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Old 12-08-2015, 08:03 AM   #1
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New cruiser- how best to learn?

My wife and son and I are beginning to plan a year at sea. What are some of the best ways for me to learn what is needed to operate and navigate a large trawler? I've owned and operated an airplane for many years, but my boating experience is more limited. Does it make sense to pursue any of the certificates offered through the USCG, etc.?
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Old 12-08-2015, 08:36 AM   #2
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Depends on what "limited" might mean...


But USGG Aux and the US Power Squadrons both offer basic introductory courses, and then there are also schools (e.g., Annapolis School of Seamanship, etc.) that offer more specialized courses.


Some of those also offer courses intended to train you toward a USCG entry-level license, but that's not really necessary.. and you don't qualify for one of those anyway until you have significant sea time under your belt.


You can also hire a teaching Captain, and many find that useful for initial hands-on training, especially in close-quarters maneuvering (like docking).


And you can talk to your dock buds, go with them sometimes, discuss, watch and learn... although sometimes that's learning what NOT to do

Your other part.. is then to use what you learn: practice. Do it.


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Old 12-08-2015, 10:24 AM   #3
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I suggest hiring a local captain who is familiar with your type and size of boat and paying him or her to take you out on the water for training. Several hours or more should do it.


There are books that you can buy such as Chapman Piloting that will give you the basics. Read the books, then hire the captain.
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Old 12-08-2015, 01:50 PM   #4
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My suggestion is a combination of some classroom training of some sort plus hands-on with a captain. The best of boat worlds.
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Old 12-08-2015, 02:00 PM   #5
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want to fly a different plane, you might need a new type rating.... same thing, the previous posts are giving you good advice. Books and classrooms can give you a foundation, but nothing will replace hours on board and time spent with a qualified teaching captain.

As you gain experience be conscious of your limits and experience. For example docking with no current is not the same as docking with a 3kt current. Just like landing with 5 kts down the runway is not the same as landing with a 15g25 crosswind.
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Old 12-08-2015, 02:28 PM   #6
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want to fly a different plane, you might need a new type rating.... same thing, the previous posts are giving you good advice. Books and classrooms can give you a foundation, but nothing will replace hours on board and time spent with a qualified teaching captain.

As you gain experience be conscious of your limits and experience. For example docking with no current is not the same as docking with a 3kt current. Just like landing with 5 kts down the runway is not the same as landing with a 15g25 crosswind.
Books and classrooms, in building the foundation, makes the job easier for the captain and makes his time much more effective as it's not the first time you've heard things, even if it is the first time for you to be told how to apply them.
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Old 12-08-2015, 04:08 PM   #7
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All of the above, but nothing will be better than experience. The biggest challenge is usually docking and close quarters maneuvering. Throw out a couple of markers in a quiet and open space and practice close quarters maneuvering.

As the driver of a single engine inboard I don't even know if I could explain what I do when I'm backing between a couple of pilings for a stern to docking. It just comes from "seat of the pants" and knowing the idiosyncrasies of your boat. The basics are easy and straightforward, its the finesse that comes with practice.

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Old 12-08-2015, 04:39 PM   #8
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All of the above, but nothing will be better than experience. The biggest challenge is usually docking and close quarters maneuvering. Throw out a couple of markers in a quiet and open space and practice close quarters maneuvering.

As the driver of a single engine inboard I don't even know if I could explain what I do when I'm backing between a couple of pilings for a stern to docking. It just comes from "seat of the pants" and knowing the idiosyncrasies of your boat. The basics are easy and straightforward, its the finesse that comes with practice.

You hit the real secret in knowing your boat. I hate med style docking, but it's the area in which knowledge of your boat in those conditions is most critical.
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Old 12-08-2015, 05:58 PM   #9
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A year at sea ? crossing oceans ? circumnavigation ?
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Old 12-08-2015, 06:17 PM   #10
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If you read Chapman's Piloting and do a little research on-line you can get the book learning' without any problems. There are videos on You Tube that show everything from how to back into a slip, how to tie some useful knots, to how to use spring lines to pull off a dock with a current pinning you. BUT ..... as many have already commented, you need some hands on training and experience. I think hiring a captain to show you all the systems on your boat and to get you some hours at the helm will be a major factor in developing the actual skills and confidence that are needed.

You will not be able to learn everything before begin your journey. Even if you practice for a year, you will still have some anxiety when setting off for a year. Cast off the lines and go for it. We don't truly experience life or challenge ourselves until we move out of our comfort zone. It's not a trip you are after, it's an experience. Good luck.
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Old 12-08-2015, 07:33 PM   #11
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Thanks

Great advice- lots to learn for sure- many thanks
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Old 12-13-2015, 09:07 PM   #12
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You can take one of the week long courses to prepare for the professional licenses. They will cram all the knowledge into you that you need. They are expensive ($600 to $1000) but you will get everything you need to know in one week. It's up to you to remember it. There is no requirement to pursue the commercial license.

Otherwise, the USCG Auxiliary and US Power Squadron have night courses that range from 4 to 10 nights. They usually can get you a state boating certificate and usually run less than $100.

