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Skills Alerts from Steve Leniston

Last year’s alerts have been updated and the caution about charts added.

Water Safety

The RNLI initiative about lifejackets – USELESS UNLESS WORN – really sums this up nicely.  The water temperature in winter falls below the dangerous water shock level.  The lowest sea temperatures around here occur in the spring as many of us venture out for the first sail of the year.  The Tops’l lifejackets are currently manual inflation only.  Please make sure that you know how to inflate your LJ.  Not falling in is the best situation – do you ever use the harness / tether?  If you need to be rescued, do you always use the crotch strap?  Have you ever practiced using the emergency sling?  Skippers, do you routinely nominate the 2nd in Command?


Extract from LNTM 8/12 (Local Notice To Mariners issued by QHM, Portsmouth)

While not a legal requirement for certain types of small private recreational craft; the habit of routinely wearing both appropriate (for size and hazard) and suitably tested lifejackets cannot be emphasised sufficiently as a minimum precaution to such exposed personnel (especially children).  This characteristic alone can dramatically increase both survival and rescue probability.  The Volunteer Harbour Patrol (VHP) in Portsmouth will additionally remind such mariners of the importance of this procedure whenever possible.


Our charts are correct at the beginning of the season but should always be treated with caution if skippers have not checked for updates.  Our chartplotters are generally more accurate because of regular software updates.  The RYA has recently acknowledged that there is no unified single source of chart updates and is planning to work to rectify this.
In the meantime, links are:


Engine Cooling Seacock

Ensure sufficient attention given to establishing whether water is flowing from the exhaust.  The key word here is flowing – a quantity of water always remains in the muffler, it is imperative that you observe a “flow” of water from the exhaust, not just the first splutter or two.


LOA: Letter of Authority.  As you are aware the Skipper’s Letter of Authority covers both the individual yacht and the area of operation. There are two levels of Tops’l skipper authorisation: Local and Offshore.

Offshore / Unrestricted skippers can take the yacht anywhere within the area of insurance, normally Brest to the Elbe but extended by the Board when needed for extended cruises.

Local Skipper: There are historical reasons why the wordings of some local skippers’ authorisations are at variance with the current wording in the Local Skipper paperwork.
Local Skippers are restricted to cruising in sight of land away from shipping channels in benign areas.  This precludes local sailing from areas with significant difficulties such as (but not limited to) the Channel Islands & the North Brittany coast.  During extended cruises the directors may designate other areas as not suitable for Local Skippers.  A current list of these restricted areas will be on the website.

If you are currently a local skipper who wishes to sail in the “offshore” areas that look to be involved in cruises, please make the booking now, as if you were qualified.  HOWEVER, in good time prior to the event you must make suitable arrangements to get your Local Skipper authorisation upgraded to “Offshore”.

Skipper Offshore Experience required:

1. Already authorised as Local skipper.

2. 20 days on board a sailing vessel as an active crewmember.

3. 400 miles at sea in tidal waters.

4. 12 hours night watch experience.

5. One cross channel passage or equivalent as acting skipper under the supervision of a mentor.

6. Completion of the Skipper Offshore syllabus.


DSC Distress Call: The MCA – Maritime Coastguard Agency advice on the format of the MAYDAY Call following the DSC message has been amended to include the ship’s MMSI Number. This is so that the two messages are “linked”.  Please make sure you know how to send the DSC distress call.  Each radio set has slight variations; accurate information is on each yacht checklist.  Whether you are a skipper or crewmember, please make sure you understand how to make that call before you need it on a dark night in an emergency!

Radio Medical Advice: The MCA have issued further advice, necessitated by the increasing use of Mobile phones for Medical Urgency contact. Note that the DSC Emergency Button can ONLY send Distress Alerts, not urgency alerts.

NOTE the Difference between the Emergency and Urgency Format.


Extract from MCA information

If your situation is serious, for example someone’s life is at risk, send a Mayday voice message.  If it’s urgent, but not life-threatening, for example your mast snaps, send a Pan-Pan message. The Format for both types of message is in the “Rescue” section of the Skills area.

Radio Medical Advice: To obtain radio medical advice or assistance in UK waters, Masters and Skippers should first contact HM Coastguard on VHF DSC, VHF 16, MF DSC or INMARSAT. Urgent calls may be preceded by the urgency signal PAN PAN. Callers will be taken to a duplex VHF channel or simplex MF frequency.

Users should avoid using mobile telephones for seeking medical advice or assistance or contacting a hospital direct.


The coastguard will then connect the caller’s VHF or MF to telephone landline to make contact with a doctor at one of the designated UK centres for radio medical advice.  Whilst the link is being established, the following basic information will be requested:

1. Name of vessel

2. Type of vessel

3. Details of patient – Name; Sex; Nationality; Age; Medical history

4. Nature of symptoms / injury, whether conscious and or walking

5. Position of vessel (to be given as lat and long for SAR purposes)

6. Any additional information that may be appropriate

Having this information ready for the call would help.

HM Coastguard will monitor the call and on completion, the doctor will brief the Coastguard as to whether the advice was to treat the patient on board, whether the vessel is to return to port with the patient or whether medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) is recommended.

Coastguard will not initiate a MEDEVAC from a vessel without the approval of a doctor from the MCA’s Radio Medical Advice Service.

Vessels operating outside of UK waters are advised to check their Almanacs or ALRS VOl 1 for TELEMEDICAL ADVICE SERVICES or if using INMARSAT simply use two digit short code 32 Medical Advice, which most earth stations will connect to a hospital for doctor’s advice.


It would appear from a recent RYA magazine that few sailors use this excellent facility.  Each of our yachts has the other yachts MMSI in the DSC directory & also Solent Coastguard.  If you call Solent Coastguard using DSC, it will display all our details and they will respond on the correct channel.  I checked this out with them over the phone, but haven’t tried it out yet.

If you are not that familiar with each yacht’s radio, find the menu for DSC then READ the SCREEN.  It’s pretty intuitive from there on and it won’t send anything unless you confirm you want it to do that.  In the process you will undoubtedly find out more about the operation of the radio.  Just try calling another Tops’l yacht when you are next out sailing, it will help both you and the recipient to become more adept at using the radio.  (You can DSC call one of our yachts even it is not being used (hopefully no-one will answer!), just for practice.

Top Tips – Carina

A couple of reminders:

  • Make sure when to take over / pass the helm over that you remind the helmsman of the keel position.  She doesn’t manoeuvre well in tight spaces with the keel fully up.
  • Bow Thruster: This has a small power button below the joystick.  Press the button to power on the bow thruster; a small red light will be lit.  After use, ensure that the bow thruster is powered off by pressing the button again; the small red light will be extinguished.  Note that there is no AUTO OFF function.  All the time the red light is lit, the bow thruster will work.

    Having switched on the bow thruster, check that it actually works before you need it (warn anyone on the foredeck).  

    On departure, try it out just before casting off and again before entering the lock; returning try it before entering the lock and then again before you enter the pontoon area.  There are obviously many other situations that would benefit from this rationale.

Top Tips – Elfida

To be advised…

Top Tips – Jocalia

Some reminders:

  • Throttle lever: The Neutral position is not vertical on the quadrant; take a moment to get this in mind before you find yourself moving off inadvertently.
  • All reefing operations take place at the mast.  While this is a good sized area, get in the habit of using your harness / tether.

Thanks for reading this to the end. 

Good Sailing, Steve Leniston, Topsl Director for Skills and Charts