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Boating Terms


Here are some basic boating terms which may be of assistance:


        Port - The left side when facing the bow.

        Starboard - The right side when facing the bow.

        Windward - The direction from which the wind is coming.

        Leeward - The direction in which the wind is going, side away from the wind

        Amidships - the mid point of the boat between bow and stern, or

        from side to side.

        Abeam - A direction to either side of the boat at right angles to

        a line from bow to stern.

        Ahead - in front of the boat.

        Astern - behind the boat.

        Underway - when the boat is not moored, anchored or aground.

        It is floating free from the earth.

        Leeway - the motion of the boat to leeward.

        No way - when the boat is not moving.

        Making way - when the boat is moving.






While a map gives information about the land, a chart gives information about the water and the sea bottom.


On a marine chart, the colors have significance.  White is deep water, light blue is shallow water, dark blue is really shallow and green is land that covers and uncovers with the tide.  The dry land is a light tan color.  Remember to operate your boat in the white area, anchor your boat in the light blue and go for a walk on the tan.



Chart Symbols


What is the difference between a cross, a snowflake and a cross with 4 dots?

These are rocks of differing heights which are explained below:


Rock which covers and uncovers with tide, with height above chart datum



Rock awash at chart datum



Underwater rock of unknown depth, dangerous to surface navigation




Custom Office


No anchorage area


Kelp  Kelp is nature's warning of shallow water.  Kelp usually is found in waters of less then 9 metres(30 feet).  The reason is not enough sunlight penetrates deeper water to enable the kelp to start growing.


Submarine cable  Do not anchor in the area and possibly snag the cable with your anchor.



What do the letters in the water mean?

The letters describe the type of bottom, useful when you are selecting an anchorage.  The composition of the bottom is given with the main ingredient listed first.  Therefore, MSSh is primarily Mud, some Sand and a little Shell.



Mud              M            

Sand         S             

Shells        Sh           

Rock         R

Clay          Cy, Cl

Weeds       Wds

Boulders    Bo

Stone s       St


These symbols are contained in Symbols, Abbreviations, Terms, Chart 1, available from any chart dealer. It is also available online in either html or PDF format  See Appendix 1


How can one determine "upstream" and "downstream" in deciding to leave markers on port or starboard?


There are six definitions for the "upstream direction".  This is the direction taken by a vessel when proceeding from seaward, upstream in a river, towards the headwaters of a lake, into a harbour, or with the flood current direction.  In general, the upstream direction is clockwise around North America or in a northerly direction on the Pacific Coast.


Bruce's seventh rule is "Look at the chart" The chart will always show you the location of the hazard and the safe water.  There are at least two locations near Sidney where if you assume you know what the Aids to Navigation are indicating, you can easily go aground.


When a vessel is proceeding in the upstream direction, starboard hand aids (Red) must be kept to starboard and port hand aids (Green) must be kept to port.  The basic rule is Red, Right Returning.  This rule applies in Area B which includes North and South America, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines.  The rest of the world is Area A and the colors are reversed.


What is the difference between an Aid to Navigation and a Navigation Aid?

An Aid to Navigation is located outside the vessel.  Examples are buoys, day beacons, ranges and lighthouses.  A Navigation Aid is aboard your vessel such as compass, depth sounder, timepiece, radar, GPS, and binoculars.

What's the difference between tide tables and current tables?

Tide is the vertical motion of the water caused mainly by the gravitational effects of the sun and the moon. When there is no vertical motion this is referred to as stand. Current, or more correctly, tidal stream is the horizontal flow of the water. The current coming in from the sea is called a flood current while the current flowing out to sea is the ebb current. When there is no horizontal movement it is referred to as slack, slack water or the turn.  So remember:

Slack water, not slack tide
Flood or ebb current, not flood or ebb tide

Tides rise and fall, currents flood and ebb.

“Commonly used expressions like “flood tide” and “ebb tide” should be avoided, as they confuse the horizontal motions of tidal currents with the vertical displacements of the tide” Oceanography of the British Columbia Coast – Richard E  Thomson  Published by Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

It is critical to understand that the time of low water stand and the time of the turn to flood do not normally occur at the same time. In the Sidney area, the difference of the time of low water stand and the turn to flood in Sidney Channel can be 1 hour and 40 minutes or greater.  Likewise the time of high water stand and the turn to ebb do not correspond.


How do tide and current affect my navigation?

You need to know the height of the tide, whether it is rising or falling and by what amount.  With this knowledge, you can determine the minimum depth under your vessel and make an informed decision.  Many times we have seen boaters who did not check the tide and they wake up with their vessel aground.  Years ago we were docked at Sidney Spit Marine Park for the night.  Upon checking the tide, we discovered that by 0930 we would be aground.  We arose early, had breakfast, moved the boat to the anchorage and then did the dishes and got underway.

Tides are so important to the safety of your boat and crew. I witnessed two boats rafted at anchor in Montague Harbour.  At the time of anchoring the tide, being high, provided adequate depth.  By 7 a.m. the boats were hard aground when the tide fell overnight.  They had anchors out from their mastheads. Logs served as props under the hulls keeping the boats from toppling over.  By rough calculation they were likely aground between 3 and 4 a.m. and could not expect the tide to float them off for several hours.

Currents are important when planning your direction of travel and time of departure.  By reading the current tables the night before, you can plan your departure to take advantage of a favorable current.  There is no point getting up early so you can battle an opposing current for most of the morning.  Knowing the direction of the current is of major importance if you are sailing in the summer when the winds are light.

Even on a power vessel the currents can play a large factor.  On one trip from Sidney to Victoria and return, the current was ebbing with us in the morning and flooding with us for the return in the afternoon.  The client owned a Meridian 38' twin engine powerboat.  The normal cruise speed is 12.1 knots.  When we were out in Sidney Channel, the owner noted our ground speed was 14.2 knots.  This was an increase of over 17% saving fuel and travel time.

By careful planning to take maximum advantage of the currents, you can minimize your impact on the environment and also your wallet.


Regulations and Licensing

Do I need a license to operate a boat?

Since September, 2009, every operator of a power-driven vessel in Canada is required to carry proof of proficiency with them.  Proof may take three forms:

1. proof of having successfully completed a boating safety course in Canada prior to April 1, 1999;
2. a pleasure craft operator card issued following the successful completion of a Transport Canada accredited test;
3. a completed rental-boat safety checklist.  The checklist will be provided by the boat rental company and covers such items as safety equipment, vessel operation and local hazards.  A staff member will go through the list with you prior to departure, both of you will sign and you will be given a copy to show to any enforcement officer.

In addition to Proof of Proficiency, a number of insurance companies have required a minimum number of hours of instruction or CYA certification before they are allowed to operate on their own.

Besides the Pleasure Craft Operators Certificate, are there any other certifications required by law for pleasure craft sail and power boaters?

Proof of Proficiency is the only legal requirement to operate a pleasure vessel, of any size. You will also need photo ID so the Enforcement Officer may verify your identity. 


What are the minimum legal requirements to operate a vessel commercially - eg. fishing guide, tour boat operator or taking paid passengers?

Commercial vessels are now referred to as Non-Pleasure Vessels.

Operating a non-pleasure vessel falls under Transport Canada regulations.  The requirements vary if you are:

Carrying passengers or only cargo,

Carrying more than 12 passengers,

Operating a vessel of over 5 Gross Tons, approximately 8.5 metres in length,

Operating in sheltered water

Two of the certificates you may need are Marine Emergencies Duties (MED) and Small Vessel Operator Proficiency (SVOP).


The MED A3 is a Basic Safety Course for Operators and Crews of:

 -Small Non-Pleasure vessels of not more that 150 GT,
 -not more than 12 passengers,
 -without berthed accommodation,
 -operating not more that 25 nautical miles from shore, in any waters.

