The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:


  • Boatyard Fall Prevention

    Us offshore sailors think and talk a lot about crew overboard prevention, but there’s another risk we subject ourselves to frequently that does not get much air time (ouch, bad pun):

    Falling off the boat when she is out of the water.

    And, believe me, even a 6-foot fall onto a hard surface can do huge damage, as I found out some years ago.

    So it’s well worth learning about, and using climber’s fall protection. And the cool thing is most of us already have much of the required gear in our mast-climbing kit, or at least we should.

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  • Source For Custom Jacklines

    We have long advocated for jacklines made of heavy Dacron webbing, but in recent years it has been difficult to source them already made up.

    But now there is a new vendor offering custom jacklines.

    One suggestion, I would not use their Jackline Assembly, consisting of a shackle and cover. The problem with this approach, aside from the added expense, is that it’s impossible to get the jackline fire-taut that way, and a jackline that’s even slightly loose increases drag risk.

    Not Recommended

    Instead, we recommend ordering the jackline about 6″ short and then tensioning it with a Spectra lashing as we have been doing without problems for decades.

    One other point, I have not inspected these jacklines, particularly the quality of the loop stitching and the gauge of the thread—the thread gauge looks light to me in the photos.

    That said, the good news is that they also sell what looks like our preferred webbing, which has been difficult to source lately, for those who wish to make up their own jacklines or tethers with heavy hand stitching.

    Anyway, I’m going to order a couple of short ones for our J/109 and will report on them when received.

    Thanks to member Todd for the heads up.


    This is simply a heads-up about a gear source. If you have thoughts about that, please leave a comment.

    But if you want to discuss person overboard prevention, or the best way to rig jacklines, please do so on the appropriate chapter of our Online Book on the subject, after you have read said chapter:

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  • Wind Generators Can Be Dangerous

    A few weeks ago I wrote an article on renewables in which I opined that the days of wind generators are, for most cruising usage profiles, over. Too much windage, too much noise, in return for less generated electricity, particularly when it matters, than many people believe.

    The interesting thing is I got surprising little pushback.

    Anyway, here’s another reason to think seriously before installing a wind generator: the things can be seriously dangerous, as this cruiser found out the hard way.

    So if you do decide to install a wind generator:

    • Make sure it’s high enough that no crew member, even standing on the side deck or lazarette, can extend their arm into the spinning blade.
    • And, further, if the thing runs amok in high winds, it’s better to let it destroy itself, rather than risk limbs trying to physically stop it.

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  • No, Lithium Batteries Don’t Burn Boats

    Every so often, someone sends me a link to this article, originally published in Professional Boat Builder and repeated at Sailing Anarchy, that starts with the line:

    Lithium-ion batteries start fires.

    First off, the author does not differentiate between lithium cobalt oxide (the battery type in your phone) and lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO), the chemistry generally used for service batteries on boats, which is much safer and less volatile.

    In fact, recently, ABYC tried to set one of the latter types on fire and had no luck.

    Second, he goes on to say that a large number of boat fires are caused by batteries.

    I don’t think that’s true.

    What I would agree to is that a large percentage of fires on boats are caused by poorly designed and installed electrical systems, and that includes those installed by the “professionals”:

    The electrical system on our new-to-us J/109, as installed by the builder in 2004, was a fire looking for a place to happen, mainly because of inadequate fusing.

    And then in the years after she was built and before we bought the boat and rebuilt the electrical system, “professionals” had made the fire risk far worse with stupid changes and additions.

    This is a distressingly common situation, and don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because your boat has passed survey that the electrical system is safe. Ours did and wasn’t.

    And don’t get me started on the dangers of electrical systems designed and installed by boat owners who watch a few YouTube videos, source lithium cells from some vendor on eBay, and have at it.

    So to me, the correct statement is:

    Lithium batteries don’t burn boats, poor battery and electrical installations burn boats, regardless of battery chemistry.


    I have written a lot more about this in this Online Book, including how to decide if lithium batteries are right for your boat:

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  • Cool Supplemental Anchor Light

    Some years ago Phyllis and I found out the hard way, when another yacht hit us, that sometimes boaters don’t look up and see anchor lights at the top of masts.

    After that accident, we fitted a supplemental all-around white light on top of the radar on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56, as is allowed under COLREGS. Definitely the best solution.

    I was just thinking about doing the same on our new-to-us J/109 when I remembered that our new B&G radar can display a blue light.

    I have to confess that when I first saw that in the installation manual I thought “well, that’s the silliest feature I have ever seen on marine electronics, and that’s saying something”.

    But now I have tried it, I take it back. And having the radar on standby with the light on medium intensity only uses 0.2 A at 12 volts.

    And since it’s blue, a colour that is not used for any lights prescribed by the COLREGS, I’m pretty sure it’s perfectly legal under Rule 30.

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  • Good LED Steaming/Deck Light

    We fitted a MarineBeam LED Steaming/Deck Light on the mast on our J/109 a year ago, and so far I’m impressed.

    Small, light, relatively inexpensive, and amazingly bright, with incredibly low current draw.

    Of course we don’t know how reliable it will be over time, but so far so good.

