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Preparing the Skipper for an RTW adventure

Required knowledge

A Skipper is always fully responsible for the boat and all who sail on her. In my case I felt particular responsibility because most people I sail with are significantly less experienced and rely on me to keep them safe. Therefore I was 'risk averse' and put much effort into trying to 'cover all bases' before we left. The following is my list of items I needed to address

Sailing, boat handling

I had over 50 years sailing experience when I bought Skyfall. Sailing her and 'feeling' the boat was never an issue. However I admit that, in the first season, we managed to add a few scratches to the gelcoat mooring between posts in Holland. Understanding how currents and strong sidewinds affect your tactics coming up alongside (or between) something hard was learnt the hard way.
More importantly things can go wrong. Can you sail up the anchor and get out of an anchorage if the engine will not start? Can you deploy and recover a drogue? Can you pick up a man overboard?
Before we left all these manoeuvres were practised and I was confident, provided I was not the MOB, that we would be OK


In this category I include understanding navigation marks, taking bearings to establish positions, reading tide tables and calculating water to get into harbours, dead reckoning, etc.

Many people rely on chart plotters etc and  would be very rusty if their electronics were removed. The important thing is to have a back up. I am not suggesting carrying a sextant on board. Today having a tablet set up with navigational charts as a backup to the chart plotter is far easier. (In electrical storms put them in the microwave to protect them)

I had done RYA coastal skipper evening classes years ago. Something like an RYA Yachtmaster course would cover this (and more). Despite doing RYA Coastal skipper 40 years ago, I decided to do the equivalent qualification (Yachtman) available in Belgium.

Communications, Radar

In many countries, if the boat is equipped with radar or a VHF radio, then someone on board must have a suitable qualification (e.g. required to navigate the canals of Holland). The same is true for EPIRB, PLB and MOB devices in lifejackets. I took two one day courses (one for Radar, one for communications) to get the two relevant certificates to avoid embarrassment, or conflict with authorities, somewhere along the route

Forecasting and Route planning

The RYA coastal skipper course I did in 1980 required you to listen to the shipping forecast, convert the information into a weather map (drawing in the isobars) to understand how the weather was going to develop. 

Today it is more useful to understand how to visit the PredictWind website, sign-up and download their forecasts! 

PredictWind Weather routing is unbelievably good..for the next 3-6 days.

Unfortunately ocean voyages take longer than that. Therefore route planning across oceans involves understanding when to attempt which passages to minimise risk. Every RTW cruiser I have met has a copy of Jimmy Cornells, "World Cruising Routes" on board. During the 2020 lock down I read the sections on our planned route at least five times, double checking against our 'tops down' plans.

Closer to shore, routing decisions to minimise risk involve understanding where the 'safe harbours' are should the weather come in, when to ensure there is sufficient sea room etc. 

My knowledge was accumulated both through the RYA coastal skipper, the Yachtman course, Jimmy Cornell's book and, most importantly, talking to more experienced skippers either face-to-face or through cruiser forums

Engine maintenance

MCA course, stripping diesel engine

Having an engine fail is not necessarily a complete disaster. However such an event usually makes starting and ending a voyage significantly harder and can cause embarrassment and expense (e.g. to get a tow in).

The minimum knowledge required should be how to do engine checks and probably the routine maintenance up to annual intervals. Remember, much of a RTW adventure, particularly in the Pacific, is off the beaten track and help may not be at hand.
In my case I decided to take the MCA Approved Engine Course (Part 1). This is a five day course and 70% was spent in workshops taking engines apart and putting them back together again. I learnt so much. Not just from the course but from my course partner who did this for a living but needed the paper qualification to allow career progression. By comparison, several people told me the RYA diesel engine 1 day course is a waste of time.


Modern yachts carry a lot of electronics. Skyfall has three different 'buses': SIMNET for the instruments, MASTERBUS for the 12V supply (from Mastervolt) and a CZONE network to turn things on and off. 
The minimum knowledge should include knowing where the fuse boxes are located and how to access them (and where spare fuses are kept!), how to turn the boat on and off.
SIMNET, CZONE and MAstervolt all provide interfaces so their networks can be connected to a laptop and offer owners a diagnostic program so you can see what is going on. In my case I did acquire these and learned how to use them.
In the first Atlantic circuit a masterbus cable got damaged (or failed anyway) and battery charging was not working properly. Using the diagnostic capability the fault was found in one hour (first time using it) and the offending cable identified. In this case we were still in France and could have got help. We were also able to find a replacement cable. Neither would be possible in many more remote locations. It also taught me we needed to be carrying another spare!

Health, First Aid

I  have a Saint Johns ambulance First aid certificate. I would put this (or an equivalent certificate) as a minimum requirement for a skipper. 

In addition the skipper determines what goes in the first aid kit. Also what vaccinations to recommend for the crew depending on which part of the RTW they are doing. I am not a doctor but did seek advice both from my local doctor and also a hospital which specialises in tropical diseases.

Preparing the skipper: List
Preparing the skipper: Image
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