If you are a fishing guide, crew boat or water taxi operator, or operate a non-pleasure vessel for an employer, you need to have this certificate.

GT is Gross Tonnage which is a measure of the internal volume of the vessel and is not related to the weight of the vessel.


SVOP is a 26 hour Transport Canada accredited course for operators of Small Non-Pleasure Vessels. The course meets the requirements of a stand-alone course which addresses the need for minimum training of operators of commercial (non-pleasure) vessels, other than tugs and fishing vessels,

 - up to 5 gross tonnage engaged on a near coastal, class 2 or a sheltered watersvoyage,
 - and for fishing vessels up to 15 gross tonnage or 12 meters overall length engaged on a near coastal, class 2 (including an inland voyage on Lake Superior or Lake Huron)
 - or a sheltered waters voyage.

Most operators will require both a MED certificate as well as SVOP.

In the Gulf Islands, the RCMP is patrolling and checking that operators and vessels are properly equipped and have the correct certifications.

If you are considering advertising skippered charters and have any questions relating to what certificate you may need, contact your Local Transport Canada office.  In the United States, contact the US Coast Guard.

Master/Operator Requirements



Near Coastal 1

Near Coastal 2

Sheltered Waters

> 2 nautical miles from shore

< 2 nautical miles from shore

Passenger-Carrying Vessels (<12 passengers)

> 5 GT

Master 150 GT (Domestic) (if endorsed for limited, contiguous waters)

Limited Master < 60 GT

Limited Master < 60 GT

Limited Master < 60 GT

≤ 5 GT and > 8m




> 6 passengers and ≤; 8 m




≤ 6 passengers and ≤ 8 m





> 5 GT

Master 150 GT (Domestic) (if endorsed for limited, contiguous waters)

Limited Master < 60 GT

Limited Master < 60 GT

Limited Master < 60 GT

≤ 5 GT and > 8m (except tugs)




≤ 8m (except tugs)




Limited Master < 60 GT

Limited Master < 60 GT

Limited Master < 60 GT

This table is for the convenience of users. If any discrepancy is found between the Marine Personnel Regulations and the table, the Regulations shall prevail.

SVOP - Small Vessel Operator Proficiency training certificate
PCOC - Pleasure Craft Operator Card
GT - gross tonnage
m - metres
> - greater than
< - less than
≤ - less than or equal to Implementation dates for the table are as follows:

Workboat (including tugs)                             Passenger-carrying vessel
≤ 10 GT                                                          ≤ 5 GT or ≥ 8m
Nov 7, 2010                                                   Nov 7, 2009

Where do I place the vessel license numbers?

As near as possible to the bow, in contrasting color to the background, in block letters of minimum height of 3”.  In Canada pleasure vessel licenses are obtained from Service Canada.  Non-pleasure vessels would apply to Transport Canada.


What do I do if the Coast Guard wants to board my boat?

You shall invite them aboard.  Under the Small Vessel Regulations, Part VII, #46,”An Enforcement Officer may, in order to verify and ensure compliance with these Regulations

(a) go on board a vessel;

(b) examine a vessel and its equipment;

(c) require that the owner or the master or other person who is in charge or appears to be in charge of the vessel produce, forthwith,

        (i) personal identification, and

        (ii) any license, document or plate required by these Regulations; and

(d) ask any pertinent questions of, and demand all reasonable assistance from, the owner or the master or other person who is in charge or appears to be in charge, of the vessel.

#47 an enforcement officer may, in order to ensure compliance with these Regulations or in the interests of public safety, direct or prohibit the movement of vessels or direct the operator of a vessel to stop it.


What papers are important to have on board to prove ownership, registration, competency, etc.?

You will need photo ID, proof of competency, a Pleasure Craft Operator Card is one form, and the license or registration certificate for the vessel.  If you have a VHF radio, you should also have your Radio Operator's Certificate,ROC(M).


Collision Regulations

        Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions

There are 46 Rules and 4 Annexes contained in these Regulations.  Every boater should be familiar with the content of the Regulations.

Following are a few of the Rules:

Rule 5 Lookout – Every vessel shall at all time maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.  This means if you vessel is equipped with radar, it shall be on and be observed.

Rule 7 Risk of Collision – Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if risk of collision exists.  If the is any doubt such risk shall be deemed to exist. When you detect a vessel approaching, you must use all means available, visual bearing, compass bearings and radar, to determine if there is a risk of collision.  If you are not sure, you must assume there is a risk of collision.

Rule 8 Action to avoid Collision – Any action taken to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.  Any alteration or course or speed shall be readily apparent to another vessel.  Remember – make it big and make it early.

Section II – Conduct of Vessels in Sight of One Another

Rule 12 – Sailing Vessels

a) When two sailing vessels are approaching one another, so as to involve risk of collision, one of them shall keep out of the way of the other as follows:

i.        when each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other, Port tack gives way to Starboard tack

ii.   when both vessels have the wind on the same, the vessel which is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward

iii.    if a vessel with the wind on the port side sees a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or on the starboard side, she shall keep out of the way of the other.

b) For the purpose of the Rule the windward side shall be deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried. One easy way to remember is to ask yourself which side of the mainsail are you looking at.  If it is the port side you are on Port tack.

The following three Rules are the same as the Rules on the highway.

Rule 13 Overtaking-International

a) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Rules of Part B, Sections I and II, any vessel overtaking any other vessel shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken. Keep clear of the vessel you are overtaking.

Rule 14 Head-on Situation

When two power-drive vessels are meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal courses so as to involve risk of collision each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other.  This is the narrow road rule.

Rule 15 Crossing Situation-International

(a) When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.  This is the person on the right rule.

Rule 16 Action by Give-way Vessel

Every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.

Rule 17 Action by Stand-on Vessel

(a) (i) Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way of the other shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep clear.

     (ii)The latter vessel may however take action to avoid collision by her manoeuvre alone, as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these Rules.


What do the various horn/sound signals mean?

Rule 32 Definitions

a) the word “whistle” means any sound signalling appliance capable of producing the prescribed blasts and which complies with the specifications in Annex II to the Regulations.

b) The term “short blast” means a blast of about on second's duration

c) The term “prolonged blast” means a blast of from four to six seconds' duration

Rule 34 Manoeuvring and Warning Signals-International

(a) When vessels are in sight of one another, a power-driven vessel underway, when manoeuvring as authorized or required by these Rules, shall indicate that manoeuvre by the following signals on her whistle:

        one short blast to mean”I am altering my course to starboard”

        two short blasts to mean “I am altering my course to port”

        three short blasts to mean “I am operating astern propulsion”

Rule 35 Sound Signals in Restricted Visibility-International

The following signals shall be sounded at intervals of not more than 2 minutes.

In or near an area of restricted visibility, whether by day or night, the signals prescribed in this Rule shall be used as follows:

(a)                A power-driven vessel making way through the water shall sound one prolonged blast

(b)                A power-driven underway but stopped and making no way through the water shall sound two prolonged blasts in succession with an interval of about 2 seconds between them

(c) A vessel not under command, a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre, a vessel constrained by her draught, a sailing vessel, a vessel engaged in fishing, and a vessel engaged in towing or pushing another vessel shall, instead of the signals prescribed in paragraph (a) or (b) of this Rule, sound three blasts in succession, namely one prolonged followed by two short blasts


What do I need to bareboat charter a vessel?

Bareboat charter means you are renting a boat without a skipper or crew, similar to renting a car.  The charterer must have the qualifications to operate the boat safely.  Some charter companies ask that a second person also be qualified in case the primary skipper is unable to operate the boat. 

