20 Myths About Offshore Sailing

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One of the things about offshore voyaging that keeps me endlessly fascinated, despite having been…well, fixated on the subject for some 50 years, is that there is always more to learn.

And not only that, with that learning I have come to the realization that many true things about offshore voyaging are counter-intuitive, which, in turn, results in a lot of myths becoming widely believed just because they seem to make sense and have been repeated a lot.

This post is a list of some of those myths.

By the way, before we get started, I will be honest and admit that at some time in my life I have believed that at least 15 of these myths were facts. However, I’m going to preserve the last shreds of my pride by not telling you which ones.

All of the statements below are wrong, despite being many being accepted as fact in the voyaging community:

  1. Double-ended boats are intrinsically safer in following seas.
  2. Good weather forecasting and a good weather router can keep you out of storms. (Members*)
  3. Wave strikes are what damage boats in storms.
  4. Lying a-hull is safe.
  5. Being pooped is a risk in storms.
  6. Twin rudders are a desirable feature. (Members*)
  7. A good jackline system can keep you from being dragged in the water. (Centreline jacklines excepted.) (Members*)
  8. Very low-stretch wire or high modulus rope jacklines are a good idea. (Members*)
  9. You will die in just minutes in cold water.
  10. The more anchors you set the safer you will be. (Members*)
  11. You are safer with shorefasts than anchored.
  12. Small snug anchorages are safer than larger ones. (Members*)
  13. Chain provides spring through catenary.
  14. A kellet increases holding power.
  15. Learning CPR will have a significant effect on outcomes.
  16. A boom brake replaces a preventer. (Members*)
  17. Full-keeled boats always steer better than fin-keeled boats.
  18. Installing a series hybrid diesel electric system in a voyaging boat will save fuel and is the environmentally responsible thing to do. (Members*)
  19. To be a good mariner you need to know how to tie a whole bunch of fancy difficult knots.
  20. Modern hull designs can’t heave-to. (Members*)

I have linked to the source that debunks each myth, where available. For the myths without links, if there is enough interest expressed in the comments, I will write a post explaining my thinking.

*Non-members can read the Online Book Introductions and Tables of Contents, to assess their value before joining, at the above links.


So, what other myths can you think of that you once believed but now know to be wrong? Please leave a comment.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

39 comments… add one
  • Adam May 6, 2014, 6:50 am

    Don’t you have an article on a small number of useful knots to link point 19 to?

    • John May 6, 2014, 7:22 am

      Hi Adam,

      No we don’t, but it’s on my to-do list. Spoiler alert: we only use five easy to learn knots and they cover all our needs.

  • Nick Kats May 6, 2014, 9:30 am

    That offshore sailing is more dangerous than coastal.

    • John May 6, 2014, 10:01 am

      Hi Nick,

      Great one! Let’s make that #21, or maybe we should make it #1.

    • Cathy Norrie May 6, 2014, 10:20 am

      Good one Nick. Now someone needs to tell the boat insurance people that!!

  • Dave Foss May 6, 2014, 10:58 am

    CPR offshore? It would be a fluke to actually revive someone, an absolute fluke. Around 5% in a hospital setting survive to walk out of the hospital.

    • John May 6, 2014, 11:06 am

      Hi Dave,

      You got it! But it’s amazing how much time is wasted on CPR in maritime safety training that could be, I think put to better use. I think your 5% in hospital is about right. At sea far offshore, I’m guess less than one tenth of 1%.

      • Sue May 6, 2014, 12:24 pm

        And those probably would have come around on their own.

  • Jeffrey Siegel May 6, 2014, 11:58 am

    Oh my…the misinformation about CPR. I have the referenced book and have read it. I show it in the Medical Emergencies for Cruisers lectures we give. The point of the book is about the misconceptions we have about CPR, not that it shouldn’t be learned. CPR is an incredible and easy-to-learn skill that all boaters should know. Thinking it is a waste of time is really bad and could easily create a situation where you watch someone you love expire.

    CPR by itself has a 1.6% out-of-hospital survival rate. Giving someone CPR by itself has a terrible outcome. Sadly, CPR given on TV has a fantastic survival rate so people are confused about it (“ER” had an 80% survival rate on CPR alone).

    But CPR does something very useful – it stops the clock on brain damage to allows time for defibrillation to be administered. Patients in cardiac arrest who are given CPR quickly and defibrillated within 4 minutes have a fantastic survival record – it’s why there are so many AED’s in shopping malls, airports, etc.

    I think that AED survival far offshore would be lower unless you also had some cardiac drugs onboard. But if you’re at risk for a cardiac event, you should be carrying some of those drugs along with the training about how to use them. That training would most surely include CPR and AED use.

