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How to avoid expensive mistakes when you buy a new or second-hand yacht. 

Available on Amazon here


Icom IC-M35We review the Icom IC-M35 handheld.  Read the full review here.

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


T S Royalist deserves our gratitude

T S RoyalistEditorial

Any accidental death at sea is a tragedy.  The death of Jonathan Martin, a 14 year old sea cadet, when he fell from a yard on the fore mast of the sail training ship TS Royalist on 2 May 2010 is more than tragic; he had his whole life before him, and was doing something he clearly loved.

The Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) Report, published this week, has inevitably raised issues for the Sail Training world. Very few organisations, subjected to such minute, detailed and professional scrutiny, would not be found wanting in some respect.  We do not live in a perfect world.

What is crystal clear from a careful reading of the report is that the past and present staff of T S Royalist, the Marine Society and the Sea Cadet Corps, deserve our gratitude and our respect for the safe training and experience they have given to many thousands of young people over the 39 years that T S Royalist has been in service.  Sail Training is an inherently risky business.  But young people need to learn and experience both risk and its management.  This was the first fatality on board TS Royalist in her 39 years, and whilst any fatality is a tragedy, set against the 30,000 cadets who have sailed on her since she entered service in 1971, her safety record is outstanding.

Read more: T S Royalist deserves our gratitude

RYA has questions to answer about Coding prosecutions

The successful prosecution of two 'Recognised' RYA Sail Training centres by the MCA for operating inadequately coded vessels with inadequately qualified skippers, and their consequent  'derecognition' by the RYA is a timely warning to all commercial yachtsmen and women.  But it also raises a number of questions that will not be resolved simply by prosecutions.

Firstly, the two sailing schools concerned will have been rigorously checked, and their yachts inspected by the RYA, before being granted recognition. Whilst it would be unfair to expect the RYA to monitor every aspect of every sailing school, these two failures highlight a weakness in the RYA accreditation system. It is possible, under the present system, for a school to be granted 'Recognition' as an accredited RYA Sail Training Centre with a yacht coded for category 1 or 2 voyages - those no more than 60 or 150 miles from a safe haven - and then to use their yachts (albeit illegally) for category 0 voyages, as appears to have happened in these two cases.

Combined with concerns raised over a number of years about the practice of running 'novice to Yachtmaster Ocean' courses with the barest minimum of experience for the students, it may well be time for the RYA to consider granting Sailing Schools ‘restricted recognition’, say, for passages of up to 60 or 150 miles from a safe haven, or 'unrestricted recognition' for passages over 150 miles from a safe haven.  That way, clients would be able to check whether their sailing school and its yachts are operating within the limits of its licence, and the RYA could provide much needed increased monitoring of those sailing schools offering 'Zero to Hero' courses.

Secondly, the level of pay for a qualified skipper working for a 'Recognised' Sail Training establishment is often barely above the minimum wage.  Many are paid no more than £140 a day, and given that the skipper is legally responsible for the safety of the vessel and all on board 24 hours a day, whether  he or she is on board or not, this works out at a little under £5.84 an hour. Most commercial yacht skippers are freelance, and there is no trade organisation that fights for better remuneration or working conditioins, and so the temptation for commercial yacht skippers to earn extra money by 'stretching' the boundaries of their qualifications is considerable.  The RYA has consistently and publicly refused to intervene on matters of pay and conditions, saying that this is a matter for sailing schools themselves.

Thirdly, even when properly qualified and sailing appropriately coded yachts, freelance skippers working for Sailing Schools are often pressed to take students sailing when prudence would suggest staying in harbour.  A group of students, unknown to each other or the instructor, can arrive at a Sailing School yacht late on a Friday evening, tired after a week's work, and with no knowledge of the yacht apart from a short safety briefing.  The School expects the instructor to take them sailing immediately 'because they have paid', when any sensible person would let them have at least one night alongside to rest, get to know the yacht and each other, and for the instructor to assess their capabilities before setting off. Again, the RYA has said that this is a matter for the sailing schools.

The RYA and MCA deserve our gratitude for improving safety at sea over many years, but if neither of them are prepared to intervene on behalf of the freelance skippers on which they and their Sailing Schools rely, then there may need to be some independent organisation formed that will tackle these issues without having to pull its punches for fear of upsetting the interests of the 'Recognised' Sailing Schools.