None of these include hands on training. They are all in classroom. Consider joining one of the organizations for on the water experience.
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Old 12-21-2015, 02:57 AM   #13
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Just do what I did, watch the movie "Captain Ron"................... if we get lost, we pull in somewhere and ask directions
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Old 12-21-2015, 03:00 PM   #14
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My wife and son and I are beginning to plan a year at sea. What are some of the best ways for me to learn what is needed to operate and navigate a large trawler?
The short answer is buy one and learn to operate it by experience.

There are all sorts of things you can do in preparation--- classes, books, videos, etc., etc., etc. In my opinion these can have at least a a degree of value.

When I decided to learn to fly the fellow I chose as my instructor advised me to read a book called Stick and Rudder by Wolfgang Langewiesche before my first lesson. I did and when I got into the plane for my first flight I knew exactly why the plane was going to fly and why it would turn, speed up, slow down, go up, and go down, but I had no clue as to how it would feel, how it would sound, how much control pressure and movement would be needed to do such and such, how the plane would respond to inertia, and so forth.

The only way to get that knowledge is by doing it. So unlike a lot of people these days, I don't give very much weight to books and lectures and classes and videos and whatnot. They have a place, but they are no substitute for actually running a boat and learning through experience.

You can never read a book, never take a class, never watch a video and still become an outstanding and experienced boat handler.

You can read all the books and take all the classes and watch all the videos but until you actually get hands-on with a boat you will be no more of a boat handler than you were before you read all the books and took all the classes and watched all the videos. You will simply be a very well-exposed wannabe.

Had I not read Stick and Rudder I would still have become the pilot I became and gone on to fly floatplanes up and down the Inside Passage, write books about floatplane flying and whatnot. Reading the book gave me some advance knowledge that was nice to have, but it certainly wasn't a requirement or even essential to becoming a proficient pilot.

I daresay most of the people on this forum, and certainly all of the people I know personally who I regard as truly outstanding boaters started with smaller boats and worked their way up. I started with a 17' wood and canvas canoe, then a 12' outboard powered aluminum skiff, then a 17' trailer fishing boat, then the 36 foot, 30,000 pound fiberglass cabin cruiser we still have in the PNW, and finally with the 45' composite newbuild cruiser we co-own in another part of the world. It's been a long journey spanning some 40 years now.

If you want to find out if you are even suited for this kind of boating, a smart way to find out is to charter a cruising boat for a week or two. As you have no experience you may have to charter one with a captain. But this is probably the best way to determine if this kind of boating is for you without plunking down a whole lot of money to buy a boat only to find out that you are perhaps not as enamored of the whole thing as you thought you'd be.

My wife and I first bareboat-chartered a cruiser of the type we thought we'd like to have. It turned out we really enjoyed the whole cruising thing so we subsequently bought one of our own.

So read all the books you want, take all the classes you want, watch all the videos you want, but know that you will not actually start learning until you get your hands on an actual boat and start driving it around. Only then will you find out if you even like this sort of thing and if you have an aptitude for it.

I might even go so far as to say that all the books, classes, videos, etc. that are available today could be a detriment to learning to operate a boat. You can get so bogged down in the material, and get so wrapped up and concerned over details, that it can become totally intimidating.

There is a degree of truth in the statement "ignorance is bliss." You don't want to be stupid about it, but there is, I believe, some benefit is starting out hands-on with an activity without exposing yourself to the totally bewildering array of "information" out there these days, well over half of which is little more than information for information's sake.

This is a bit apples and oranges, but recent studies in the industry I work in are exposing a rather disturbing trend in commercial aviation. And that is that as commercial airplanes become more and more sophisticated in their capabilities, newer flight crews are becoming increasingly proficient at understanding and operating very complex systems... while at the same time becoming increasingly deficient at actually flying the planes. This phenomenon has a name which I've forgotten, but it's becoming a disturbingly more common factor in aviation incidents and accidents, some of the more recent examples being very high profile.

The point being, too much information can become a handicap, not a help. So learn to actually operate a boat. Don't become too hung up on trying learn all about operating a boat beforehand.
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Old 12-21-2015, 06:12 PM   #15
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Yes the books and classroom courses are great preparation.... but...after that....If you haven't bought yet, then charter for a week for the whole family and hire a teaching captain. The most important thing you want to learn is if life at sea is for you and yours. Learning that the answer is "no" after you have bought a boat is a disaster, one which I have witnessed more than a few times. Get taught enough so that you can eventually bareboat charter, i.e "solo". In that process you will learn what it is you and yours need in a boat for your intended purpose: most importantly operating and maintenance ergonomics, followed by creature comforts. The several cruising "failures" we have known of were all due barging headlong into buying a boat without taking all the factors mentioned in this post into account beforehand.
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Old 12-26-2015, 07:17 AM   #16
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I would suggest hiring a few captains (in succession) as instructors.

In flying its "monkey see monkey do" at the beginning .

An old sailors motto, "Differennt ships Different long splice"is true.

Different boat folks will have different opinions on the "best" way to operate almost everything.

