Sailing Rules of The Road: Avoiding other boats!
Keep these thoughts in mind when you are sailing near other boats, especially big vessels:
- Be mindful when you are around barges/tugboats since their towing cables are underwater and can get extremely long. You might think you have a safe channel to sail into but you really don’t (The last thing you want to happen is to run into one of the cables). The barge is linked to the tugboat via this cable. Stear clear and don’t try and time your passage or try to be Moses in Exodus!
- These tugboats usually have massive blind spots that can carry longer than a football field! Make sure to locate the pilot house in these tugboats. If you can’t see it then rest assured the pilot can’t see you.
- The larger the ship the harder it is to turn it. When these massive vessels are stopped they have zero turning power. Make sure you do everything in your power to avoid them because if they are coming right at you, there may be no way to avoid them in certain situations. That can spell disaster for you, your crew and your sailboat.
- Bigger ships can really get in the way of the wind you were hoping for! Wind gusts change course when interfered with, so don’t be surprised if you are hampered by these large ships taking the UMFF! out of your sails.
- The bigger your boat is the more important checking for buoys/channel indicators to make sure the water depth is deep enough for your boat! You don’t want your boat to run aground!
- Larger ships can toss your boat around because of the impact of the larger ship’s wake which generates large waves, larger then your smaller boat may be able to handle.
- Five or more whistle blasts means there is danger afoot! It’s equivalent to hearing an ambulance or fire truck sirens. Get out of there way as soon as possible!
- If you see a naval ship (US Navy emblazoned on the ship, can’t really miss it) then you must know to stay 100 yds or more away from these vessels. Start slowing down if they are 500 yds away. These are homeland security regulation rules.
If you can’t avoid two boats from meeting then remember that moving sailboats must do everything in their power to avoid a sailboat the other stopped sailboat. Also, remember that sailboats always have a right of way over power boats, with the exception of large commercial sailboats and fishing boats. As we alluded to earlier, larger ships can’t maneuver all that well, so these rules are in place to protect other boats from relying on these large ships to avoid catastrophes.
Sailing fail! Right-of-way Mishaps!
When the inevitable happens and you just cannot do anything to avoid crashing into another vessel, make sure you do not point fingers while it is right about to happen! When the time comes, you need to act and act fast no matter who has the right of way. Don’t be that person who waits for the other vessel to respond to the collision that awaits. Be swift and self-convincing that you will do whatever you can to avoid as much damage as possible. Who knows, you may have not immediately read the situation correctly and you may still have time to get out of the way! Do not assume anything, especially that the other boat sees you. Something could have happened to the skipper on the other boat and the boat may be on autopilot.
Points of Sail: Chart
Comprehension of the how critical wind is to your boat and routing the sailboat to its correct course minute by minute takes a lot of experience and wherewithal. We are ready to go sailing! Having great seamanship goes beyond just handling/navigating a ship. It means to do with respect to all the elements! It means to respect the journey and be thankful for how unbelievable the world of sailing can truly be. First, you must understand the relationship of wind to sail and how powerful these two forces, when acted up another, can be. Check out this point of sail chart just to give you an idea of just how many directionals there are when sailing.
When you first start out, you are really allowed to mess up the terminology and sailor jargon, but there is no way you can get away with not comprehending points of sail (not so much the words but the actions). You can think of it like a clock, as the wind blows in from 12:00. The dead area or no sail zone between 11:00 and 1:00 basically indicates that there is no possible way to sail a boat facing within that zone ( as stated many times before, you cannot sail directly or close to directly wind-facing, it is physically impossible). Pointing the bow of your sailboat in any other zone of this diagram is very possible!
So what does the rest of the diagram indicate? It shows an additional 3 main zones:
- From the edges of the Dead Area or no-sail zone, you have the close-hauled zone. When you hear someone referring to sailing upwind, sailing windward, or beating the are referring to sailing in the close-hauled zone. It is the closest course taken into the wind that is plausible. This can be argued to either be at 10:30 or 11:00 on a clock-face through 1:00 or 1:30
- Any zone between close-hauled and running zone will be your reaching zone.
- Anytime you are pointed directly (dead) behind the wind, you are in the running zone, sailing the with a tailwind. This is around 5:30-6:30 and anywhere in between, including 6:00
Points of Sailing: No Sail Zone
The dead no-sail zone is 45 degrees on both the starboard side and the port side. Unfortunately, a sailboat is unable to harness any power from its sails in this zone and will eventually just stop. Even if you try pulling your sails in all the way to stop the luffing, they will still luff in the wind in this zone.
You will know you have entered the no-sail zone (from a sail zone) when your luffing (front edge of sails) edges start to luff a small amount. You will notice this luffing edge start to bubble while your boat starts to slow down! If you are directly facing 12:00 winds, you will notice that your luffs go out of control, flapping violently as the sailboat comes to a complete stop!
If you find yourself in this no-sail zone for a bit of time, you will eventually start to feel the boat going backward! This phenomenon is termed getting in irons. However, sailing gives you a lot of options to stop your boat from heading into the Twilight Zone! So how do we avoid this zone?