Most charter companies will look favorably at your experience.  As a former charter fleet operator, I was looking for experience as an owner or operator of a similar sized vessel to the one they are wanting to charter.  How many days have you spent operating your vessel, how many nights have you spent at anchor and what waters have you cruised are all questions you may be asked.  Some charter companies consider that Basic, Intermediate and Coastal Navigation are required to charter.  The American Sailing Association calls the Intermediate Standard "Bareboat Chartering".

Can you answer "YES" to the following questions?

      Am I confident handling a boat of this size in tidal waters?

      Have I the navigational skills to safely pilot a boat?

      Do I have copies of any certification showing my qualifications?

Do you have any suggestions for an itinerary to cruise the Gulf Islands departing from Sidney, BC?

First day - the quaint settlement of Fulford Harbour on Saltspring Island or anchor at Portland Island.

Second day - Bedwell Harbour on South Pender Island.  If you are lucky the Dall Porpoises may play around the bow of the boat as you cross Boundary Pass. Either stay at Beaumont Marine Park on a mooring or at anchor or docked at Poets Cove Resort.  Time for a shower and a swim in the outdoor pool.

Third day - cruise to Montague Harbour Marine Park on Galiano Island.  If the winds are light or you want a short day, you could stay the night at Otter Bay Marina on North Pender Island.

Fourth day - Ganges Harbour on Saltspring Island.  Ganges is the largest town in the Gulf Islands.  Be sure to check out the Craft Fair and all the shops.  If you have a sweet tooth stop at "Glad's Candy & Ice Cream Shop”.

Fifth day - anchor in Glenthorne Passage on Prevost Island.

Sixth day - dock at Fulford Harbour on Saltspring Island or anchor in Royal Cove on Portland Island, whichever one you missed on the first day.

Seventh day - return to the Marina.


What is the process for becoming a cruising or powerboat Instructor?

You must be a proficient boater and love to share your knowledge with others.

Basic Cruising Instructor


1. Be age 18 or older:

2. Have the CYA Basic Cruising Standard;

3. Have the CYA Coastal Navigation Standard;

4. Have 2 or more years sailing experience;

5. Have Red Cross or St. John Ambulance Standard First Aid Certificate or nationally recognized equivalent and a current nationally recognized certificate in CPR level A or higher;

6. Have a PCOC card;

7. Have a VHF Restricted Operator’s Certificate (Maritime) with DSC endorsement;

8. Demonstrate characteristics and motivations worthy of being at CYA LTC/P Instructor;

9. Demonstrate a willingness to support the goals of the CYA LTC/P program.


Note: It is important candidates be current in their sailing skills and knowledge prior to entry into Instructor clinics.  The sailing evaluation demands above average basic sailing skills and there is no time during the clinic for remedial work.

You must attend a Basic Cruising Instructor Clinic and successfully complete all portions.

Basic Powerboat Instructor

1. Be age 18 or older:

2. Have the CYA Basic Outboard Standard;

3. Have 2 or more years boating experience;

4. Have Red Cross or St. John Ambulance Standard First Aid Certificate or nationally recognized equivalent and a current nationally recognized certificate in CPR level A or higher;

5. Have a PCOC card;

6. Have a VHF Restricted Operator’s Certificate (Maritime) with DSC endorsement;

7. Demonstrate characteristics and motivations worthy of being at CYA LTC/P Instructor;

8. Demonstrate a willingness to support the goals of the CYA LTC/P program.



Why do I need to have a float plan?

A float or sail plan is a document left with a responsible person ashore.  This document contains details of the vessel, who is aboard, route of travel and arrival and departure times.  In the event you do not arrive on time, this information may be passed to your local police or Coast Guard.


How do I file a float plan?


A sample sail plan is given on page 70 of the Safe Boating Guide.  The Guide may be obtained at most marine retailers and marinas.  It is also available online as noted in Appendix 1.

The sail plan should include the following information:

Owner information

Vessel Information including Name ,license number, colour, distinguishing features, cellular or satellite phone, MMSI number

Safety Equipment on board

Trip details – date and time of departure, route, estimated date and time of arrival, number of persons on board

Search & Rescue Telephone

The float plan should be left with a responsible person with directions to call Search & Rescue if you have not returned at the appointed time.

Sail Plan -


Are there standards for required equipment?

Yes, in Canada the floatation equipment, flares and fire extinguisher must meet Canadian standards (consult Transport Canada).  Likewise in the United States, the same equipment must meet US Coast Guard standards.


What Safety equipment do I require on my vessel?

The requirements vary by country, size of vessel and whether it is a pleasure vessel or not.  In Canada the requirements for pleasure vessels are listed in the "Safe Boating Guide". See Appendix 1.  My memory aid is "Five F's". The items may be grouped into the following Five categories:

Fire           Fire extinguisher

Flood         Bailer, manual pump

Flares        Pyrotechnics

Flotation    Life jacket or personal flotation device, floating line, life ring with line                 attached, reboarding device to allow a person to board the boat from                 the water.

Fog           Navigation lights, waterproof flashlight, sound signals, manual                           propelling device, anchor and line

 First Aid for Non-pleasure vessels

What is the recommended man overboard recovery procedure when under power?

If the person is easily visible, an Anderson turn is appropriate.  This is a simple circle back to the victim.

If at night or in poor visibility and the victim has gone out of sight, use a Williamson Turn.

In response to a man overboard, put the rudder toward the person e.g., if the person fell over the starboard side, put the rudder over to starboard.

      After deviating from the original course by about 60 degrees, put the rudder to the opposite side.

      When heading about 20 degrees short of the reciprocal, put the rudder amidships so that vessel will turn onto the reciprocal course. Look for the bubbles from your wake in the water and steer into the middle of the bubbles.

There is currently some debate about approaching the victim.  If you have the vessel to windward of the victim, the vessel will drift down onto the victim.  With a small vessel, their legs may go under the hull and make it very difficult to bring them aboard.  If you approach the victim from downwind, they will be facing you and you should have better control of your vessel.  Use a heaving line to make contact with the victim and bring them to the vessel.  As they come alongside, stop your engine.


If under sail

Call loudly “man overboard”

1. Assign a person to keep the victim in sight and clearly point towards him or her.

2. Hit the MOB button on the GPS

3. Start the engine and leave it in idle

4. Change course to a beam reach and hold for 15 seconds

5. Head into the wind and tack, leave the jib fluttering

6. Veer off until the boat is at a broad reach

7. Turn up wind until the vessel is pointing at the victim, at this point the vessel should be on a close reach.

8. Slacken the main sail until the vessel comes to a stop with the victim in the lee side of the boat

9. Hoist the victim on board with a sling, the spinnaker halyard can be very helpful if it is available.

Diagrams obtained from Wikipedia


What is the use of a heaving line?

A heaving line has many uses.  It may be used to assist in recovering a person overboard, passing line to a dock attendant or passing a line to a disabled vessel so they may be taken under tow.  My personal preference is a throw bag which contains the line.  To use the throw bag, the mouth of the bag is opened and the end of the line retrieved.  Often the end has either a spliced loop or a bowline.  Holding the end of the line, you throw the bag and the line feeds out as the bag flies through the air.  If you are standing, you may throw the bag underhand, keeping your elbow locked.  If you are sitting in a kayak, you may throw the bag sidearm.

Should I wear my PFD while aboard my boat?

I have recently viewed a new DVD Cold Water Boot Camp which clearly shows why everyone needs to be wearing a PFD or lifejacket while aboard aboat. If you think you do not need to wear your PFD because you are a good swimmer, viewing this video will likely cause you to change your mind.

You may view a short version by download or the DVD is available by contacting the producer.



