Making the most of your boat
You can help avoid getting into difficulties by ensuring that your boat, rigging, winches and engine are reasonably maintained. Before leaving your berth, you should also carry out some basic checks.
With an engine you should check oil, water and fuel levels and you should also check the water inlet filter (if you have one) or at least check that the water cooling system is functioning well. You should run the engine for a short while before leaving your mooring, to check that the fuel is not contaminated or that the fuel filter is not blocked.
With sail boats, you should check the operation of all winches, rigging, sail(s) and wind anemometer.
Finally, you should check the functionality of any other electrical equipment, navigation lights, horn, sonar and GPS.
Being in control of your boat and able to operate it in different weather and at close quarters is a starting point. Operating boats under power is not like driving a car so if you've not driven a boat before, you will need guidance. Even if you have previously owned a boat, if you're now buying a different type of vessel, it is likely to handle completely differently to your previous boat. Formal training is not only a good idea, it is essential, as any experienced sailor or helmsman will tell you.
If you're buying a new boat, the Dealer or Boat Builder may be able to give you the training required or may be able to recommend someone who can. Either way, it will probably take you at least half a day and more likely a full day of training for you to get to know your boat well. Make sure that you ask for this training as part of your 'deal' and don't be palmed off with a 'couple of hours' tuition or 'we'll show you on the way to your mooring'. It won't be enough and you will not be satisfied.
If you're buying a used boat, you can try asking the same of a broker (if one is involved) or asking the existing owner, if you're buying privately. Many ex-owners are quite happy to spend a day showing a new owner the ropes, for the price of a decent lunch.
But additionally, whether you're operating on the inland waterways or out at sea, power or sail, there are training organisations that can help you get the best out of your boat and can give you advice as to what training is available and what will suit your needs.
Understanding the rules of the road
You're not allowed to drive a car without a reasonable understanding of the highway code, therefore you shouldn't allow yourself to drive a boat without knowing about the 'Rules of the Road', whether its on the inland waterways or out at sea.
At sea, irrespective of what type of boat you sail, a good reference book to own, read and keep with you is 'Reed's Skipper's Handbook'. It'll provide you with the essential knowledge to sail safely around any part of the coast of the United Kingdom. Fortunately, it's written in plain English with plenty of images, not full of sailor jargon. This book tell you about, tides, navigation, reading charts, knots, the different types of buoys that you'll see and what they mean, the use of ropes, the lights and sounds that boats use and what they mean, anchoring, rights of way, safety procedures, judging the weather and much more.
The Inland Waterways Association publish equivalent books for those travelling on the rivers and canals.
Keeping safe and having fun on the water go hand in hand. If you feel confident on your boat, have an awareness and knowledge of what's going on around you and feel that you are able to deal with the odd unforeseen situation that may occur, then you'll relax, be at ease and will enjoy every minute of being on the water, whether it's the canal, river or sea.
Life Jackets - No one is too good a swimmer or too an experience boater to not need a life jacket. They are also essential for children and pets.
Whilst they ensure that the heads of those wearing them stay out of the water sufficiently for them to breathe, they also provide buoyancy to help you to get them back on board, if they've accidentally fallen into the water. During the majority of the year in the UK, you will not have a lot of time to get somebody out of the water, before they start to suffer from the effects of exposure.
Weather – Before going out in your boat, it is always good to know how the weather is predicted to unfold throughout the day. This includes how strong the wind's expected to be, which direction the wind is coming from, what's the temperature likely to be, what the visibility is expected to be like and for sea-goers, what's the forecast sea state.
Fortunately there are web sites and mobile telephone services that can provide you with this kind of information, for any part of the United Kingdom.
Mobile telephones - Before going out in your boat make sure that you take a fully charged mobile telephone with you, ideally with a waterproof cover on it. If your boat breaks down, you run out of fuel, or one of your crew becomes ill, your mobile telephone could take the drama out of a mini crisis. Be sure to check that you can always get a good signal in the areas where you sail and that you have pre-programmed the telephone numbers of your local coastguard, your marina and sailing club.
If you live and sail in an area where mobile telephone reception is poor or unavailable, then you should invest in a portable VHF radio, for which you'll need a license.
RNLI – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the organisation that is called upon to rescue all sailors at sea. If you can afford it (currently £60 per annum), you'll regularly receive useful safety information from them and you'll know that you are helping others who may get into difficulty at sea. As importantly, if you ever need their services, you'll feel a lot better belonging to the team already, when they come to your assistance. Their details are included in the useful contacts section of this Guide.