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GMDSS A User's Handbook

By Denise Bréhaut

GMDSS A user's handbook








The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) provides a fast and efficient way of calling for assistance at sea, whatever the size of craft or its geographical position. Since it was first published, this book has helped explain the system for anyone using GMDSS and has been excellent pre-course reading for students.



SafaSail HatThe SafaSail Hard Hat looks just like a sailing cap, but will help protect you if you get a bang to the head.  See our review here

Astro Navigation - Some starting points

RYA Diesel Engine Course

Volvo Diesel Engine cut awayConclusion: An essential course, but choose a school that offers real, working engines.

Engine breakdown at sea is one of the most common reasons for calling out the lifeboat!  Which is probably why the RYA encourage all leisure craft owners and users to do the short, one-day Diesel Engine course.

Now, I’ve been knocking around boats and engines since I was a lad, and on the few occasions I’ve had problems with an engine at sea, I’ve usually been able either to fix it or work around it.  But on at least one of those occasions, I would have been well and truly stuck if I hadn’t had a mast and a set of sails to get me back home! And, if I’m completely honest, I’m a sailor at heart and my diesel engine knowledge is scratchy.  So I decided that one of the targets this year would be to do the RYA diesel engine course.

Read more: RYA Diesel Engine Course

Astro Navigation - Some starting points

BarometerThere are all sorts of ways to learn Astro Navigation. You can enroll on an RYA shore-based course at one of the sailing schools.  Costs for this are around £400, and vary from school to school.  Or you can do an RYA Correspondence course from somewhere like Centaur Sailing or Tiller.  These are cheaper, and Centaur give you the option of a ‘non supported’ course where you self-learn, or for £100 more, you can be supported by a tutor.  All the RYA courses end up with an assessment, either at home (for correspondence courses) or at a sea school (exam conditions are needed for anyone studying for Master of Yachts).  You will end up with a Certificate (provided you pass the relatively straightforward end-of-course assessment) which will exempt you from the exam at your exam for Ocean Yachtmaster – but you will still need the Ocean Passage and a set of sights to submit to the examiner.

However, if you’re just interested in learning for the sake of it, there’s no need to spend too much money.  There are some excellent resources available online. Backbearing is a site dedicated to Astro Navigation, and gives a lot of resources, as well as links to other sites.  And for a completely free, comprehensive course on Astro Navigation, you couldn’t do much better than the Celestial Navigation Course website,  Then there’s the Short Guide to Astro Navigation at which has some useful resources.

And there’s no real need to buy expensive sight reduction tables either, because the United States provide them free of charge (they assume that because the tax payer has already paid for the service, they shouldn’t be charged twice – something our Government could learn from).

There isn’t a single ‘standard’ way of doing sight reductions.  They all involve the same process, but the various pro-formas – blank calculation sheets to help you avoid errors – differ as much as the methods do.  For example, the pro-formas that underpin Centaur Sailing’s course are very different to the ones published by Tom Cunliffe in his excellent little book.

Pro-formas are a necessary evil, because it is VERY easy to make minor mistakes early on in the calculations that then cascade down to create large errors in the position line.  And choosing which pro-forma, or which method, to use is a bit ‘hit and miss’ for the novice. However, Tom Cunliffe’s method is fairly straightforward, and after a bit he claims that you can bypass the proformas.

Is it difficult to learn?  No, not really.  Becoming reasonably competent is a matter of getting used to some basic maths, looking up things in tables, and possibly (if you are that sort of person) learning how to use a scientific calculator.  Personally, I prefer pencil and paper.

So if you’re thinking about it, why not ‘have a go’?  You will probably be able to help the editor as he struggles with it all!

Ocean Sailing - Tom Cunliffe

Ocean Sailing by Tom CunliffeWe start this section by pointing you to the most basic tutorial on Astro.  This small primer by Tom Cunliffe is a simple guide to Astro Navigation based on (a) the RYA Yachtmaster Ocean syllabus, and (b) the use of the Nautical Almanac and AP3270. It is probably the best place to start if you want to learn, and the method of sight reduction is fairly straightforward.  It will teach you the basics of the Intercept method of fixing a positiion line, and if you digest the content and create your own sight reduction pro-formas, it will enable you to reduce your own sights at sea, provided you carry the current Nautical Almanac (no, not Reeds;  the one published by the UK Hydrographic office) and the appropriate copies of AP3270.

Therein lies the problem.  AP3270 is a three-volume publication, and each volume is A3 size and HEAVY!.  But this is the method currently favoured by the RYA, and Tom's book will (a) teach you the basics of Astro, and (b) get you through the RYA course because it uses the same methodology.

Tom concentrates on Astro in this book, but at the end there's a small section  on revolving tropical storms and what you need to know to get out of danger if faced with the possibility of meeting one.  And he deals briefly with Ocean passage planning and gnomic charts.

At around £12 you can't really waste your money on this one.

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