What fabrics best protect from hypothermia in the water? Is wool better than cotton, if one prefers natural fibers?

"When you are in the water it really depends on the thickness of the clothing for insulation.  When you get out of the water things are different.  Wool will provide more protection and it is easier to get the water out of it and dry it (as long as it is not cold enough for the water to quickly freeze).  Cotton will basically never dry out and provides poor insulation when wet."  Dr. Gord Giesbrecht


What are the dangers of a lee shore?

A lee shore is the shore that is located on the lee side, downwind, of your vessel.  The danger is if you lose your engine and cannot anchor, you will end up aground on the lee shore. For example, when sailing from Victoria to San Francisco, the Washington, Oregon and California shores are lee shores to the prevailing westerlies.  Most people will sail from 65 to 150 miles off-shore to give themselves the sea room they feel is required. If they encounter a storm from the west and need to run down-wind, there will be miles of sea room before they get near the shore.


Why is it important to operate the blower motor before starting the engine?

Gasoline fumes are heavier than air and will settle into the bilge and create an explosion hazard.  By running the blower, you will remove these fumes from your vessel.  Under the Canada shipping Act, Small Vessel Regulations, Part VI, #39


No person shall start up a gasoline-powered small vessel unless the engine space blower has been operated for a period of not less than 4 minutes immediately before the start-up.  This is also a ticketable offence under The Contraventions Act.  To be safe, sniff the exhaust from the blower.  If there is a strong smell of gasoline, Do Not Start your engine.  Open your engine compartment and investigate to determine the source of the fumes.

In the summer of 2009, I was at a fuel dock in Sidney when a vessel refueled.  They ran the blower, but did not check for fumes.  When the engine was started, there was an explosion and fire.  Fortunately, they were able to extinguish the fire and only one person suffered burns to his arm.  Upon investigation, the source of the gas was the clamps on the fill hose at the fuel tank were loose.  The boat had just been serviced and it appeared that the fill hose had been changed and the hose clamps had not been tightened upon installation.  Gasoline was visible on the top of the tank and in the bilge.  The people on the boat were extremely lucky.


Tools and Spares

What tools should I carry in my tool kit?

A basic tool kit includes the following:

Adjustable wrench,

Vise grips,



Socket set,

A set of Allen keys, both standard and metric,

A hacksaw,

A multi-bit screwdriver,




What parts should I carry?

This is a partial list which must be added to for your specific vessel.

Fuses to replace every fuse onboard.  Check every instrument's power supply cable for an in-line fuse holder.

Spare bulbs for every light, including your navigation lights,

Electrical and duct tape,

Spare flexible wire – be sure to use marine grade wire which is tinned to prevent corrosion,

wooden bungs to fit every through-hull fitting,

fuel and oil filters,

engine, transmission, steering, and trim tab oils,

water pump impellers and/or a spare pump,

spare propeller, nuts and washers – make sure you have a socket or wrench that fits the nut,

spare belts for the engine,

if you have a gas engine, spare spark plugs, points and distributor cap,

an assortment of stainless hardware such as bolts, nuts, screws, cotter pins and split rings.

A good practice if you are planning a long trip is to purchase all the spare parts you may need.  Before departure install all the spares and put the used parts in storage as your spares.  There are a number of advantages to this procedure:

1.   You now know how to install the part,

2.   If you have any difficulty, your mechanic is nearby

3.   You know you have the correct tools you will need

4.   You have verified that the factory shipped you the correct part.  There is nothing like being hundreds of miles from home awaiting a part and then finding out that the wrong part has been shipped.


What is the proper way of setting an anchor?

Anchoring Basics

Anchoring is a method of using your boats anchor to secure the boat for a short time, such as lunch or perhaps overnight.

The objective is to lower the anchor to the bottom, lay out the anchor rode with slack and when you have the required amount of rode deployed secure the rode and let the anchor set into the bottom.

Choosing an Anchorage – Pre-requisites

When choosing an anchorage there are four criteria you should observe.

1. Shelter from wind and waves - you want to be anchored in a protected area away from any other traffic.

2. Good holding bottom - composition of the sea bed that will give your anchor a firm hold. We are fortunate in thePacific Northwest that many harbours have bottoms that are composed of mud, sand, shells and clay.

3. Adequate depth at low water - over the years I have seen a number of boaters who forgot to check the range of the tide overnight. It is a real shock to wake up falling out of your bunk because you have gone aground.

4. Swing room - refers to the requirement for your vessel to be able to swing 360 degrees around the anchor and not contact any hazards or other boats.


What is Scope when anchoring?

Scope is the ratio of the amount of anchor rode you are using divided by the distance from the bottom to your anchor roller.  Always remember to allow for the height of the tide during your stay. 

If you are using a line & chain combination the following ratios are considered the minimum for safety:

Lunch stop - 3:1
Overnight - 5:1
Open anchorage - 7:1

Let us look at an example. The harbour chart indicates a depth of 20 feet at Lowest Normal Tide. When we arrive the tide has a height of 3' and will be rising to a height of 7' overnight. The anchor roller is located 3' above waterline.

Therefore the maximum depth overnight will be
20' charted depth + 7' of tide = 27'
Height of anchor roller above water = 3'
Total distance= 30'

If we are stopping overnight and want a scope of 5:1 we will need to use 30' x 5 = 150' of rode.

The only way to determine the amount of rode you are using is to have the anchor rode marked.  There are plastic markers available which are woven into the strands of the anchor line, they are colored coded and marked with the length. 

If you are using an all chain rode, you can spray paint the chain.  A sample code I have used is Red at 5 metres, White at 7 metres and Blue at 10 metres.  The pattern then repeats and at 20 metres paint two Blue bands and every 10 metres I add another Blue band.


What is the swing circle for anchoring?

Swinging circle is the area your vessel may occupy as it swings to its anchor.  For practical purposes you may assume the radius of the circle is equal to the length of the anchor rode you have deployed.  Once your anchor is set, you have claim to the area of your swinging circle.  If another vessel anchors within your circle, you are within your rights to ask them to move to avoid any possible contact between the vessels.


The Anchoring Process

How to avoid yelling!


Here is a simple step by step process that will allow you and your crew to anchor confidently and quietly.

1. Select your anchorage using the criteria in "Choosing Your Anchorage" above.

2. Check the chart for any hazards and circle around your selected anchoring watching your depth sounder.

3. Discuss with your crew your anchoring plan so everyone knows where you plan to anchor.

4. Proceed to your desired anchoring location, heading into the wind or current, whichever is stronger.

5. Have your crew lower the anchor until it is just in the water. The crew can observe the wave around the anchor and observe when the vessel has stopped.

6. Go astern with your engine(s) to stop the vessel.

7. When the crew observes there is no wave around the anchor, that is the signal to lower away.

8. At this time your vessel will be moving astern as the crew pays out the anchor rode. It is important that there be no tension in the anchor rode as this will cause the anchor to drag across the bottom.

9. You may need to go to neutral to reduce the vessel's speed.

10. When the crew has let out the correct amount of rode, they secure the anchor rode by cleating the line or stopping the winch.

11. When the anchor bites into the bottom, tension will come on the rode and the bow of the vessel will swing and point towards the anchor.

12. The crew will observe the anchor rode coming taut and the angle of the rode to the water surface will decrease.

13. Operate astern propulsion while everyone aboard observes a range or transit. This is simply two objects ashore that are in line. If the objects remain in line then the vessel is not moving and the anchor is set.

14. To confirm that the anchor is well set, you may want to slowly increase engine RPMs while observing the range. It is better to find out the anchor is not holding at 4:00 pm than at 4:00 am!