Some will anchor by tossing the anchor and backing at 3/4 throttle till it catches.

Others will have vastly different techniques.

Just a day ride with a neighbor can be very helpful as you start.

See what you can , decide what works for you.

For actual cruising I would suggest learning at least 2 ways to navigate , not just hope the GPS keeps working.
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Old 12-27-2015, 10:18 AM   #17
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The short answer is buy one and learn to operate it by experience. .............. .
Life is too short for us to make all the mistakes ourselves. We have the advantage over lower animals in that we can share our experience (and mistakes) with others both in writing and in person.

You read the books as a start, take safety courses, then you get some on the water experience from professional captains or trainers or perhaps knowledgeable friends. Then, you gain experience.

Just buying a boat, casting off from the dock and hoping to learn from experience will probably not have good results.
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Old 12-27-2015, 02:32 PM   #18
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Thanks for the thoughtful responses- much appreciated.
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Old 12-28-2015, 01:32 AM   #19
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Just buying a boat, casting off from the dock and hoping to learn from experience will probably not have good results.
You just described the majority of boaters up to but not including today's "learn it on the internet" crowd. I, and virtually every long-time experienced boater I have met in our area, never read a single book on boating techniques until long after becoming a pretty experienced boater. With the exception of learning to be a canoe instructor, I never took a single class and I never used the internet which wasn't even a viable tool until some time after acquiring our first cruising boat.

What I have done was get advice from very experienced boaters along the way. And I did read a few good books about chart and GPS navigation and radar when we started using them.

My wife and I did take the USCG Auxilliary boating course when we bought our first "real" boat back in 1987, a 17' Arima Sea Ranger fishing boat which we still have and use. Apart from the class on hypothermia, the class didn't teach us anything we didn't aready know. But it did serve as a great reminder of things to think about and keep in mind while operating a boat, and for that reason alone I think the class is well worth taking for any boater regardless of their level of experience.

But when my wife and I graduated from our 17' Arima, which we had learned to operate based on previous experience with smaller craft and a whole lot of common sense and logic, to a 30,000 pound, diesel cabin cruiser, we had a total of an hour or so of docking instruction from the checkout skipper at the charter outfit we used and that was it. It was obvious to the charter company that while we hadn't run a boat like the one we were chartering, we had a hell of a lot of boating experience under our belts.

When a year or so later we bought our own boat of the same make and model, we already knew how to operate it based on our charter experience. The rest of it was just building time. We advanced our abilities in "baby steps" as our test pilots like to say about flight testing a brand new airplane model. We didn't just jump in and take everything on at once.

Running a boat is not rocket science. In fact for a fairly complex activity I would say it's about as simple an undertaking there is. Sure, there are things one needs to know but these aren't rocket science, either. The information can be obtained with a few conversations with other, experienced boaters, maybe a couple of hands-on instructional runs. But after that, it's just a matter of doing it on one's own, and if a person has anything resembling an aptitude for it they will become their own best teacher.

When we bought our twin-engine cabin cruiser we had never run a twin engine boat before. A very good friend was the founder and president of Kenmore Air Harbor and he and his wife had been running a twin-engine, steel-hull deFever up and down the Inside Passage for a couple of decades on their vacations. We got into cruising largely on his encouragement, and when it turned out the boat that best met our requirements was a twin I asked him if he'd be willing to give us some instruction in his boat as to handling and maneuvering. He said he'd be glad to, but in his opinon the best way to learn how to operate a twin-engine boat was to operate a twin-engine boat.

We never could get our schedules to line up for any hands-on sessions with him in his boat on Lake Washington so my wife and I simply started using our new-to-us boat on our own. Our friend had given us a handy tip as to how to learn the most effective ways of thinking of and using differential and opposing thrust and the rudders, and armed with that advice and a big dose of common sense and logic we simply had at it.

And we did fine from day one. Sure, it took plenty of hands on experience in a huge variety of conditions to learn to cope with winds and currents and whatnot, and we worked up gradually to new and more challenging situations, and of course we're still learning.

But based on our experience and the experiences of people we know and have tremendous respect for with regards to boating and how they got into it and got very, very good at it, I continue to believe that the best way to learn to operate a boat is to operate a boat.
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Old 12-28-2015, 11:59 AM   #20
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As an example of book (or class) learning vs. just turning the key and going, here's something I saw yesterday and see time after time in my marina:


There's a strong reversing tidal current across the marina and a pretty narrow fairway. When the current is running, you can't just "drive" out of the fairway, you have to "crab". Operators who don't understand the effects of the current are swept into docked boats on the downstream side.


Once they realize that they are being swept into a row of boats, they often turn away from the boats and hit the throttle in an attempt to avoid the boats.


What they don't understand is, their boat is steering from the rear, not from the front like the car they are used to driving. Turning the wheel and hitting the throttle slams their boat into the docked boats.


Reading this in a book or on the Internet a few times or being told this by a captain or instructor would save them a lot in fiberglass repairs.


You wouldn't want to be treated by a doctor who learned everything from the mistakes he made on his previous patients, would you?
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