    By the way, I have never used deck lights at sea. Too dazzling and disorienting, and, worst of all, our own bodies throw shadows just where we want to see. Much prefer, and recommend, head lamps.

    The primary reason we have a deck light is to reduce the risk of someone running into us because they did not look up and see our masthead anchor light. Yes, it happens.

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  • The Most Dangerous Thing Offshore Cruisers Do

    Last week I linked to a well-done report and some associated testing over at Practical Boat Owner that made a convincing argument that sidedeck jacklines are worse, at least when used with a standard 6′ long tether, than not clipping on at all, because of the risk of being killed by dragging.

    And then a few days later I came across a Scuttlebutt article titled, “Nearly half die when falling overboard”, with statistics from the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch supporting the title.

    At first I was going to link to the latest piece in a tip with a scary title like “Why We Clip On” or some such.

    But that felt kinda wrong so close to the first tip—when does informing turn into scaremongering?

    So I decided, instead, to just remind us all that offshore sailing, at least when done with common sense and basic seamanship, is pretty safe.

    Sure, people die by falling overboard. But people also die by their furniture falling on them at home.

    So what’s the most dangerous thing most cruisers do? My guess is getting into an automobile…that is, unless they are wingsuit BASE jumpers, too.

    Oh yes, here’s a link to the Scuttlebutt article, worth reading…at least as long as we keep things in perspective.

    And if you are wondering about the photo, that’s Phyllis with our good friends and experienced offshore voyagers Wilson and Thelma, taken in Quebec during our drive of the Trans-Labrador Highway in 2019.

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  • When Did Your Inflatable Lifejacket Last Feel The Love?

    I have to confess that unpacking, test inflating (24 hours), and repacking lifejackets is one of my least favourite chores—getting them back together all nice and smooth with no lumps is just one of the many tasks I’m not naturally gifted at.

    But even so I just did all five of ours—two Spinlock Deckvest 6D and one 5D for the J/109; and two Deckvest LITE we wear when rowing our turbocharged Whitehall.

    We go through this process once a year, at the beginning of the sailing season. Here’s a good instructional video for the 6D.

    One piece of good news, one of the many improvements Spinlock have made to the new Deckvest 6D is that it’s easier to repack neatly than the older 5D—I will be writing more about the 6D in a future full article.

    Further Reading

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  • Install an Engine Space Fireport

    One of the most common places for a fire to start on a boat is in the engine space, and if that happens the last thing we want to do is open an access panel to fight it, and thereby get a face full of fire, not to speak of accelerating the fire by giving it oxygen.

    The answer is a fireport like the one I just installed on our J/109.

    Amazing to me that Tillotson Pearson did not install one when they built the boat comparatively recently in 2004, particularly considering that the first fireport I ever saw was on a brand new Beneteau back in the 1980s!

    More on fire prevention and fighting.

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  • Mental Liquidity

    I have quoted Morgan Housel, one of the smartest people in investing as well as one of the best writers, before.

    His thoughts about investing often make sense for life, and offshore voyaging.

    Here’s Morgan again:

    A question I love to ask people is, “What have you changed your mind about in the last decade?” I use “decade” because it pushes you into thinking about big things, not who you think will win the Super Bowl.

    I am always so suspicious of people who say, “nothing.” They act like it’s a sign of intelligence – that their beliefs are so accurate that they couldn’t possibly need to change. But I think it’s the surest sign of ignorance and stubbornness.

    Morgan Housal, read the whole article

    I struggle with staying open and flexible every day, but at least I can answer Morgan’s question in the positive:

    That’s all that comes to mind right now, at least around sailing. Maybe I need to work harder at this!

    What about you? Tell us what you have changed your mind about in the last 10 years, in a comment.

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  • Drawings For Improved Force 10 Stove Bracket

    I just added a drawing of this much-improved stove bracket to the original article so others can use it to get one made to improve the safety of Force 10 stoves.

    Should have done this years ago. Thanks to member Nina for the nudge.

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  • Installing a Propane Detector

    i just finished installing a propane gas detector with two sensors, one near the stove and the other just aft of the engine where gas would pool prior to kaboom, on our new-to-us J/109.

    I settled on the above-pictured unit from BEP Marine. So far it seems like a well-thought-out piece of safety gear.

    One of the things I like most about it is that it has no off-on switch, unlike many other detectors, including both of the ones I have owned in the past. Just way too easy to forget to turn it back on.

    This is a sensor that should be on at all times when anyone is aboard, so, despite there being a breaker for a gas detector on the panel, I wired it through a fuse and directly to the main positive buss so it comes on the instant the boat is powered up with the battery master switch.

    I guess one could argue that it should be on even when the master switch is off, but that would be a significant parasitic drain on the batteries and you gotta stop somewhere.

    Also, as soon as the sniffer is off, the gas is off in the locker, too, since this model includes the solenoid control switch.

    Further Reading

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  • New Iridium Go! exec

    Predict Wind have a preliminary announcement video for a new faster version of the Iridium GO!.

    Not a lot of details yet, but it’s supposedly a lot faster, although not fast enough to use for actual internet surfing.