15. Once you are satisfied that the anchor is holding, slowly idle down and go to Neutral. You will observe the range moving as the anchor rode pulls the vessel forward.

How do I use a stern Line?

In a crowded anchorage, you may want to limit your swing. One way to do this is to take a stern line to shore. Make sure that other boats around you are doing the same thing or you will have other vessels swinging into you.

Usually the vessel is anchored and a crew member takes the dinghy to shore carrying the end of a stern line. The line is secured around a tree or large rock. In some of the Marine Parks, eye bolts have been secured in the rocky shoreline and are often marked with a blaze of paint or red survey tape. In this case, the preferred method is to run the line from the vessel, through the eye bolt and back to the vessel. In the morning it is just a matter of releasing one end of the line from the vessel and pulling the line back.

An easy way to store the line is to use a garden hose reel. A former owner of one of the charter vessels gave me this tip. He bought a plastic hose reel, removed all the hose fittings and then took the reel to a local chandler and had it filled with a polypropylene line.

The challenge is estimating your distance from shore so you have the correct scope. Often with students, we would end up with more scope that required. We would set the anchor and when the student had taken the stern line to shore, they would come to the end of the line before they returned to the vessel. It was then a matter of letting out more anchor rode until the stern line could be brought back to the vessel.

A trip line can be used to recover the anchor from a foul bottom. The trip line is secured to the anchor so that the anchor can be pulled out backwards. The trip line must at least equal the depth at high water. The upper end can be tied to a float which will mark the position of your anchor. To recover the anchor, row out in your dinghy and pull up on the trip line. The trip line may also be secured to the anchor rode itself leaving some slack in the line. To recover the anchor take in the rode until you can reach the trip line. Untie it from your rode, slack the rode and pull in the trip line.


Under what circumstances is it safe to sleep on an anchored or moored boat without someone staying awake to keep watch?

The first few nights you are anchored overnight, you likely will not sleep well.  I can remember the early days when I would be awake a number of times during the night to check.  In the dark, the shore always looks closed than it was during daylight hours.

If you are in a sheltered anchorage and you have the confidence that your anchor

is properly set and the winds are light, you may sleep through the night.  On more than one occasion when the winds were strong, I have stood an anchor watch through the night, or until the winds died down.  You might decide to split the watch between members of your crew with each person taking two hours on watch.  Fortunately, in the Gulf Islands in the summer, it is rare that it is windy during the night.


In a sailboat, if you are caught in an adverse tidal current at or near your hull speed, what should you do? If the depth allows it and you are not in a busy channel, is it safe to anchor to hold position and wait out the current?

Absolutely.  I had a occasion in a sailing race where we were sailing in an opposing current in light wind and I noticed by observing a range ashore that we were not making any progress.  I suggested to the skipper that we anchor and she agreed.  I asked the crew to lower the anchor over the side of the bow and not to use the anchor roller because of the noise it would make.  I did not want to alert any of the other racers to what we were doing.  We were sailing under spinnaker at the time.  Because we had a slight bit of speed, the anchor rode angled off our port bow.  The crew then sat in the cockpit eating our lunch.  The fun part was when we started to move up through the fleet and we had at least one boat call over to ask what we were doing.  They did not realize that we were not moving forward, just the rest of the fleet was being swept backward by the flood current.


How do I use a mooring buoy in the Marine Parks?

Approach the mooring with your bow facing into the wind or current, whichever is stronger.  Bring the boat to a stop with the buoy just off your bow.  When picking up a mooring with your boat hook, it is usually easier to insert your boat hook through the ring on the top of the buoy rather than trying to hook the ring from the outside.  The ring is attached to the mooring chain which should slide up the pipe in the middle of the buoy so you may lift the ring up to your deck to attach your lines.  Some chains will not pull through the pipe due to mussels or weed on the chain.


VHF Radio

What licenses are required to operate a VHF radio legally in Canada?

The Restricted Operator's Certificate, Maritime, ROC(M) is the minimum standard for Canadians to operate a VHF Radio.  This certificate will also allow you to operate a Medium Frequency(MF) or High Frequency(HF) Marine band radios on a voluntary fitted vessel.   This certificate is valid for life.


As long as you never transmit, is it legal to monitor Channel 16 or Channel 11 from a handheld radio on land?

No, turning on the radio is considered operating the radio.


Why might I need a handheld VHF radio?

A handheld VHF is useful as a backup to the main radio or for use in your dinghy.  In an emergency, you might lose power or the antenna of your main radio.  I carry a Standard Horizon HX850s whenever I am on the water.  This radio is waterproof, floats and has a 12 channel GPS so you can transmit a Distress call using the Digital Selective Calling feature.  The HX851 is now available and it includes the ability to store 200 waypoints. 


What are the correct phrases for VHF Radio Procedures?

ACKNOWLEDGE Let me know that you have received and understood this message.

AFFIRMATIVE Yes, or permission granted.

BREAK To indicate the separation between portions of the message. (To be used where there is no clear distinction between the text and other portions of the message.)

CHANNEL Change to channel .......... before proceeding.

CONFIRM My version is _____. Is that correct?

CORRECTION An error has been made in this transmission (message indicated). The correct version is _____.

GO AHEAD Proceed with your message.

HOW DO YOU READ? How well do you receive me?

I SAY AGAIN Self-explanatory (use instead of “I repeat”).

NEGATIVE No, or that is not correct, or I do not agree.

OVER My transmission is ended and I expect a response from you.

OUT Conversation is ended and no response is expected.

READBACK Repeat all of this message back to me exactly as received after I have given OVER. (Do not use the word “repeat”.)

ROGER I have received all of your last transmission.

STANDBY I must pause for a few seconds or minutes, please wait.

SAY AGAIN Self-explanatory. (Do not use the word “repeat”.)

THAT IS CORRECT Self-explanatory.

What do the terms "Mayday", "Pan Pan" and "Security" mean and when is it appropriate to use them?


These are the three priority words used in Marine communications.

The three signals are:

Distress                     Word used "Mayday"

Urgency                    Word used "Pan Pan"

Safety                       Word used "Sécurité"


The Distress signal indicates that the station sending the signal is:

(1) Threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance, or

(2) Aware that a ship, aircraft or other vehicle is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance.

Example - Vessel on fire, sinking, aground


The Urgency Signal is Pan Pan spoken three times.  The Urgency signal indicates that the station calling has a very urgent message to transmit concerning the safety of a ship, aircraft or other vehicle or the safety of a person.

Example - vessel broken down, out of fuel and in no immediate danger


The Safety Signal is the word "Sécurité" spoken three times.  The safety signal indicates that the station calling is about to transmit a message containing an important navigational or meteorological warning.

Example - BC Ferries entering Active Pass, a large log at the harbour entrance, a tug which has lost its tow, Coast Guard Radio announcing a change in the forecast to a storm warning.


Phonetic Alphabet for VHF radio

The words of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) phonetic alphabet should be learned thoroughly. When it is necessary to spell out words, the following table should be used.

Letter        Word         Pronounced as

A              Alfa           AL FAH

B              Bravo        BRAH VOH

C              Charlie      CHAR LEE or SHAR LEE

D              Delta         DELL TAH

E              Echo         ECK OH

F              Foxtrot      FOKS TROT

G              Golf          GOLF

H              Hotel         HOH TELL

I               India         IN DEE AH

J               Juliett        JEW LEE ETT

K              Kilo           KEY LOH

L              Lima         LEE MAH

M              Mike         MIKE

N              November NO VEM BER

O              Oscar        OSS CAH

P              Papa         PAH PAH

Q              Quebec     KEH BECK

R              Romeo       ROW ME OH

S              Sierra        SEE AIR RAH

T              Tango        TANG GO

U              Uniform     YOU NEE FORM or OO NEE FORM

V              Victor        VIK TAH

W             Whiskey     WISS KEY

X              X-ray         ECKS RAY

Y              Yankee      YANG KEY

Z              Zulu          ZOO LOO


Example: To report a missing child with the surname Schmidt: SIERRA, CHARLIE, HOTEL, MIKE, INDIA, DELTA, TANGO

To order the Radio Course


Required navigational equipment is a little different for large and small boats but all marine navigation is dependent upon knowing these five things:
 - Direction
 - Speed
 - Time
 - Distance and
 - Depth.

