shore, how many life jackets have life rings on them to easily attach a jack stay? Speaking of jack stays, how many do you have and are they in good condition?

Visual Distress Signals (VDS) – Red Signal Flares, strobe light, signal mirror, flashlight, lantern, and red or orange flags.

Fire Extinguishers – If your boat is:

They need to be accessible and checked that the needle points in the green area on the valve window.

Backfire Flame Control – If you’re using gasoline powered motors, you’ll need an approved backfire flame control device.

Sound Producing Devices – To comply with navigation rules you’ll need a whistle, horn, siren and bell on board.

Navigation Lights – Make sure your lights are all in working order. If you have switched to LED lights be aware there have been safety concerns around them. They pick up interference from other electronic devices.

If you see your TV gets fuzzy or other electronics flickering or hear noise/static on your VHF radio, get an electrician out to check your wiring.

Beware. LED lights don’t burn like incandescent or florescent lights do. You won’t notice when they are burning low.

First Aid Kit – You’ll want to check your first aid kit to make sure it’s complete according to American Red Cross. That nothing has expired. Plus, that it’s easily accessible.

EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) – It is used for search and rescue. Works once it lands in the water. Alerts the Coast Guard and other services there’s an emergency. Plus gives them your location at the time. Check to make sure your EPIRB is registered; with your correct information.

There’s a new product on the market called Lifecell. It holds a lot of your emergency equipment and has an EPIRB on the bottom as well.

Remember to check with your state to learn what their guidelines are. Don’t get caught in a tangled web with the Coast Guard, police and your insurance company.

Be safe!

Suddenly in Command: Preparation is Key

“Thank you for the article – the message is fantastic – appropriate, timely and perfect. I love the photo, it speaks volumes…well done.”
Sam Swoyer, TONE

It’s funny how things happen. I struggled with this article’s topic until 2 weeks before it was due.  I was waiting for a friend at the beach when I saw this couple struggling in their inflatable dinghy. At first I thought their motor crapped out on them. Then I noticed he was trying to untangle the fishing line he ran over and dragged along for a bit. She was totally embarrassed. I immediately raised my camera and started snapping pictures knowing this would be my next article.

This article was published in Spring 2018 Nor’Easter for TONE (Tartan Owners Northeast).   For the rest of the series go here.

“The myth that you are self-reliant out there can get you killed,” says Mario Vittone, blogger for Soundings Magazine. “While the idea that everything is your fault is vital to your safety.”

We’ve all read those stories where people go overboard, get heart attacks or stranded at sea. Whether true or embellished by the media, this could happen to you or someone on your boat. So, it’s best to be prepared as much as possible. Being that it’s winter in the Northeast, it’s a great time to put your plan in place for once you set sail again. After all, this is the year you’ll be working less and spending more time on the boat. Lots of day sails with your newly retired friends from work and a few week-long trips are on the calendar with both friends and family.

couple in life raft. He's trying to untangle fishing line.

If you were ever a Scout you learned the motto “Be Prepared”. In Boy Scouts it meant you are ready, willing, and able to do what is necessary in any situation that comes along. In Girl Scouts the motto “Be Prepared” went one step further; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency. Somewhere along the line many of us forgot what it takes to be on a sailboat. Sailing, itself is fun. It’s being suddenly in command that becomes difficult; once disaster hits.

Before you set sail

There are several ways you can prepare for that day. Take classes; for example. Sometimes it can be overwhelming for a partner to learn from their mate. If that’s the case, take a class online. Or in a classroom setting. These include: boat safety, suddenly in command, navigation, First Aid/CPR, weather, and maintenance to name a few.

Make a list of what equipment is on board your vessel. Then add or replace things before you set sail. Where’s the first aid kit, flares, EPIRB? Do you know how to use each one? What happens if the head doesn’t work properly? How do you shut [it] down to avoid overflow? Put all this into a notebook. Add emergency numbers and if necessary, a list of where things are located on the boat.

Prepare your guests; once onboard

Most important! Find out if anyone else on your boat can operate it. Just in case you become incapacitated. Or at least, they can start the engine, run the boat or shut it down. This includes the VHF radio – don’t rely on a mobile phone. Cell reception on the water doesn’t work for everyone. Have them all take a turn using the radio. It’s so easy to do nowadays; especially with Automated Radio Checks (ARC). Show your guests where you keep the pfd’s and the notebook you prepared.