    I’ve been a licensed EMT for 21 years and served as advanced life support for our little coastal town in Maine. I’ve unfortunately had to administer CPR multiple times, use AED’s, and manually defibrillated patients. The information within this blog posting should really be researched and corrected. Cruising boaters are confused enough already and this is only adding to that confusing. It was terribly irresponsible.

    • John May 6, 2014, 12:41 pm

      Hi Jeffrey,

      All good information I’m sure, thank you. Having said that, I never said don’t learn CPR, all I said was that CPR in and of itself is unlikely to save lives offshore. I got this information from a certified red cross wilderness first aid instructor and had it backed up by a senior anesthesiologist with a huge amount of cardiac care experience. I myself am CPR certified but I’m not delusional about it’s benefits as many are.

      For example the only medical training required to get a RYA Yacht Master (non-commercial) is, or at least was, CPR. To me there is plenty of other first aid training that should come before CPR. For example, hypothermia and bleeding care, which can save lives in, as I understand it, many more cases.

      As you say a defibrillator will help, but probably only in a situation where professional full on cardiac care is close, not the case offshore.

      As to irresponsible. I can’t see anything irresponsible about debunking the often held myth that CPR has a high rate of success. That information might even make someone with a cardiac condition think twice about going offshore, when they realize that if they do arrest the chances of resuscitation are, (using you figure) less than 1 in 50 and that’s with medical care close by!

      Rather I think it is irresponsible to provide CPR training without explaining the actual efficacy since it gives people a false sense of security. I have done CPR training four times in my life, and in the first three courses I was left with the impression that CPR worked in the majority of cases. That’s irresponsible.

      • Peter May 6, 2014, 1:37 pm

        Agreed, but even though CPR alone may not save lives offshore, CPR can constitute a vital part of a system that indeed could (thinking of AED in particular).

        The same can be said for other really great things we carry as well. They won’t work without supporting systems and knowledge. I still agree that people must learn the limitations of CPR and the proper supporting steps and sometimes equipment needed to make it worthwhile though.

        • John May 7, 2014, 6:08 am

          Hi Peter,

          Well put. But we should also not lose sight of the fact that even with all the supporting stuff (de-fib, drugs, etc) offshore far from help, as I understand it from medical professionals, the chances of lasting resuscitation are very, very small.

          This is in keeping with my fundamental belief that deluding ourselves about efficacy of any safety training or gear is, in and of itself, dangerous. For example, someone with cardiac problems who believed that CPR was more effective than it is might easily make the decision to spend large amounts of time offshore far from help because the other crew have CPR training and there is a de-fib machine aboard.

          • Jeffrey Siegel May 7, 2014, 10:55 am

            It’s just sad. You’re wrong. Dangerously wrong. This isn’t the same as a jackline, EPIRB, or other safety gear. The reality is that you’re offshore for less than 5% of your time onboard. The rest of the time, you’re nearshore, at anchor, or at a marina. Even when offshore, you’re often hours from real medial help. And in all of those times, CPR is a valuable tool. Dis’ing it is just, again, irresponsible. Twisting the words to make it seem reasonable is just, well, stupid.

            I offer this one example. You used the cover of that “myth of CPR” book as your example in your posting for #15. Will you admit that you didn’t actually read that book? Had you read that book, you wouldn’t have ever used it to “prove” your point.

            I’m done with this. You need to spend a little time actually researching your position instead of defending a dangerous one just because you wrote it. I hope that no one follows the impressions about emergency care that you’re trying to promote here for some ridiculous reason.

            No need to respond. I had hoped you would do the most basic of investigation. Instead, this is just a total waste of time – I’ll never be back.

          • John May 7, 2014, 12:52 pm

            Hi Jeffrey,

            I’m sorry you are so upset, but once again you seem to have got yourself all worked up about something I never said.

            One more time: I never said don’t learn CPR. I am CPR certified myself. What I said was that when offshore CPR was a lot less effective than may people think it is. That’s all I said. That’s a fact, and a useful one to know. This post was about offshore sailing myths. It says that clearly in the title. It is not about on-shore or near-shore, which is where you operate.

            I think it is just as well that you are leaving, for everyones sake.

            Sorry it worked out that way.

          • John May 7, 2014, 1:27 pm

            Hi Jeff,

            One other thing I need to clarify. Phyllis and I are huge believers in and promotors of the Red Cross Wilderness First Aid courses, which includes CPR.

            In fact I will be teaching a high latitude course this weekend and I will be strongly, maybe aggressively, suggesting that the participants do said course.

            Of course part of my enthusiasm may be rooted in the fact that Wilderness first aid training may have saved my life.

