How to master basic sea skills

Carry spare fuel in jerry cans safely stored or tied in. You can get jerry cans cheaply from army surplus stores. Before taking one to sea, grease the moving parts of the cap and its locking device with waterproof grease to preserve them from salt.

Plastic petrol cans have no place on boats – they tend to crack, with very dangerous consequences.

boat angling


cod fishing from a boat

This sort of cod collection is the crowning glory for anglers. But the rewards depend on smooth running boats, care and ample preparation.

sliding a boat to and from the sea

Lengths of 15cm (6in) wide gas main piping are popular for sliding a boat to and from the sea.

A winch fro boat hauling

A winch is handy for boats which are too big to carry up the beach. If a boat is small enough to carry, don’t take it out too far from shore.

boat fishing safety

If the weather turns nasty, think of safety first. Big, old fish will probably still be there when the weather improves

Planning for safety at sea

The Safety essentials – flares, lifejacket, first aid kit compass and charts. Check your needs in the Seaway Code.

You’re itching to get your boat to sea, but first you need to master basic sea skills. John Darling points you in the right direction.

You can’t beat going out to sea with an experienced skipper to pick up basic seafaring skills. But at some stage you have to take the helm to gain the sort of sea knowledge that only comes by doing it yourself. When you’re ready to take charge it makes sense to prepare as much as you can for the essentials of running an angling boat safely. This means reading up, asking advice and even taking a course. Approach your sea craft step by step, building up experience as you go.


Many boat anglers start their nautical careers by launching from the beach. This can be hard work, particularly when the boat has to be shoved over a shingle ridge before sliding down to the sea.

In a twoman, small boat launching operation, both men watch the waves about 100m (110yd). out, waiting for a lull. When the right moment arrives, both push as hard as they can and, as the boat floats off in the surf, scramble over the stern to avoid capsizing. One man grabs the waiting oars and sweeps the boat into deeper, safer water, making sure the current doesn’t carry the boat on to a breakwater. The second man starts the engine and off they go.

On the return journey you stand offshore until suitable waves come to push the boat right up the beach. Many people come ashore at speed, using the hull’s momen- turn to carry them clear of the surf. This is fine if the boat is strong enough to take the impact.

Boat mooring

A harbour mooring is expensive, but it eliminates the struggle of beach launching. Setting out is usually a case of casting off the mooring ropes after starting the engine, then moving out to sea.

Coming back is trickier. You must manoeuvre the boat to glide alongside the dock then, with a quick burst of reverse, stop it in precisely the right place without banging into something hard. The easiest way is to steer slowly into the current, but not so slowly as to lose steerage.

When tying up, make sure you know the right ropes to use, allowing the boat to rise and fall in a tide. In marinas, ask locals how they do it and follow their example. With at least enough to find your way home. But, to complement your compass craft an electronic navigational system makes it easy for you to plot your position and find your secret hotspots time and time again. More importantly, it helps you get home in the dark or fog. The Decca and Loran systems are reliable but not as accurate as the American GPS (Global Positioning System), which is a satellite system. Radio communication On a small boat it’s important to have some kind of VHF radio. This enables you to talk to the coastguard and other boats, call for help and listen to weather details. You can get large multi-channel sets which work over a long range, although smaller hand-held sets do the job well. Some anglers also carry CB radios or portable telephones. There is a set way to use a radio at sea and you should make sure you know the procedures and have the appropriate licence.

Action in a tight spot

At hairy moments when the engine cuts out, follow a set safety procedure, even before getting the tool kit out. Drop the anchor to prevent the boat drifting into a shipping lane or near rocks. You need a proper anchor and chain with sufficient rope for three times the maximum depth you ever fish. In a rough sea pay out 30cm (1ft) of line every half hour or so, to stop it fraying where it passes through a cleat. Alert the coastguard and give your exact position. Otherwise use flares, a coat lashed to a fishing rod or any other means of attracting the attention of passing boats or people ashore.

Don’t panic Wear a lifejacket and stay with the boat (which is designed to ride rough seas). Any attempt to swim for it is risky though it is, of course, a good idea to learn to swim before going out in boats. Carry a bottle of fresh drinking water on ropes of the correct length and eyes spliced to them, mooring is simple enough.

Anchoring and position

Tossing an anchor over the side isn’t usually much of a problem. Even quite small ones work well, particularly with a long chain to hold them down.

Never try to drag a trapped anchor out by motoring down-tide. Usually this swamps the boat and rarely releases the anchor. As the engine revs faster, the stern is dragged even lower. Tripping the anchor is a better technique. Electronic navigation It’s worthwhile gaining some traditional navigational skills board and some spare food in case of emergency.

Aim for stability Big people in small boats cause them to roll more with the waves, so if your fishing partner is a big chap and you’re running along the waves, get him to sit down amidships to stabilize the boat. When drifting in a big sea, anglers should stand on the windward side of the boat to keep the point of balance tilting into the waves.

Filling up

Inexperienced mariners easily get caught out with refuelling – it’s not as easy as it may seem. Like everything else at sea, a careful and systematic approach is the best way to avoid disaster.

Funnels To reduce fuel spillage get a rectangular funnel — round ones tend to create waves of petrol on a rolling boat. Get a large one so you can pour fuel in fast and with no spillage.

Keep everything to do with fuel clean. A filter in the funnel prevents dirt from entering the system. Make sure your funnel is safely and conveniently stowed since plastic cracks easily.

Fuel Don’t try to economize on fuel – too much fuel is always better than too little. Calculate approximately how much fuel you need for a fishing trip and carry at least twice as much to be on the safe side.

Bear in mind any variable factors when working out your needs. For instance, in rough seas, planing hulls are not nearly as fuel efficient as when they are skidding over the waves. If you come back loaded up with a good catch, you may need at least double the fuel that you would normally use. Take into account time taken to gather bait as well.

If you spill fuel in an open boat swab it away immediately and don’t strike a light until the smell has faded considerably.

If you run out of fuel at a crucial moment (for example in the harbour entrance when the ferry is bearing down on you) it is vital to get a few pints of fuel into the tank as fast as possible. Don’t forget to pump it through to the engine or it won’t start straight away. Don’t bother with the entire can -just pour in enough to get you away safely. Most basic boat handling is common sense — if you think ‘safety first’ you are well on the way.