The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Offshore

Helen Butler

Liberty 458 Cutter
April 13th, 2015

The Fleet Group is organized by the Bluewater Cruising Association with the objective of assisting those preparing for offshore cruising. We joined the group last fall, in October 2014, and attended evening meetings every second Wednesday at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club over this past winter. Ian and I had hoped to meet other sailors also planning to head off shore this summer, but are disappointed that the majority will not be going until 2016. Still it is a very interesting group, made up of individuals and couples who either have a boat they are in the process of preparing, or who are still looking for the right one. There are about 18 people in this year’s VI Fleet Group, and over the winter we have built up a comfortable support group, with a camaraderie unique to those in the process of making their sailing dreams a reality.

Of course the idyllic, or rather romantic image I have of a “leaver”, is one who simply cuts the dock lines and departs with the rudimentary essentials, and c’est la vie. Unfortunately, I’m more the opposite, and have to admit that I write copious notes at every meeting, and have collected a library of everything cruising, from how to lay out a galley, make a series drogue and stock a ditch bag, from articles that I’ve collected from various sailing magazines and journals over the last 5 years.

VI Fleet members and presenters at a recent meeting in Victoria

VI Fleet members and presenters at a recent meeting in Victoria

What follows is a short selection of the informative topics that we have been so lucky to take part in as members of this year’s Fleet. This is just a small sample and I’m not expecting all readers to be familiar with or agree upon everything, but perhaps it will provide those who are considering the benefits of joining Fleet, with the incentive to do so:

Boat Electrical Systems

Top ten electrical troubles on a boat:

  1. Not enough attention given to in-line fuses, neatness and attention to colour coding.
  2. Incorrect terminal ends (type and size).
  3. Terminal staking causes high voltage.
  4. Unsupported wiring.
  5. Undersized wiring.
  6. Over-current protection is missing (interrupt capacity and protection of the device).
  7. Ungrounded conductors.
  8. Grounds are floating.
  9. Not good access to battery switch and should not be in the engine room.
  10. Batteries not in a vented locker.

Safety and Comfort at Sea

  • Have a secure berth while in heavy seas – it should be as wide as your shoulders, and padded with pillows. The berth should be near the center of the boat and with your feet forward.
  • Ski masks or goggles are useful when sailing in driving rain.
  • Foam strips are useful for keeping down cabin noise, by weaving around pots, bottles etc.
  • Life vests should have a crotch strap.

Single Side Band Radio

  • Persons on a pleasure craft need an operators license to operate the VHF radio. A Maritime Mobile Radio Station Licence is mandatory when operating a marine SSB or VHF in foreign waters.
  • Satellite phones are not recognized as an emergency device on a boat – partly because the phone does not broadcast an emergency.
  • Your backstay is only the top half of the antenna system.
  • Have a spare length of copper wire on board to assist in calling out, in case you lose your mast, .

Medical Issues for Cruisers

  • British Columbians can cruise offshore for up to 2 years and maintain medical coverage, as long as premiums are paid
  • Wound infections – manage early and manage aggressively. Keep clean and dry. Especially for coral cuts.
  • Always check with the locals on what fish to eat. It is surprising the number of fish that contain toxins.
  • Keep a list of medications, allergies and a medical log of events, for liability purposes.

ICOM 802

  • There is no requirement for radio operators on commercial vessels – they have been phased out with the introduction of AIS. However, they are required by law to monitor the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) in case of emergency transmissions.
  • EPIRB signals take 1 hr and 45 minutes to reach ground stations.
  • Keep lots of ferrites on board (not the four legged ferret).
  • Power the ICOM radio directly from the battery and not from the breaker panel.
  • Copper stripping for grounding doesn’t last as long as copper braid.


  • ‘Head Up’ course display is best used for collision avoidance. In head up mode, fixed objects always move down the screen.
  • ‘North Up’ is normally used for navigation.
  • Radar is real information, and is the true means of knowing what is going on around you; everything else (GPS, AIS, chart plotter) is information fed to you.
  • Primary uses of radar: collision avoidance, navigation and detection of features such as weather.
  • Rocky beaches are easier to see on radar than mud beaches that have less reflection off the radar signal.
  • Make sure to  zoom in often to check for nearby hazards.

Heavy Weather Preparation

  • Always best to do main sail reefing at the mast, because you have a clearer picture of what is going on.
  • In heavy weather, you need your systems set up so that you can do everything with one hand (the other is used for holding on).
  • Stay sails are best in poor conditions because they bring the work load lower to the deck and closer to the mast.
  • Spin locks (clutches) should be scattered all over the boat – they are very useful.
  • In preparation for heavy weather, duct tape forward hatches, charge batteries, pump bilges, shut off the chain pipe (plasticine works well), shut off galley pipes, set up lee cloths. A laminated check-list for heavy weather preparation is useful.

Lessons Learned

  • Solar activity can interfere with radio reception – and is usually worse at midday and around sunset.
  • If your laptop gets wet, drain water from it, then put it in a ziplock bag with soda crackers to dry it out.
  • ‘3 Sisters’ are waves coming from 3 different directions – they have steep peaks and break all around you.

For more information about the Fleet groups, please contact the Chapter coordinators:


  1. Christopher Kasper says:

    Fantastic advice – thanks ever so much!! The more of this that gets published on “Currents”, the better.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article Chris… These pieces only get published if members write them, so… I urge all of you who are reading Currents online to send articles in anytime!

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *