Archive for January, 2009

Your 121.5 MHz EPIRB is out of date

Friday, January 30th, 2009

If you still own a 121.5 MHz EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and plan to rely on it in the event of an emergency, you are putting the lives of your crew and yourself in grave danger.

From 1 February 2009 monitoring of the 121.5 MHz beacons will cease.

Buy and register a 406 MHz EPIRB before setting out to sea. Remember, you must register your EPIRB with the appropriate authorities (see below). Failure to register may slow the rescue and lead to loss of life. The good news is that registration is free.

Australian Marine Safety Authority (AMSA)

New Zealand
Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ)

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)
Registration is a legal requirement.

NOAA SARSAT Beacon Registration
Failure to register leads to a fine.

Other Countries
The COSPAS-SARSAT website has an alphabetical listing of countries and their registration authorities.

Disposal of old EPIRBs and batteries
In Australia 121.5 EPIRBs and old batteries may be taken to Battery World for recycling or safe disposal.
Battery World

Twilight – How is it defined?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Did you know that there are three twilights?
• Civil twilight
• Nautical twilight
• Astronomical twilight

Well, four if you count the name given to yacht races that start in the late afternoon and finish before dark.

In fact, it should be remembered that twilight occurs before sunrise as well as after sunset.

The definitions depend on where the centre of the Sun is in relation to the horizon.

Civil twilight is after sunset when the centre of the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon and before sunrise when it’s 6 degrees below the horizon.

Similarly, nautical twilight in the evening occurs when the centre of the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. In the morning it’s when the centre of the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon.

Finally, in the evening astronomical twilight is when the centre of the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon, i.e. after nautical twilight. In the morning it is when the centre of the Sun is 18 degrees below the horizon, i.e. before nautical twilight. After astronomical twilight at night and before it in the morning the Sun provides no illumination to the sky.

Surprisingly to the navigator, nautical twilight is when the horizon becomes indeterminable. It’s during civil twilight that a sextant can be used to take shots when there is sufficient light to see the horizon and sufficient dark to determine the useful navigational stars and planets.


Friday, January 23rd, 2009

I’ve just finished reading A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: The Life of William Dampier: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer by Diana and Michael Preston. I was very impressed to read of the meticulous observations that Dampier made. In fact, his writings were carried by Charles Darwin on his voyage on the Beagle and held in high esteem by sailors such as Cook and Nelson. I knew that Dampier had charted part of the Western Australian coast in the 1685 but not that he made three circumnavigations.

My only quibble with an otherwise excellent book was the authors’ confusion between variation and deviation. As Matthew Flinders observed and defined deviation in the early 19th century, it is unlikely that the crew onboard with Dampier would have moved iron objects away from the compass to avoid its effects.

To clarify the two terms I have extracted the definitions below from The Language of the Sea*.

Variation. The angle between magnetic north and true north, it varies in different parts of the world, and may be either easterly or westerly. It is caused by the magnetism of the Earth.

Deviation. The amount of deflection of a compass needle caused by the magnetism of the vessel itself. The deviation is different according to the vessel’s heading.

There is much greater detail about these two concepts in Navigation and Passage Planning.

*Found in Skipper and Crew, Knots and The Language of the Sea.

Know your navigation lights

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

With Australia Day coming up, will you put the lives of others at risk by flouting the law?

Just before Christmas, NSW Maritime issued fines to eight skippers for not complying with the laws governing navigation lights. The boats were either displaying incorrect lights or had no lights at all. These fines, together with a further 16 formal warnings, were issued during the three-day Operation Lights On.

If you are going out in a boat – motor or sail – in the evening or at night it is mandatory that you display the correct lights for the size and type of vessel you are skippering. To help you with this we have created a self-test quiz – Interactive Navigation Lights Quiz – which is part of our Safety and Emergencies CD. Using it, you can study and learn the lights and then test your knowledge of them.

And one final reminder, vessels need to display the correct lights when anchored as well as when underway.

