The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

A Mariner’s 14 New Year’s Resolutions

I have got to the age where I’m comfortable with my bad habits and so the standard New Year’s resolutions hold little interest for me—I’m simply not giving up whisky* or chocolate.

But as a voyaging sailor, I know that forgetting the basic rules of seamanship can be the slippery road to disaster. And even after all the years and miles I have cruised, or maybe even because of that (hubris is a dangerous thing), I often take a moment to remind myself of those rules. It’s New Year’s, a good time to turn those rules into resolutions:

    1. I will never set a course close to a lee shore just to save a few minutes, or even hours.

    2. When at sea with bad weather coming, I will stay offshore, the further the better, unless I am sure that we can make safe harbour before it starts blowing.

      It’s not the sea that kills sailors, it’s the hard bits around the edges.

    3. I will always know what the tide or current is doing where we are, and what it will be doing where we are going to be.

    4. If severe weather is expected, I will stay out of tidal waters or offshore currents (Gulf Stream).

    5. I will never do a night approach, particularly to an unfamiliar harbour, unless the dangers of doing so are outweighed by the dangers of not doing so (very rare).

    6. I will never make something complex, when it could be simple.

    7. I won’t be lazy.

    8. I won’t let myself be distracted while on watch.

      That includes playing with iThings, playing with the plotter, listening to music, and reading. Yeah, I know I’m tough about this, but it’s called “on watch” for a reason. (Some exceptions are made when we are way, way offshore, but not in coastal waters.)

    9. I will always remember that there is no reason that justifies compromising a good and safe footing on deck.

    10. I will listen to others, but do my own analysis and make my own decisions.

    11. I will always prepare for going to sea as if we will be hit with a full on storm.

    12. When anchoring, I will always assume that it will blow like blazes, probably while we are asleep.

    13. The time to reef is when I first think about it.

    14. I will keep our boat cleared for action, on deck and below.

In looking over this list I’m embarrassed to admit that over the years I have broken every single one of these resolutions. The good news is that I have not broken them often and every year I renew my commitment to not break them again. Will I be perfect in this? Of course not, but I will try hard.

The Photograph

In case you are wondering how the photograph fits in, it shows the boat that inspired this post.

We were walking along the beach at Cape May, New Jersey on a blustery day with an onshore wind. The boat appeared around the headland coming from Delaware Bay steaming with no sail up and right on the shallow water contour.

Wait, it gets worse. Later I talked to a crew member who allowed as how the engine seemed to be overheating—we could see steam coming from the exhaust, all the way from the beach.

But even if the engine was running fine, and they had some sail up, going that close to a lee shore, particularly one that is comprised of shifting sands, just to shave an hour or so off a passage, is not survival behavior, or seamanlike.

I’m pleased to say that the day before, in the same conditions, we slugged all the way out to the sea buoy, well into deep water, even though it added a good ten miles to our day, before turning for Cape May inlet. Also, we had timed it so that the tide was flooding before we ran the inlet.

Happy New Year

Our very best wishes for a prosperous, healthy, and above all, happy New Year to all our readers.


I’m sure I don’t have the lock on wisdom here. What resolutions can you add to the above list?

* As far as I’m concerned, there is only one type, and it’s made in Scotland.

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