Remember, the key here is not to panic when you’re suddenly in command. It doesn’t do you or anyone else on the boat any good. Take action. Don’t be blind when towing the line. Be Prepared!

A Day in the Life of a Seafarer – International Seafarer Day!

Some will argue life at sea was easier back before regulations were established by the IMO, US Coast Guard and ABS. But was it really? Most of the ships were Foreign Flags. That meant long tours of duty and no union. Today you’ll find seafarers prefer American flagships; the pay is better, and they’re unionized. “There’s a lot more paperwork today,” says Third Mate Mike Loesch. “Instead of doing just the noon report, you’re now doing three reports a day.”

In 1875, nine Houses of Refuge were built along the Florida coast; between Miami and

House of Refuge - Hutchinson Island FL

House of Refuge – Hutchinson Island FL

Jacksonville; every 25 miles. Each Refuge House was commissioned by the United States Life-Saving Service. They had a keeper whose only job was to maintain the house, keep it supplied of food, clothing, and walk the beaches after the storms. When they came across a shipwrecked sailor they gave him “refuge” in their house. The men got to stay for a week or two. Some got back on ships heading north. A lookout tower was built and used to watch for enemy submarines in World War II. Over the years they’ve been operated by the US Coast Guard and the Navy. Today only one house remains in Martin County on Gilbert’s Bar. In 1976 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

This year the IMO’s theme for International Seafarer Day is well-being. Since this is a huge topic I thought I’d stay the course. And, enlist the help of a few seafarers. Tour duties last anywhere from 75 days to six months on board a ship. Before the sun even warms their faces, Third Mate Mike is on the bridge for his morning watch. Captain Tod is busy getting the morning report out before breakfast. After breakfast, Captain Tod continues his day responding to emails, handling personnel issues, payroll, orders, etc. Third Mate Mike attends to his safety inspections or maintenance if the chief mate needs it done. After lunch he relieves another third mate and stands watch till dinner. The end of his 12-hour day and another sunset. If the ship is docked, instead of standing watch on the bridge he would be in the cargo control room monitoring the cargo operations. Also making rounds on deck and checking the lines. One thing you don’t need is the ship to slip away from the dock.

Hot and cold meals are provided three times a day. Breakfast is your standard fare. Lunch and dinner offers a variety of fish, meat and a salad bar. If anyone has a food allergy, like I do, you need to let the Captain know when you board the ship. According to Civilian Mariner Wendy, I would starve on the navy’s ship. Their food is mostly deep-fried foods with a salad bar and overcooked veggies. Not exactly nutritious. I find this ironic since she’s on a logistics ship. They provide other Navy and NATO ships with fuel, parts, food and sodas.

Must be inspection day today. Tensions are high. Everyone’s stressed. Not sure why. To me an inspection is a good thing. If they find something wrong on the ship it gets reported, then fixed. Right? Well, not necessarily true. Each inspector has their own interpretation of how things should be done. Usually from first-hand experience years earlier when they crewed. Surely not how things are done today or what you were told to do. Regulations are changing all the time, and everyone is expected to adapt. However, resources are not always made available.

Woohoo! After countless sunsets of reds, pink and gray, land is finally in sight. The ship is heading into port where its crew members get to go onshore for a mental health break. The only question – is it full of security checkpoints or can you walk right off the ship and be in the middle of everything? Some guys like to get away or take a break. The ones that come in on a Foreign flagship usually head to Walmart before heading out again. Poor Wendy, that’s when she gets the busiest. She arranges travel for any of her crew members that are leaving the ship for vacation. They don’t get to leave the vessel until their replacement gets onboard. Mike and Captain Tod don’t always go ashore either. They have this philosophy work is work. I don’t always agree. Sometimes it’s good to get off the ship for a change of scenery. Even if only for a couple hours. Maybe today, a few more crew members will join the ship. That would be a great help. Just like in corporate, the crew is asked to do more with less people. According to Mike, the difference is that the office building isn’t going to run into something.

If you’ve read any of my stuff, you’ll know safety is a mega concern. Crowley Maritime puts it high on their list as well. Every meeting starts with a safety and cultural moment which includes wellness and behavior. They realize to be a high performing company they must support their employees work life balance and health. Their trainings vary depending on the ship. Its operations. The seafarers and shore-

side personnel. Each petroleum ship has magnetic signs throughout the ship. “We don’t want to be reactive,” says David DeCamp, Sr Communicator, Strategist for Crowley Maritime. “We’re thinking prevention and avoiding incidents as much as possible.” Just remember, when you’re on the ship, it’s one hand for the ship and one hand for you. Keep your balance and stay safe.

