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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

Passage Planning - routeing

chartHaving a passage plan is not only both good seamanship and common sense, it's a legal requirement. A passage plan doesn't have to be a 50-page written document. But it should certainly be written down, not only to show that you have done your homework, but also to act as a reminder to yourself and as vital information for the crew, should you become incapacitated.

I use a plain A4 lined book for my log which I buy from the local stationers. I only rule in the columns just before I start a voyage, so the passage plan can be integrated into the log along with essential notes. I find that the commercially produced logs seem to try to include too much detail, which can be confusing.

Rule 34 of the Safety of Life at Sea regulations start with routeing. A lot of your passage planning can be done days, if not weeks, in advance. I enjoy that bit of it, as it heightens the anticipation of the voyage. I find it also gives me time for the passage to 'sink in'.

The first thing I do is to get hold of a chart that covers the entire passage, so that I can see it whole, as it were. For a short passage of a few days or so, the voyage can probably be covered by a chart you can buy from local chandlery.

For a longer passage, particularly one of more than 1,500 miles, there are routeing charts you can buy, or if you're like me, you can have a look at Google Earth, which in my view is a great place to get an over-view of the passage. You can even zoom in on the various marinas en route, and the ruler measures in nautical miles as well!

If you are doing this for the first time on a paper chart, it can help to pencil in your proposed route. Once you've done that, check to see where your route goes near, or crosses, any concentrated shipping lanes, traffic separation schemes, or simply the entrance to a busy commercial harbour.

Make a mental note of pinch-points, because they may not be obvious at first sight. For example, if you are rounding a headland, it may well be that other ships will want to do the same as you, and you can expect a higher density of traffic at that point, particularly if there is plenty of deep water.

Commercial shipping will not want to waste fuel and time going a long way offshore if they can creep inland a few miles off the coast in order to round a headland. The strait off Europa point, Gibraltar is an excellent example of a pinch point, where lots of shipping going in all sorts of directions concentrates in once place. Many such pinch points are governed by traffic separation schemes, but many are not, and it's up to you, as skipper, to anticipate them.

Mark the passage planning chart with possible hazards, learn the rules for crossing a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS), and during the voyage, warn the crew. I often say something like 'we should begin to see more traffic as we get nearer to buggins point', just to keep them aware of the risks without worrying them unduly.

Local knowledge is also helpful, particularly when it comes to fishing fleets, which can be very confusing, if not a little frightening , for even an experienced skipper at night. Be aware of possible exclusion zones - the thousand metre distance required between a large ship and small craft in the area. Solent yachtsmen will be aware of them, but they exist in other places too.

The passage planning chart is the place to start, not only from a routeing point of view, but also in terms of planning the various legs of the journey, and any ports of refuge, or 'cut outs'. I usually take a pair of dividers, walk a day's sail across the chart, and see where it gets me.

Playing around with the dividers on the passage planning chart really helps get to understand the options for the passage, and gets you familiar with the route. Whilst it may only lead to a couple of sentences at the start of the passage plan, I find that time spent getting to know the route is essential.

And that's really what a passage plan is all about - making sure the skipper has looked at the voyage in detail, assessed the route, noted possible shipping lanes and pinch points, and taken them into account.
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