RYA Flare advice is sensible and timely

FlaresIn an editorial in January 2009, we here at Sailers asked the question ‘are flares outdated’?   We argued that pyrotechnics were (a) dangerous in themselves, and we quoted the tragic accident caused by a misfiring flare in 2006 to an RYA Instructor, (b) of little use unless they were used within the visible horizon of another ship based or shore based observer - and were actually seen!, and (c) had been replaced by much more reliable distress alerting technology, such as the EPIRB and DSC Radio automatic distress alert.

Our comments were endorsed by Teki Dalton, an Australian Sailing School Principal and author of 'Sea Safety for Small Craft', who wrote to Sailers after our editorial appeared, saying that in demonstrations of at least 140 in-date distress flares, 37 failed to activate. “Fifteen of them failed to activate because the string attached to the metal pull tag came out of the firing pin.”

The RYA has acted sensibly and after due consideration of the issues.  We strongly endorse their conclusions.  Orange smoke canisters are very useful, not only in identifying a casualty from amongst a throng of yachts in the crowded Solent, but also for indicating wind direction at the casualty, and marking its presence in daylight.  Anyone who has seen an Orange smoke flare in action knows only too well how useful it is.  But the risk to life and limb in carrying other pyrotechnics, which are in effect controlled explosions waiting to happen, has to be balanced by the availability of more reliable distress  alerting technology.

The EPIRB, and its smaller brother the PLB, are both superb tools, especially when combined with a GPS that automatically sends the position of the casualty. However, there are some issues that need to be considered even with the EPIRB.  As Teki Dalton wrote in his letter to Sailers: 

“Only some of the most recent 406/121.5MHz PLB’s are waterproofed and buoyant; some only buoyant in a pouch. They all require the aerial to be extended and be manually activated. The activation process requires two hands and manipulation of tiny buttons and switches. PLB’s are most effective when the aerial remains vertical and the unit is held level at water level. Not any easy thing to do in a MOB survival situation, in a big sea with cold wet fingers.

We are led to believe that those PLB’s with GPS will give a location accuracy to the value of the global locality of the GPS system. What is not generally known is that  there are two systems in play; the COSPAS-SARSAT, INSAT-GOES satellite systems and the GPS satellites. When the GPS information is transferred it is by a 32 bit system that can only give an accuracy to approximately 120 metres, not the 4-5 metres expected from the GPS system.”

In other words, know the limitations of the emergency equipment you carry, and practice using it as far as possible under emergency conditions. This is particularly true of the DSC VHF Radio.  How many of us could, in an emergency in the dark, use the red button properly? 

The RYA has acted wisely and sensibly in providing this revised advice, and all leisure craft skippers should download the table, read it, and carry a copy on board. But the RYA now needs to revise its training advice to sailing schools and instructors, so that the use of the Red Button on the DSC VHF radio is not only explained in a safety brief, but (so far as possible without setting the thing off) its use is practiced and understood by every crew member on board. Unlike the string on the end of a flare, the use of the Red Button is complicated and easily forgotten, so training needs to happen regularly, as part of every safety brief before a yacht departure.  The same needs to be done for the EPIRB and the PLB.

Reeds Online is worth waiting for


Reeds Almanac 2011The thing I’m most looking forward to using, having seen it in action at the London Boat Show, is Reeds Nautical Online. And one of the best things about it is that – unlike so many of the other tempting goodies on show at ExCel – it’s not going to cost anything.

Well, OK, you have to buy a Reeds Almanac to qualify to use it, but like many thousands of other yachties, I buy one of those anyway, and have done for years, and would have done with or without the online add-on, so to my mind, that makes it a free extra.

Read more: Reeds Online is worth waiting for

RYA adds logic to the confusion

RYA LogoToday's announcement changing the name of the RYA Coastal Skipper ticket to Yachtmaster Coastal should come as no surprise to those who hang around the RYA circuit.  It's been on the cards for a while, along with possible changes to the Yachtmaster Ocean certificate. 

There is some logic to the change.  The take-up for the Coastal Skipper course, let alone the independent exam, was poor, and the RYA is, after all, a business.  It needs to generate more revenue from its main income earners and what better way than to add yet another 'Yachtmaster' qualification to the pack?

And there is also some logic to the name changes.  Yachtmaster Coastal, Yachtmaster Offshore, and Yachtmaster Ocean now form the three levels of competence for yachtsmen internationally. 

Read more: RYA adds logic to the confusion

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