        • Roger Harris Apr 10, 2016, 6:18 pm

          Regarding the suggestion that “even though CPR alone may not save lives offshore, CPR can constitute a vital part of a system that indeed could (thinking of AED in particular)”, you may wish to consider the following comments by Jeffrey Isaac in the 2016 Ocean Voyager:

          “Early access to a defibrillator, ideally within five minutes, is the key to successful defibrillation. Early access to hospital care is the key to survival. Some of the people selling AEDs claim success rates of more than 90 percent. They are drawing their line of success at restoration of a pulse in specific cases of ventricular fibrillation. Most of us would prefer to draw the line at actually walking out of the hospital alive. That success-to-discharge rate in the U.S. is 10.4 percent. The overwhelming majority of these saves occur in urban areas. The number is far lower for rural areas and almost zero in remote locations with no access to medical care. There is a big difference between being defibrillated and being saved.”

          • John Apr 11, 2016, 7:27 am

            Hi Roger,

            Great quote, thanks. That’s exactly what my wilderness first aid instructor said. Yes, you may bring them back temporarily with a defibrillator but without hospital care to deal with the underlying problem, the patient will almost certainly arrest again.

            I have since heard one exception to that, and that is if the arrest was caused by electric shock. Apparently in this case a defibrillator may make the difference even offshore far from help. Having said that, that information is anecdotal and I have nothing solid to back it up.

      • Dave DeWolfe May 25, 2014, 8:35 am

        A candidate being examined for the RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Certificates must present first aid qualifications. Not all are acceptable. The list of what is is at http://www.rya.org.uk/coursestraining/resources/Pages/Firstaidandmedical.aspx

        CPR is only one element of the courses.

        • John May 25, 2014, 9:03 am

          Hi Dave,

          Thanks for that clarification. Good to hear that the training required has been expanded.

          Having said that, I would suggest that a course like the Red Cross Wilderness First Aid that focuses on care in remote places where professional care may be hours or even days away, would be more appropriate for the YM offshore than many of the courses listed that may only prepare one to render aid for a short period before the professionals arrive.

          • Dave DeWolfe May 25, 2014, 10:09 am

            The RYA list is dynamic and things can be added to it once RYA has had a chance to examine the syllabus. As an example, you will notice that the Canadian Ski Patrol Advanced Medical Responder course is on the list. I had it put there as that is my first aid training. It’s a lot like Red Cross Wilderness first aid, which could also be added to the list if someone requested it.

          • John May 25, 2014, 11:04 am

            Hi Dave,

            Thant sounds good, but my concern was that in my opinion, many of the courses that are accepted are inadequate for a skipper of an boat going offshore far from help and that course like the Red Cross Wilderness First Aid should be the minimum standard.

          • Dave DeWolfe May 25, 2014, 12:24 pm

            Agreed. A one day first aid course is indequate, and Wilderness First aid is much more suitable for sailing offshore.

  • Simon Wirth May 6, 2014, 12:41 pm

    How about “the safest place for a good ship is far offshore”?

    • John May 6, 2014, 12:55 pm

      HI Simon,

      I don’t think that’s a myth in most cases.

      • Simon Wirth May 6, 2014, 1:13 pm

        Hei John
        I know what you mean. I was thinking about Bounty in this case, because THE safest place is a safe harbor, even if most Harbors don’t fall into that category.

        • John May 6, 2014, 1:16 pm

          Hi Simon,

          There’s a good point!

          My motto is “I don’t leave port if there is an active hurricane, or even a tropical storm, in the same ocean”!

  • CaperAsh May 6, 2014, 3:22 pm

    Not sure what point is being made in #3 viz. the article linked.
    The Myth: “Wave strikes are what damages boats in storms.”

    At the end the article linked says: “Damage to the boat is incurred when the boat is thrown ahead of the wave and impacts the green water in the trough. The leeward side and the deck are struck. ”

    Is that the main point? (If not, I am not sure what damage other than wave action is being explained in the article.)

    If so, then it’s still essentially wave action that is causing the damage but the author is pointing out that it’s not the leading wave crashing into the hull but the boat being dashed by the leading wave into the trough which causes the most damage. The trough is still part of wave action , though not the part usually considered. That’s a valuable point of course in terms of understanding what to avoid, but it seems that wave action is still a major cause of damage during a storm.

    I think the usual misconception is that it’s the screaming winds which cause the most damage whereas in fact it’s the monstrous weight of heavy water in motion coming up against the boat infrastructure. At least that’s my understanding; in which case, if that is incorrect, am not sure how the Jordan Series article debunks the myth cited, even though everything in the article made perfect sense, and look forward to being set straight.