Fastest Point of Sail: Close Hauled Zone
Tacking in a zig-zag route comes into play here. Just like traveling up a mountain range, you don’t go straight through the mountain but you wind around it.
So, tacking in the close-hauled zones is the key. If you can learn to tack and stay on the close-hauled edges then you can practically sail anywhere, in most any conditions. Study the image to the left and really try and understand it. Sailing in the close-hauled zone will be your fastest point of sail. You would then have to trim them properly
Trimming Sails For Speed: How do we sail in any direction in the sailing zone and fast!?
To sail in the sailing zone, all we need to do is utilize the trimming technique on the main and jib sails(if we have a jib). Trimming just means to pull in the lines. You can also use a cleat while turning the boat away from a front facing wind. In order to pick up some speed, the proper trimming angles in relation to the wind must be executed. For close-haul sailing, pull the lines n as tight as you can without over tightening. When you are running downwind, let the sails out as loose as possible. While you are reaching (the midpoint of sail routes), trimming need only be half way in and half out. Easy to remember since this is the halfway point.
Point Of Sail Diagram: More in-depth
As far as the no-sail zone, each boat was not created equally! Many sailboats made for speed with high-grade keels and really well-made sails can sail nearly 20-30 ° closer to direct facing wind. So the 90 ° no-sail zone designation becomes more like a 60 ° zone. Wind force can also directly affect the size of the dead area. When there are really strong winds, the zone narrows for most sailboats depending on the efficiency of their foils (sails, rudder and keel systems). When winds are weaker the no-sail zone actually widens because your foils naturally become inefficient in relation to the wind! Crazy right!?
Sail Trim Theory: Warning
Make sure you really grasp the art of trimming because it really encompasses everything the sails need to push the boat along and maneuver. If your boat slows down to a point, it can lose the capacity to steer on any given point of sail fairly quickly, so be extra careful. Make sure not to just randomly choose to stop in an area unless you know for certain that you ample room to restart your motion without coming in contact with any other vessels.
Sailing Wind Direction: Is it important?
As you should know by now, sailboats need wind to move, point blank! Unless you have an engine rigged up you will literally go nowhere without wind pushing your sails. Remember too, that it would be a fool’s errand to try and tackle elements that are too advanced for the sailor’s current ability and asking for instruction/demonstration before taking on a new challenge is always the smart thing to do. As a beginner, your first trip should be light to moderate as far as conditions go.
Gauging the wind’s direction is an extremely important skill to have when sailing. The wind’s direction can be compared to locating and pinpointing the North Star for a rambler looking to figure out the right path to take on their journey. You must always know which direction it is while on the sailboat in order to take the best course of action. Wind directions will change constantly and your skills need to show up when deducing which way they are changing. This is hands down the most important skill you will learn in the sport of sailboating. So practice just feeling out the wind and become engulfed in learning how wind works. Once you master this, you are well on your way to become a pro sailor!
How To Read Wind Shifts Sailing?
Since it is crucial to know which direction the wind is coming/ going at all times, so is learning the methods of figuring out how to read the winds and tracking them.
The quickest and most accurate way of learning how to track wind is by feeling it. There are wind trackers out now that really works well for tracking wind. However, We still like the tried and true method of just feeling. It won’t cost you much either, just a little bit of cognitive energy! Your body/face can really do a great job of tracking wind. Try closing your eyes and turn your body until you feel the wind blowing right in your face. Now rotate your body/head in order to feel the wind on both sides of your face. You will know you are facing the wind when the wind strength and sound of the wind is roughly the same on both sides.
Really try this technique until you get it down pat. You never know when you may need it when all the other options may not be so available. It is also extremely accurate so be confident in your deduction. The wind tends to shift frequently in both force and direction. The biggest skill you can have as a sailor is reading the wind.
Reading Wind on the Water: Sailing Tactics Wind Shifts
If you want to learn additional methods other then feeling the wind, then you are in luck! There are many things you merely just glace over at to give you a reading besides digital wind tracker systems. If you have a flag at the high end of the mast, this can give you a pretty solid reading of how the wind is blowing. Watch how it flaps, and then watch how the sails are flapping. You can even attach a string to really any line on the boat and watch it blow in the wind to give you a solid reading. You’ll be able to tell the strength of the winds too just by watching how hard the strings are being whipped around. You can also learn what the wind is doing by looking at how the waves are rippling in a dark patch of ocean water.
Once you get a solid base down for reading wind direction, you will really begin to advance in learning how to read wind strength/speed just by looking at the water. Whitecaps, which are breaks in the waves (that form the white splash you see) start to take form at around 11-12 knots speed of the wind. If you are just starting out, you really don’t want to be out at sea if the knot reading is any higher then 12 knots, unless you have an experienced sailor with you. Always stay cool, calm and collected and if you feel like you don’t know which line to use then take a deep breath and feel out which direction the wind is coming from.