Since you need to know these five things, you require navigational gear that will give accurate information about all five of them regardless of the size of boat.

A compass is a necessity and we aren't discussing one of those freebies that come in breakfast cereal. You need a big and steady compass that can be easily read even in adverse weather conditions. A compass gives direction which is the first information that you need for navigation.

If you wear a digital watch (water proof and shock proof,) and one with a stop watch function, you can determine the next three pieces of required information for navigation. If you know any two of the next three factors (speed, time and distance) the third can be easily calculated using the Sixty D Street formula covered in the
Home Study Coastal Navigation Course .

Essentially you can cover 4 of the 5 required pieces of navigational information with a compass, a digital watch and a knotmeter which will give you speed and distance traveled.

A simple depth finder can cover the 5th requirement but if you can, find and buy a good GPS/Chart Plotter/Depth Sounder unit. These units aren't all that inexpensive but when you consider the value of human life, they aren't all that expensive either.

You should always carry paper charts covering your planned route. As anyone who operates apersonal computers knows all too well, electronics can breakdown and it's always at the worst possible moment. A compass and a paper chart will still be there even if the entire electrical system on your powerboat fails.



Do I require a depth sounder?

Although not required, a depth sounder can be helpful to determine the water depth for anchoring and if it is safe to stay overnight alongside a dock.  A depth sounder can also assist you in determining your location.  Unless you purchase a scanning sonar, a depth sounder will likely not prevent you from running aground.  By the time the sounder shows shallow water, you are probably already aground.  The sounder only reads the depth directly under your vessel.

Which should I purchase first, radar or GPS?

My personal first choice would be Radar.  In restricted visibility or at night, radar will show me where I am and other vessels around me.  Many pleasure boaters will purchase a GPS Chart plotter first as they will rarely be underway in restricted visibility or at night.  Most of the new electronic systems allow you to use one display to show various information.  You can purchase the display and the GPS and later plug in a radar unit.  These integrated systems allow you to display the various information in split screen mode such as radar on the top and chart plotter on the bottom of the screen.  Many systems also allow you to do "Radar Overlay" where the radar display is overlaid on top of the chart image making it very easy to understand the radar image.

Just remember that no electronic aid can replace basic navigational skills.  When all else fails, you can rely on your eyes and a paper chart.


Does it matter the order I take bearings?

When taking bearings from a moving vessel, it is important to take the bearings quickly so that there is little change in position. Bearings that are taken off to the side of the vessel will change more quickly than bearings that are ahead or astern. Therefore, take the bearings to either side of the vessel together to minimize the position error.

Boat Handling

How do I steer a boat with a tiller?

The first time you try steering a boat with a tiller it likely feels awkward and confusing. When you move the tiller, the boat turns the opposite way.

One memory aid is when moving forward point the tiller towards what you want to avoid. When moving backwards point the aft end of the tiller the way you want the boat to turn.

This applies to tiller steered outboard motors also.


Can you explain handling a sailing dinghy?

There are three basic controls on a sailing dinghy. They are steering, sail trim and weight. All these controls inter-relate and it may be confusing for the beginner.

To learn what each control does, only adjust one at a time. For example, remain in the same place in the boat, keep the tiller centered and adjust your sail or sails. See what happens. Start with the wind on the side of your boat (abeam). Let the sails out until they start to shake(luffing) and observe what happens. The boat slows down. Bring the sails in until they just stop luffing. Notice the boat start to pick up speed. Now bring the sails in as far as you can. What happens to the speed and the angle of tilt(heel) of the boat?

Now bring in the sails until they have just stopped luffing. Now use the tiller to turn the boat one way and then the other. What happens to the speed and the heel?

Now return to a position with the wind abeam, sails just stopped luffing and the tiller centered. Now try moving yourself from side to side and forward and back. What happens to the heel? Does the boat turn? Which way?

By only changing one control at a time, you will obtain a better understanding of the effect each control has on the performance of your dinghy.


Which way will the stern move if I back a twin screw vessel on port shaft only?

Nearly every twin engine vessel has the engines installed so the propellers rotate outwards in forward gear.  The port shaft rotates counter-clockwise and the starboard rotates clockwise.  Because the prop shaft is angled to the water flow the propeller blades have a different angle to the water and develop an asymmetric thrust.  The net effect is the stern will move the way the propeller is rotating.  The port shaft will be rotating clockwise, to starboard,  therefore the  stern will swing to starboard.


How do I handle twin engines?

For many people, moving from a single engine to a twin engine vessel is a big step. If you are used to an outboard or inboard-outboard, it will take a mental shift when learning twin engines with shaft drive.

The first difference you will notice is that operating astern propulsion is not as

effective as on vessels with legs. The rudder is not effective when going astern until you have the boat moving and water flowing across the rudder.

Rule 1 for beginners:
Neutral is your best friend - especially as the size and weight of the vessel increases it is important to keep the speed of the vessel at the minimum required to retain control. Speed is your enemy and when you go into gear only stay in gear 1 - 2 seconds. This will prevent the vessel from gathering speed which gives you less time to react and think. Usually, the objective is to coast the vessel to its berth. When you have 65,000 lbs. under you, that is a lot of momentum.

Rule 2
To start we will have our engines at idle and the rudders centered. Mostly we will use only the gear levers to steer the boat. There are a number of memory aids to assist you in operating the controls.

1. Pretend the two gear levers are the handlebars of a bicycle. If you want to turn to port, move the gear levers the same as you would with a bike. In this case Starboard engine forward and Port engine astern.

2. Stand at the helm and grasp the gear levers, one in each hand. If you lock your elbows and simply rotate your upper body so you are facing the direction you want the boat to move, you automatically move the correct lever in the correct direction.

3. Imagine parentheses (curved brackets) alongside the gear levers. For example, if we use o to represent the gear levers and the parentheses would indicate the direction the boat would move.
(o o) If we move the port lever forward, the boat would move forward and the bow would turn to starboard.

Most of the time when docking or undocking you would have your rudders centered and the engines at idle. You handle the boat by moving only the gear levers.
To execute a slow turn to starboard, you would move the port gear lever forward. To make the turn tighter, you would move the starboard lever astern(reverse).

For further information on many aspects of boat handling, visit our
E-lessons page.

Why do things work this way?

Nearly all twin inboard engine vessels have the transmissions set so the propellers are turning outwards when operating ahead, in forward gear. When looking from the stern towards the bow the Starboard prop will rotate clockwise, Right hand, and the Port propeller will rotate counterclockwise, Left hand.

Because the prop shaft is angled there is a sideways thrust which is most noticeable when you go astern. This is called P-effect or commonly called prop-walk. If you consider the prop as a wheel at the stern, when the port prop operates astern and rotates clockwise, it will move the stern of the vessel to Starboard. Because the propeller is off-center it generates a twisting motion to the vessel which also moves the stern to Starboard.

If we wish to dock starboard side to the dock, we will approach at a shallow angle. We want the boat to coast up to the dock so we use neutral to control our speed. Just before you think that the hull is about to hit the dock, put the port engine astern briefly. The boat should stop, the bow swings out and the stern swings up to the wharf.