    Again, Myth #3: “Wave strikes are what damages boats in storms.”

    Now of course there are other things which damage boats in storms, such as other boats, rocks or any other non-watery hard objects encountered by the hull.

    • Adam May 7, 2014, 12:37 am

      I think the point is that things like Jordan series drogues don’t necessarily stop wave strikes, they stop you surfing or falling down the face of a wave to hit the hard water at the bottom. Or in other words “don’t worry so much about being hit by a wave, worry about being thrown at the sea by a wave”.

      • John May 7, 2014, 5:25 am

        Hi Adam,

        Exactly, and very well and simply put, I might add.

    • John May 7, 2014, 5:42 am

      Hi CaperAsh,

      Well put.

      The point being, as Adam says above, is that it’s not the wave hitting you that causes the damage, it’s broaching and crashing into the trough at the bottom. I know that the difference does not, on the surface, seem important. But it is because if we believe that it wave strikes that are dangerous we may be tempted to try and avoid them by sailing fast off the wind.

      But when we understand that is in fact getting going too fast on a wave face that causes problems we will make the right decisions (streaming a JDS or heaving-to) to stop the boat from surfing down the wave face.

      I believe that Don Jordan’s research is the single most important contributor to storm survival in heavy weather that has happen in my lifetime. He applied good science to the problem, designed a system to solve the problem, and then tested said system in tanks and the real world. Finally, he explained the whole thing in a way that we non-scientists can understand. As far as I know, this in unique, and beats heck out of guess work based on observation in an environment that is intrinsically given to optical illusions: big waves in a storm.

  • Mark May 6, 2014, 8:44 pm

    Great article! Just sane sensible stuff, but many will dispute them.

    Another myth is that “cruising is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror.” If cruising is about 1.5 hours per week sheer terror no one except nutters would be out there.
    In my circumnavigation there was no terror. A bit of fear in the Gulf of Aden and a good bit of fear when I screwed up and went into a hurricane area during hurricane season and got dusted up. But if one sails only in the right season their ain’t no terror!


    • John May 7, 2014, 6:21 am

      Hi Mark,

      I agree. I have certainly been scared a few times over the years, but sheer terror, is very rare.

  • Terry Laybourne May 6, 2014, 9:56 pm

    Myth: “Prettying” up the interior will make your wife love yachting!

  • Krist May 7, 2014, 2:41 am

    How about:
    “space rudders are inherently unsafe”.

    I encounter this myth quite often…

    • Adam May 7, 2014, 4:41 am

      ‘Spade’ rudders, Krist?

      • Krist May 8, 2014, 10:26 am

        Spade rudders indeed. Shouldn’t post using an iPad on a moving train…
        Anyway. I keep on hearing (and reading) how a spade rudder is asking for trouble. The engineer in me however tells me that all is a matter of designing it strong enough, and thinking about how if could fail. Making the bottom third sacrificial seems a good idea. That way if you hit something you still maintain some steering.

    • John May 7, 2014, 6:19 am

      Hi Krist,

      I used to believe that one, but now believe that if done right spade rudders can be perfectly safe. Colin does a great job of explaining what done right in relation to spade rudders is in this post.

  • Martin May 8, 2014, 3:29 am

    Without challenging the premise that “Double ended boats are intrinsically safer in following seas” is a myth, I’d like to learn something about this if I can.

    Assume we have two sailboats running downwind in following seas (and NO drogues or sea anchors being used):
    No1) Rear hull section is deep-V, with a narrow stern
    No2) Rear hull section is flat and shallow with a wide, bouyant stern

    Now if the following seas were overtaking the boats and the waves were breaking, you would think that No2’s stern could be picked up and slewed around into a broach more readily than No1’s, since it’s substantially more buoyant. Being slewed sideways is usually not good because you can be rolled.

    But, that’s just a thought experiment. What really matters is what those experienced circumnavigators and voyagers that have actual experience of breaking, following seas can say about the difference in behaviour of the two vessels in those circumstances? Anyone?

    • John May 8, 2014, 5:19 am

      Hi Martin,

      I think there are a huge number of variables here, so hard to answer. My guess, and it is just that, is that all other things being equal the wide buoyant stern boat if properly designed and if the buoyancy is not overdone, will steer better on the wave face and therefore be less likely to broach. As an example, look at the truly scary weather that modern Open 60s keep going in safely.

      On the other hand if the wide boat is poorly designed, and has a tendency to bow steering, as many do, then it will be less safe.

      But I think that the real issue for voyaging boats is that because of the loads we carry we won’t be planing like an Open 60 so the key is that regardless of our boat type we need to have gear aboard that will allow us to slow the boat down on a wave face, so that we don’t broach st the bottom.

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