Back riding the waves, the crew appears happy. Many sunrises and sunsets later end of tour duty is fast approaching. I begin to wonder what signs to watch for that people are ready to get off the ship. Oye! How do they handle the stress? After all, my stints on recreational boats are much shorter and less crew. So, I asked around.

“When the guys get quiet,” says Mike. “If you’re standing watch with them and for four hours they don’t say one word when normally you’d be having a good conversation. After that you’ll see them start fouling things up a lot. Some guys will just explode, or they’ll do something – either conscientiously or subconscientiously – where it’s jeopardizing their job.”

Wendy says you’ll hear of someone who starts giving things away. Saying goodbye to others on the ship or just seems despondent. These are usually signs of suicide, she says. Especially, amongst the younger crew members.

When it comes time to destress, hit the gym onboard the ship or do some form of exercise. Talk with your peers and find some alone time. Regular contact with your family is also important. Especially if you’re married. It helps ease their stress as well. If email is not readily available, write those emails anyways, then once in port send them out all at once. Guaranteed the receiver will be looking forward to them. “Remember it’s important to take care of yourself,” says Captain Tod. “Not just mentally but physically. Sometimes you have-to eat that pastry at 3:00am or drink that thick coffee. Working long hours adds extra stress to your body both physically and mentally.”

Finally, it’s important to enjoy your time off. Isn’t that one of the beauties of going to sea? Somebody else is doing your job on the ship for the next 75 days or however long your tour of duty is. Get rested up. Recharge. Then get ready to get back out there for those long hitches.

Suddenly in Command: Murphy’s Law

This article was published in Summer 2017 Nor’Easter for TONE (Tartan Owners Northeast). Inc.

for previous articles go here:


by Robin G. Coles

Don’t give up your compass, VHF radio or common sense just yet.  Both brothers Murray and Murphy are coming for a visit. Murray’s the one that everybody loves. Your day out sailing goes smoothly.  The in-laws and kids are content.  It couldn’t get any better.

Murphy, on the other hand is the one you’ll encounter when you least expect him. He’s the one that puts you Suddenly-in-Command whether you’re ready or not. He’ll certainly test your patience.  Or in the case of the boat, your know-how. That’s why it’s best to prepare as best you can.

Below are different scenarios you might encounter. There are certainly a lot more.  Perhaps you’ve had some doozies.  I’m sure other boaters will share their experiences with you as well.

A good place to start is to put a list together of things that concern you.  Especially, if you’re the one who ends up at the helm. Then learn how to handle them.  Keep a notebook on the boat in a safe, dry spot. Wrapped in a plastic sleeve; preferably.  Put it someplace that’s easily accessible. Just in case you need it in an emergency.  Don’t write in a shorthand only you know.  It might not be you reading it.  Someone with little to no boating experience could be the one suddenly-in-charge handling things.

One thing for sure is don’t rely on your cell phone. Murphy likes it when there’s no cell towers in the ocean. In fact, he loves it when all cell phones go silent.

Recently a few buddies went out for a sailing trip together.  The first night out they stayed on a mooring.  And, encountered a horrific thunderstorm.  The wind lifted the boats right out of the water.  Then dropped them down like a tossed coin.  The wind generator spun like a pinwheel then snapped. No-one’s cell phones worked so they couldn’t report back that they were safe.

A few days later they ran over a lobster trap. Not once but twice. The first time they thought the expensive cutter got it. But it didn’t.

On the way back, the roller furling broke and the engine wouldn’t start.  A rain squall pushed the boat sideways right onto the beach. In the end, they called Sea Tow only to learn their membership had expired days before.

Memorial Day has passed.  Summer solstice is right around the corner. That means much more activity on the water.  Just like in scouting, prepared for whatever might hit. Go through your checklists.  Take inventory of everything on the boat. Make sure you have backups. Check your MMSI number, Sea Tow or BoatUS membership. Talk with your crew and make note of what they can or can’t handle. Go back through past issues of the Nor’easter and read the various Suddenly-in-Command articles. Of course, you can’t always see what Murphy brings to the boat. But you can make sure you invite Murray along.


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