Arriving at night

Monday, January 12th, 2009

If you are unlucky enough to approach an unfamiliar port at night, consider standing off and entering after daybreak the following day.

If you do elect to enter at night, you’ll need to be thoroughly prepared. Well before arrival, study the chart and then make a chartlet that you can keep on deck so that you don’t have to keep ducking down to the nav station.

It will be very difficult to discern navigation lights – both moving on other vessels and static on obstacles and the shore – from the background lights of the port. Obviously this is the case when arriving in a major city but it may also occur in smaller centres.

Another factor is that at the end of a long passage, the watch system may have been ignored as everyone expected to arrive that day. Tiredness can increase the difficulty of arriving safely and lead to poor decision making.

In the Safety and Emergencies CD we have compiled an Interactive Navigation Lights Quiz so that you can learn and then test your recognition of the various lights that vessels are required to display. Our Navigation and Passage Planning CD has a similar quiz on the IALA Buoyage Systems A and B.

The Language of the Sea

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Some years ago, on a yacht returning to Sydney after the Hobart race, two new terms were coined by our crew. The first was ‘vulture position’, namely the act of hovering close to the person on the helm and waiting, not always patiently, for a turn at steering. The second was given to the woman who was hogging the wheel. We called her Araldite*, the goddess whose hands were obviously glued to the wheel.

These terms have not been included in The Language of the Sea because it is where you can learn the nautical terminology commonly used by the yachting fraternity worldwide. Where there are regional differences, these have been noted, but in most cases it is an international language.

*a variation of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.

Sailing highpoints of 2008

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Did you go sailing as much as you’d like to in 2008? If not, what changes can you make to allow more time aboard this year?

Here are some our highpoints in 2008:


What we lacked in quantity we certainly made up for in quality. The highlight of our year was the week that we spent in the South West Wilderness, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

To ensure a successful voyage and arrival at Port Davey in daylight, the first leg was from Hobart to Southport. A six o’clock start meant that we arrived well before dark but the lack of wind meant motor sailing nearly all the way.

The beauty of the place, its remoteness and the brute force of a two-day storm at the end of our stay gave us a welcome break from suburbia. Flying out in a six-seater on the tail of that storm was the final excitement! Film from this visit is included in The Joys of Sailing, a DVD that you receive free when you purchase The Boating Bible Manual of Seamanship.


Like many other armchair sportsmen and women, we watched what we could of the Olympic sailing events.

In the final of the 49ers, Australia had a good chance of winning. However, they left their spinnaker up too long and ended up in the drink. Given the wind and sea conditions, perhaps they should have sailed the final leg with their headsail for greater stability.


We’ve already blogged about the Sydney-Hobart, but it’s worth repeating here. This blue water classic has been turned into a race for motor boats, to the detriment of our sport. Yachts with canting keels and water ballast keep their motors running 24 hours a day. This is not in the spirit of sailing and we were glad that the overall handicap winner, Quest, is not one of their number.

Most sailors have little interest in which speedster is first to Hobart, knowing that far greater skill is involved in achieving a handicap win. See our blog post.

Your sailing highlights

If you’d like to share highlights of your sailing year, please do so by posting a comment below.

Why I’m unhappy about the Sydney-Hobart yacht race

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

It was good to see that some fuss was made of the real winner of the 2008 Sydney-Hobart yacht race. By winner, of course, I mean the overall handicap winner, Quest.


The boat that got there first was not a yacht. It was a motor boat. What do I mean by this? In order to manage their canting keel a number of yachts, including the line honours ‘winner’, Wild Oats XI, have to keep their motors running day and night. No wonder the interiors are bereft of creature comforts when they have to carry so much fuel to feed their engines.


Maybe I’ve missed something, but I thought that a yacht race was for vessels that only used wind power to reach their destination. Without an engine to keep the hydraulics under pressure, these yachts would be unable to function. Some even carry button-controlled winches.


For safety reasons, however, I’m not against the motor being run for an hour two or three times a day to keep the batteries charged up. And it pulls the refrigeration down.


I’ve written more about yachts and canting keels.