Points to remember:
1. Rudders amidship, centered
2. Engines at idle
3. Control your speed by using neutral. Around the marina or near other vessels, neutral is your best friend.
4. Steer the vessel by using the gear levers only. (See the above notes) For those people who have experience driving skid steer loaders or army tanks, you have an advantage.

When would I use the rudders?

Up to this point, we have the rudders centered. By turning your wheel in the direction of the turn, you can have the vessel turning quicker. For a turn to port:
1. Put your wheel hard to port,
2. Starboard engine ahead and port engine astern.

For a turn to starboard you would reverse the wheel and engines.

Sometime when backing into a slip, the wind will push you away from the float so your crew is unable to step ashore with the stern line. If the float were on your starboard side and you are a couple of feet off the float, a technique is to use the wheel. Put your wheel away from the float, in this case to port, and then go ahead on the dockside, starboard engine. The stern will swing toward the float. To stop the forward motion, you could place the port engine astern at the same time.


How do I walk a boat sideways?

Sometimes you need to move a boat sideways and the boat does not have bow and stern thrusters.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this maneuver. This is one way I have taught and used successfully on vessel ranging from Bayliner 3818 to Ferretti 55.

Assume you wish to dock on your starboard side and your boat is 10 feet away and parallel to the dock. Put your wheel hard to port and momentarily place the starboard engine in forward and the port engine in reverse. Because of the rudders, the stern will take a large swing to starboard, towards the dock. Both engines to neutral and then starboard in reverse and port forward. What you are accomplishing is to bring the bow back in line with the stern and parallel to the dock. Shift to neutral on both engines and repeat the sequence. The boat will move to starboard and towards the dock.

You may need to adjust the amount of time you stay in gear on each engine so the boat does not move forward or aft. When you have the rhythm correct, the boat will slide nicely sideways.

Always remember to place your rudders in the direction opposite the way you want the boat to move.


Lots of ferries out there in the Gulf Islands.  How far do you need to give them clearance?

I try to keep as far away from the ferries as possible.  If I am meeting a ferry in a channel, I will keep over to my starboard side.  Near Swartz Bay terminal there may be four ferries arriving or departing.  By listening to VHF channel 11, which is the Marine Communications and Traffic Services channel for Victoria Traffic, you will hear the vessels announcing their departures.  A good practice is to tune your radio to Channel 11 and then select Dual Watch (DW on some radios).  This allows your radio to scan between both Channel 16 and Channel 11.

If you are not sure of the ferry's intentions, you may call the vessel on Channel 11.  If you cannot read the ferry's name, an example call could be:

“BC Ferry southbound off Beaver Point, this is the sailing vessel Daisy 1.5 miles off your port bow, on Channel 11, Over.”  A quick call can easily clarify the situation.



What should be included in a pre-departure checklist?

Safety equipment – Do you have all the equipment required by law?  Is it serviceable and easily accessible?  Flares less than four years old?  Fire extinguisher serviced within the year?

Put on PFD’s (Personal Floatation Devices) or Lifejackets.  Ensure proper sizes for all persons. Are they in good condition?

Weather – Check the forecast and monitor the weather throughout your trip.

Float plan – File a plan with a responsible telling them where you are going and when you will return.

Carry a First Aid Kit, basic tools and spare parts.

Navigation aids – do you have all the charts and publication required?

Fuel – plan on using 1/3 of the fuel to get to your destination, 1/3 to return and 1/3 in reserve.

Fluid levels – check all engine fluids, water, holding and fuel tanks

Engine – check all hoses, lines and belts

Vessel condition – Are all systems maintained and operational?  I have had a number of instances teaching on other people's vessels where we found stiff gear shift, frozen steering, inoperative bilge pumps and leaks.  It is usually far easier to fix a problem when you are secured alongside in a marina.

If you are launching a boat, make sure the drainage plug is in place.

Conduct a safety briefing for your guests so they can assist you in an emergency.



What is the difference between wash and wake?

Wash is the disturbed water caused by the propeller or jet drive. 

Wake is the disturbed water caused by the motion of the vessel's hull passing

through the water.  Be aware you, the vessel operator, are responsible for any damage caused by your wake.


What knots do I need to know?

There are eight knots, bends, and hitches every boater should know.  First some definitions:

A knot – tied in a single piece of line

A bend – used to tie two lines together

A hitch – used to tie a line to another object


Knots – Reef – used to tie the ends of a line together, tying up a sail or package

            Bowline – forms a non-slip loop in a line

            Figure of eight – stops a line from slipping through a block or pulley


Bends – Sheet bend – Joining a small line to a larger line

             Double sheet bend – more secure that the sheet bend


Hitches – Clove Hitch – to tie a line to a rail, good for hanging your fenders

              Round Turn and 2 half hitches – for securing the vessel to the dock

              Rolling Hitch – allows you to apply load along the length of the line

                                   useful to take strain on another line.


In addition, it is vitally important that every boater know how to secure or belay a line to a cleat.  Some boaters refer to this as a cleat hitch.  For detailed videos on how to tie the above, please refer to the Web site below: LogoImage=LogoGulfIslandsCruising.jpg



What is flag etiquette?

The flag for the country of origin is flown from the stern staff on a powerboat and traditionally 1/3 of the way up the leach of the mainsail.  Today most sailboats also use the stern staff.  The size of the flag should equal 1” of flag length for each foot of vessel length.

When visiting a foreign country, a smaller version of the flag of the country you are visiting is flown from the starboard side of the mast. 

Traditionally your yacht club burgee was flown from the masthead.  Today with wind direction indicators and radio antennas on the mast, the club burgee is often flown at the starboard spreader.  On a power vessel the club burgee is flown from the bow staff.


What is the best thing to do if you experience a "knockdown" in sailing?

A knockdown is when a strong gust of wind pushes a sailboat over onto its side.  Your response should be to immediately ease the sheets, the lines that control the sail.  This will spill the wind from the sails and allow the boat to return upright.


Is there a rule of thumb for how big a log you must absolutely not hit with a GRP (glass reinforced plastic) hull to avoid damage?

Not that I know, nothing bigger than what you can throw with one hand.  However, even a small stick can damage your propeller if you strike it at speed.

The "Avoidance Technique" should be used to avoid anything floating in the water.


This technique consists of turning away from the object in the water, which you would do instinctively.  As the object approaches your bow you turn hard towards it which swings your stern and your propeller(s) away.  Normally you should be steering with your left hand and your right hand should be on the throttle.  If you cannot avoid hitting the object, throttle to idle to avoid a high-speed impact with the propellers.


What size of waves can I expect at various wind speeds?

The size of the waves in open water are dependent on a number of factors:

Wind speed,

Fetch - the distance over which the wind has blown

Duration - how long has the wind been blowing

For example, to have average wave heights of 2.5 feet, you would need a wind speed of 15 knots. a fetch of 34 nautical miles for a duration of 6 hours.  Likewise, for average wave heights of 5 feet, you would require a wind speed of 20 knots blowing over a fetch of 75 miles for 10 hours.

For more detailed information, consult a reference book such as Oceanography of the British Columbia Coast by Richard Thomson

BONUS - Bruce's Boating Tips

These tips are offered for your enlightenment. Most are suitable for the beginning boat owner and others may be of general interest. Please comment on any of these tips or submit suggestions for your own favourite tips. Neither Gulf Islands Cruising School Ltd. or the author assume any liability for the following information.

Title: Boating tips for beginners. Instruction offered in sail, power boat and coastal navigation.Abandon Ship

Never abandon ship until you have to step UP into your liferaft. This avoids abandoning ship too soon.