    The big drawback will be if the unlimited data package available with the original GO! is not offered with this new unit or is a lot more expensive.

    I’m guessing it might not be the great deal that the unlimited plan on the original unit is since the new GO! uses the Certus modem like Iridium Pro.

    If no unlimited plan is offered, or a much more expensive one, I’m thinking that for many users who are just looking to download email and weather information at sea the original GO! may still be the best option since I have never had any problems getting all the weather data and email I need over the older unit.

    Definitely the key thing to look into and clearly understand before purchasing one of these new units is the availability and cost of an unlimited plan.

    One upgrade I did like is that the new unit has a speaker and microphone and so can be used for telephone calls without connecting a smartphone. This is a big safety benefit since there have been incidents with the old GO! where users were not able to get voice communications working quickly in an emergency.

    Here’s the intro video, not that it’s much use:

    And here’s a Q&A that might be more useful.

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  • Disturbing Failure Modality In Some Fall Arrest Devices

    While researching fall arrest devices I came across the video below from a seemingly credible source that explains how several popular devices can fail to arrest if the attaching carabiner gets oriented in ways that I can easily see happening when climbing masts.

    Worth 15 minutes of your time, particularly if you use climbing backup devices.

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  • Important Update To Recent Mast Climbing Article

    I have just updated my latest mast climbing article in light of some very important and counterintuitive new information that climber, sailor, and AAC friend-in-the-comments Drew found.

    Don’t miss this (scroll down to second alert box).

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  • Don’t Play With Your Phone When On Watch

    I think we would all agree that smart phones are seductive and, as a gadget freak, I’m as susceptible to their siren call as anyone.

    Here’s a really good reminder to me, and everyone else, from none other than the US Coast Guard, of why we should not give in to smart-phone temptation:

    For approximately half of the two-hour transit, the Pilot on board the container ship placed and received numerous calls, texted messages, and drafted emails on their personal cell phone right up until the incident…

    …The Pilot was drafting an email on their personal cell phone in the minutes leading up to the planned turn south, when the vessel sailed through its waypoint and grounded.

    If a professional pilot can get sucked into his phone like this, are we immune?

    Better to have simple rules. Being on watch is just that. No:

    • YouTube
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Reading
    • Texting
    • Games
    • Emailing
    • Or general phone-wan….

    I’m not even a fan of listening to music when on watch, because hearing something amiss has saved me huge grief on several occasions.

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  • Is It Time To Consider a Robot For Watchkeeping?

    OK, that was a clickbait title, if ever there was one.

    Anyway, I have been vaguely interested in the AI lookout and collision avoidance technology that has been used in the singlehanded racing game for some years, called OSCAR.

    Now I see that the company has rebranded as SEA.AI and their entry level product is down to a still eye-watering €9,999.

    But, then again, if this entry level unit really works, I can see that kind of investment (no more than a good integrated plotter and radar system) being worth it for singlehanders, or even double-handed crews.

    And if we were still heading for the high latitudes regularly, Phyllis and I would be all over this technology, assuming it works for detecting small growlers.

    Worth thinking about, although I’m guessing that waiting a bit longer before spending on this technology probably makes sense for most of us.

    The other thing that could be a problem is how much power this thing uses. I note that it needs 24 volts—to avoid voltage drops on the mast cable since this model has all its brains at the top of the mast, I’m guessing—which is a bit of a smoking gun on what a hog it is.

    Do any of you members have any first-hand experience with these things?

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  • Slippery Deck Shoe Fix

    My Gill deck shoes were completely losing their grip. We are talking scary-slippery, to the point I nearly went on my ass, and overboard was a real possibility.

    We have seen this before. Seems like whatever material deck shoe soles are being made of these days, it develops a hard yellowy layer way before the shoe is worn out—shoe on right.

    We have tried sanding before, but with not a lot of success, so this time, in desperation, I took a grinder with an 80-grade disk to them—shoe on left.

    That fixed it, as grippy as new.

    Keep at it until the yellow is gone and wear a respirator, I can’t imagine the dust is good for us.

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  • Safer Transom Ladder

    Our new-to-us J/109 has a robust transom swim ladder that could definitely enable someone who fell overboard get back into the boat, at least in smooth water.

    But check out the photo above: There’s no way for someone in the water, particularly wearing a lifejacket, to deploy the ladder unassisted. The angle is just wrong for that.

    So I made the modification in the photo below. Works a treat.

    I will be writing more over the next year about changes we are making to the boat to reduce crew overboard risk, in our Online Book on the subject.

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  • Spinlock Deckvest 6D On Test

    Phyllis’s cousin Ken modelling a brand new Deckvest 6D that just arrived for evaluation. Thanks Spinlock! We have long been Spinlock users and fans and will report on how we like this new model once we have had a chance to use it for a while.

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  • No Position

    We were out sailing our new-to-us J/109 when I realized that neither of the default screens on the plotter or TZiBoat showed position. Pretty standard these days…and oh so wrong. Imagine a crew overboard and we need to radio for help, but first have to dig through a bunch of screens to find our position. Two minutes to fix (above photo), but worth thinking about.

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