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

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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

That useful transit

East CardinalThe difference between a good navigator and an average navigator is that a good navigator knows he needs to spend most of his time on deck, and that when you're close to land, good pilotage is safer than drawing lines on a chart.

You will, of course, have drawn in your tidal curve before leaving so you can do the tidal adjustments in your head. Rounding up to the nearest metre is usually OK - after all, a metre either way isn't often likely to be a problem, unless you're entering a shallow harbour or in some other tricky place.

I try to do that kind of pilotage housekeeping the night before I go, along with a pilot plan. I have a good, old fashioned A4 lined pad. It has the passage plan, with marks and special points, cut outs, and other things on it - in a kind of shorthand that I have evolved over time.

One of the most useful tools a pilot has is the good, old fashioned transit. No variation or deviation to worry about. No tricky lines to draw. Provided you have identified the right marks, then you know absolutely, without a shadow of doubt, that you are somewhere on a line projected from mark A through mark B.

And given that most transits point out to sea, and that the sea usually gets deeper the further you get from the coast, a transit and a depth are just wonderful! So when Smoking Chimney comes into transit with Luminous Light, and your depth reads 28 metres on a sloping seabed, you know more or less exactly where you are.

This kind of transit will give you a Line of Position, or LOP. You know that you are somewhere along that line of position - one dimension is absolutely accurate. All you need to find is something else that will fix your position along that line.

Another transit is the very best - after all, a single absolute line of position cut by a second absolute line of position is an absolute fix. Better than the GPS! But rarely does that happen. So you need to scratch around for something to fix you on the transit's LOP.

I usually look first at the depth, for two reasons. First of all, a contour line is usually a fairly accurate LOP in its own right. It may be a curly LOP, twisting and turning with a life of its own, but LOP it is none the less. But secondly, I have had to train myself to keep an eye on the depth anyway, and it's a good safety check.

No point knowing you are 'on' with Smoking Chimney and Luminous Light if you only have a foot of spare water under the keel on a falling tide! A glance at the depth when you are 'on' and you know instantly which way you need to turn, if correction is needed.

Some transits are carefully marked for you on the chart. Some are just 'there', waiting to be discovered. My first thought when making a pilot plan is usually: 'what transits can I find? ' Often, you only discover them by looking, once you're there. That tree, or that rock, or even that fisherman (if he stands still for long enough) can be your front mark, against a distant building, or tree, or couple kissing on the grass behind if necessary.

The exit from Treguier can be a bit tricky, with all the back bearings marked in the pilot. But there are a few distinctive rocks that you can use as a back transit, and they tell you instantly, immediately, and without a shadow of doubt, if you are being set the wrong way, and which way to steer to correct.

The second kind of transit is almost always marked for you on the chart, and often in the pilot book. That's the 'leading transit', that guides you along the narrow deep water channel between mud flats, or takes you up a course of 272.7 degrees when giving the poor helmsman that course would be worse than nonsense.

Just keep the two marks in line - steering to port or starboard as necessary - until the marina opens up, or the light goes from red to white, or whatever the next step is. Again, Treguier (or is it Morlaix?) has a wonderful set of transits, all marked with white crosses, that guide you up the narrow river to the town until you get to the row of tiny red buoys that seem to be right in the middle of the channel, but which, if you go the wrong way round them, stick you firmly on the mud just outside the lock!

But the third kind of transit is often the best, and that's the one you use when approaching a mooring, or picking up a buoy, or guiding the yacht in a man overboard situation, or even when trying assess whether a ship in the middle distance is on a collision course or not.

I will often use one of the stays, or a guardrail stanchion, or even the left hand edge of the spray hood. As long as both you and it stay reasonably still, you can use it to judge whether you are drifting to the right or the left of a chosen object on shore, or in the sea.

One sea school I know puts a bit of red tape on the guardrail on the inner side of the second and third stanchion, so that students can 'aim' just off the bow and get the 'pick up' right. All of these are using transits, and once you know how to use them, they rarely fail.
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