Title: Boating tips for beginners. Instruction offered in sail, power boat and coastal navigation.Casting off

Cast off the slack lines first. Typically, there will be one or two dock lines under tension due to wind or current. Untie these lines last.

Title: Boating tips for beginners. Instruction offered in sail, power boat and coastal navigation.Navigation

When your position is in doubt, assume the worst case as close to the nearest hazard.
When taking bearings from a moving boat, take the bearings off each side one after the other. Because of the boat movement, the bearings to the side will change most quickly. By taking these bearings together you will improve the accuracy of your fix.

Title: Boating tips for beginners. Instruction offered in sail, power boat and coastal navigation.Sail trim

When in doubt, let the sheet out. Let the sheet out until the sail luffs.

Title: Boating tips for beginners. Instruction offered in sail, power boat and coastal navigation.Piloting

When the depth sounder reads less than the boat's draft, you are definitely aground.

Title: Boating tips for beginners. Instruction offered in sail, power boat and coastal navigation. Collision Regulations. Here are some time honoured rhymes to assist you.

Not under Command
Red over red the Captain is dead. Two red lights vertically indicates boat Not Under Command(NUC).
also Two black balls or red on red, then you know her rudder's dead.

When two side lights you see ahead,
Starboard turn and show your red.
Green to green, or red to red,
Perfect safety, go ahead.
If to your starboard, red appear,
It is your duty to keep clear,
To act as judgment says is proper
To port or starboard, back or stop her;
But if upon your port is seen
A steamer's starboard light of green
There's not so much for you to do
For green to port keeps clear of you.


Another version
If to port is clearly seen
A steamer's starboard light of green
There's not so much for you to do
For green to port keeps clear of you.

If to your starboard, red appear,
It is your duty to keep clear,
To act and do as you think proper
port or starboard, back or stop her;

 Masthead light
Steamers, white light on the mast,
A sailor no such light will cast.
But if she shows red over green
Then a sailor you have seen.

 White lights
If moving white light, you discern
Then you know you've seen her stern.
One or two white lights and stopped,
Be sure her anchor she has dropped.

Green over white - trawling light,
Red on white - catch fish they might.
Two black cones, their points a kissing,
By day you're sure that they are fishing.
A third, point up, like a cuckold,
Then your course well clear you hold.

Three black balls to heaven bound,
Shows that boat is aground.
If by night to ground she's wed,
Two white lights and red on red.

 Sailing boat, sails raised & under power
A sailing craft, cone pointed down,
Her engine's pushing, driving home.

 Two sailing boats meeting, wind on opposite sides:
When the wind is on your port,
Then of wisdom don't be short.
Like the dogs of the street,
You'll avoid them when you meet.


Two sailing boats, wind on same side:
If you are closer to the wind,
Of her stay clear and peace you'll find.

 Sail & power meeting in confined waters
No matter if you're a big three master,
If she's got power, she is faster.
A barquentine or sleek square rigger,
If she's got power, she is bigger.
To yourself, you always say,
"She has power - keep out of the way!"

 Sail & power meeting in open water: (Don't count on this one!)
When well clear, and in the offing,
The steamer's cap to you she's doffing,
To you the stand on she'll give
But keep well clear and you will live!

Title: Boating tips for beginners. Instruction offered in sail power boat and coastal navigation. Weather Memory Aids

Use of the barometer

A sudden drop in pressure foretells stormy weather and rain.  The sharper the drop in pressure, the more severe the winds will be.

At sea with low and falling glass
The greenhorn sleeps like a careless ass
But when the glass is high or rising
May soundly sleeps the careful wise one

A sudden rise in pressure from a very low reading forecasts a severe gale.

Quick rise after low
Foretells a stronger blow

The rate of change in pressure can also indicate the duration.

Long foretold, long last
Soon coming, soon past

If you see signs of deteriorating weather for many hours, that is an indication that the weather is moving in slowly and it will therefore be with you for some time.  If the weather changes very suddenly, it means that the weather system is moving quickly and will pass through quickly.


Docking Tips

1. When secured to a dock, the stern will often move away from the dock due to the angle of the stern line.  Instead of bending over and pulling on the stern line, simply step on the line between the dock cleat and the boat to bring the stern gently close to the dock.  The technique has been proven effective on boats up to 65 feet.

2. Another way to rig your stern line is to take it to the cleat on the side of the boat away from the dock.  This gives the line a better angle to keep the stern closer to the dock.

3. When docking a boat by yourself, a handy idea is to step ashore with a mid-ship breast line.  The line goes to the dock at right angles to the boat.  Once this line is secured, the bow and stern cannot move very far.  Very helpful when the wind is blowing the boat off the dock.

4. If you leave a little slack in the mid-ship line, it can be used as a after-midship spring line.  Lead the line from a midship cleat aft to the dock.  Place your rudder away from the dock and go ahead at idle.  The boat's stern will be pushed against the dock making it easy to load your crew and their gear.  This also works well when the wind is off the dock.  When you are ready to depart, go to neutral, cast off your line and the wind will blow you clear of the dock.

Aids to Navigation

Lateral Bouys 

The stripes on the bifurcation, fairway and isolated danger aids point to the safe water location.

To remember the colour, shape and number of the lateral aids:

Assuming you are in the FOG, you want to return to a safe PORT. Port had bouys are:

Flat topped
Odd numbers
Green in colour

Solid colour aids have a letter that defiines the area and a number.  The numbers usually increase proceeding from seaward.  There is one exception off Swartz Bay where they added a new bouy so you come to U18 and then U 16.   Multiple colour bouys are letter & letter such as UH.

Cardinals Bouys

The cones point to the black portion of the aids.  The light flashes are the same as a clock face.  East is 3 flashes, south has 6 + 1 Long flash and West is 9 flashes.  North is just quick flashing.




• Introduction to Boating    - Introduces novice boaters to safe practices in preparing to leave the dock, while underway, and when returning to dock.

• Basic Outboard    - At the completion of the Basic Outboard Standard you should be able to operate safely in familiar waters as skipper of a boat under 6 metres and powered by an outboard engine under 55 kW (75 hp).

• Basic Powerboat   - At the completion of the Basic Power boat Standard you should be able to operate safely in local waters as skipper of a boat over 6 metres and powered by an engine over 55 kW (75 hp).

• Intermediate Powerboat    - At the completion of the Intermediate Powerboat Standard you should be able to operate safely as a skipper of a power boat between 8 - 12 metres with inboard engine(s) by day in moderate wind and sea conditions.

• Coastal Navigation    - A home-study hard copy course giving you the benefit of learning in your home environment. Successful completion of the course leads to Canadian Yachting Association Coastal Navigation certification.




• Basic Crew    - At the completion of the Basic Crew Standard you should be able to act as competent crew while cruising safely in familiar waters aboard a sloop rigged keel boat of 6 - 10 metres in moderate wind and sea conditions by day.

• Basic Cruising    - At the completion of the Basic Cruising Standard you should be able to cruise safely in familiar waters as both skipper and crew of a sloop rigged keel boat of 6 to 10 meters in moderate wind and sea conditions by day.

• Intermediate Cruising    - At the completion of the Intermediate Cruising Standard you should be able to cruise safely in familiar waters as both skipper and crew of a sailing boat of 8 - 12 meters in moderate wind and sea conditions by day. Emphasizes on-the-water skills at a level acceptable for bare boat chartering.

• Advanced Cruising    - At the completion of the Advanced Cruising Standard you should be able to act safely as skipper and crew of a sailing boat of 8 - 15 metres, operating by day and night in coastal or inland water in any weather


Appendix 1


To order the Radio Course

Symbols, Abbreviations, Terms  Chart 1

The Contraventions Regulations

Transport Canada Safe Boating Guide



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