Talk like a Sailor

 The greatest problem Captain's class students have is vocabulary.  They are familiar with the terms associated with basic boating (bow, stern, etc.).  Terms that every professional mariner knows eludes them.  To be successful in the Captain's class you must learn how to talk like a sailor.


By talking like a sailor, I am not referring to the unique language released after a few beers, or the language often miss-associated with those of us that work on vessels.  I am referring to the unique language acquired by “messing about in boats.”  Allow me to illustrate.


If you are “close aboard” that means an object is right beside your vessel.  “Buoy #1 is close aboard.”  Athwartship is the middle of a vessel.  Secure means to make fast or safe.  I secure my vessel before I go ashore.  Avast means to stop as does belay.  Rode is the line or chain used to join a vessel to her anchor (ground tackle).  Aground is not a nice place to be if you are in a boat.  Deadweight is a good thing.  Hard lay is better than a soft lay to avoid chaffing.  A fender is not a bumper and you do not need to feed a dog.  And a berth is a place to put your boat or your tired body.


Students will often ask me what they can do to prepare for class.  I encourage them to read the glossary of their textbooks or go to the internet to find Wikipedia’s “Glossary of Nautical Terms.”  This site has a host of maritime words and even “sailor-talk” that has made its way into our everyday language (i.e. “three sheets to the wind”).  Take some time and have some fun while you learn new words.


Then, put them to use.  Work them into your daily speak.  People will be impressed with your new found language.  You can speak to your boating buddies in a language unfamiliar to your spouse or significant other.  Soon it will become part of you and you too will “talk like a sailor.”  You've got the helm.

Happy New Year 2012

Did you ever take the time to experience your feelings as you were getting ready to depart for a new adventure?  You have spent weeks, maybe months, planning this trip to a new destination.  Crossing new water.  Prepping for new challenges. Studying charts.  Reviewing places to see and things to do when you get there.  Selecting and preparing your crew.  All things leading up to the command, “Cast off all lines.”

That is what the New Year feels like to me.  I have spent the entire last year as an adventure.  Tried some new things.  Went to new places.  Tested some new skills. Some of my plans worked; others failed.  All the time putting me in learning mode.  Remember you never fail; you have just had a learning experience.  I have questioned my decisions to stay at the dock based on what I had just studied about weather prediction.  Found myself to be correct and the elation was great.  Also didn’t pay attention to the weather and found myself battling the elements with all the skills I had developed to that point and testing some new ones when the old ones didn’t work.  The Lakes are great teachers, but you must remember to do your homework here.  Mother Nature does not always allow “do – overs.”

Now it is a new year.  Once again it is time to pull out the books, charts, cruising guides and pick a new spot to go to this year.  Planning begins in earnest.  What do I have to do to prepare the boat for the trip?  What do I have to do to prepare myself for the trip?  Is this an adventure I can take grandkids along or do I need an experienced crew with me?  How do I prepare the crew?  Lots of time in front of the fire place to answer all those questions.  Even the “Admiral” gets excited thinking about new places to go.

Now it is your turn to ask yourself those questions?  Where do you want your boating life to take you this year?  Is your new adventure getting to better understand your new boat?  Is it to develop new skills?  Is it to tackle the cruise planning your own trip?  Maybe it is to get your Captain’s license?  Could this be the year to renew your wedding vows?  Life can be pretty hum-drum if you just wait for the surprise.  You need to plan for it.  As they say, “it isn’t the destination; it’s the journey.”

Let’s raise a mug of grog to the New Year.  Here’s to all of our plans coming to fruition.  Here’s to the adventure of life on the water.  You’ve got the helm. 

International Buoyage System

Red Right Returning

One of my fellow teachers in the Green Bay Sail and Power Squadron taught the buoy system.  Wayne would introduce his segment by coming front and center and in a very large voice utter the infamous, “RRRRRRRRRRR.”  He would then inform the students he was not participating in the annual “Talk like a Pirate Day,” but delivering a reminder on how to get back home.  Red Right Returning or R-R-R.

When the Admiral (my wife) got comfortable on our first sail boat, she declared her desire to expand our horizons by telling me she was tired of “circle-sailing.”  That meant leaving the confines of our familiar sailing territory and heading for new ports.  I had to learn to check charts, water depths, find marinas, and all those other details preparing for that adventure.

Ports of call are located on charts.  The pathways to these ports are also listed on the charts.  These pathways are identified by a series of buoys to lead you to the right spot without getting into the hazards that are often present as you leave the relatively deep water to enter into the shallower water of the port.  Shifting shoals, cut channels, rocks, wrecks, swim areas, and other hazards are marked by characteristic buoys to keep you from getting into trouble.

As you come into most ports you are often greeted by the safe water mark with its horizontal red and white stripes.  At night its familiar light characteristic Morse (Mo) Code “A” encourages you to move toward the mark.  It usually sets your vessel up for entrance to the channel leading to the harbor.

Entering the channel you will notice it is guarded by lateral buoys of red and green colors.  Red buoys are on the right side and green on the left side of the channel as you come from the “big” water toward the pier head.  Keeping the vessel to the right, marking off the red buoys as you past will lead you to the harbor.  Thus the saying, “Red right returning.”  Be sure to check your chart for the layout of the buoy system entering your destination harbor.  Sometimes the buoys appear to be reversed.  No the Coast Guard did not make a mistake, but buoys are laid in direction of coming from the larger body of water to the smaller. 

That is why, for example, that the buoys appear to be reversed when entering the Bay of Sturgeon Bay (WI) from the Bay of Green Bay (WI).  Using your chart as a reference you will discover that the Sturgeon Bay connects Lake Michigan (the bigger water) with the Bay of Green Bay.  The ports of Green Bay have the red on the right side once again.

These buoys (some lighted; some not) can also act as landmarks.  Using your charts and the Light List for your area you will discover that the Light List gives coordinates for most of the lights.  If you can sail to a light, look it up in the Light List to discover its position. You now have a backup to your GPS should it fail.  Now that open water doesn’t seem so immense if you use the references available to you and plan your trip before you leave.

Light Lists, International Buoyage Systems, range lights and more are material discussed in US Captain’s Training class as well as classes offered on the water by On Board Academy.  The more you know, the more enjoyable boating becomes.  You’ve got the helm.

Captain's License Classes

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