Passage Planning Checklist: Part 2

Jessica Watson
Posted August 18 2016

You can read 6 Things to consider when Planning a Passage (Part 1) here.

Mental Preparation

This isn’t something that is normally mentioned in passage planning discussions, but I believe that it warrants some thought. Your average sailor, boatie or Aussie isn’t typically keen to talk about feelings. But faced with challenging weather, little sleep and cramped living conditions, your crew’s headspace is critical to the success and enjoyment of your passage.

I’d recommend talking to experienced sailors, as knowing what to expect can be comforting and learning about the way others deal with challenges may be helpful. Choosing crew who have proven to be resilient in tough situations is important as you may not have the luxury of pressure testing every crew member. But if the crew member understands the challenges they may face and is still determined to come, then there is every chance that they will perform well.


As soon as word gets out that you’re planning a passage, you’ll be swamped with suggestions on what food to pack and how to prepare it so I won’t say too much on this topic. You’ll need to think about your own preferences and the facilities you have to work with. Some boats are lucky enough to have large fridge and freezer capacity, ovens and microwaves, while others may only have a little single burner.

Remember that anything more complex than reheating food will be messy and possibly hazardous in rough conditions. I’d highly recommend a good travel mug; in big seas, it’s the best thing to use to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. The ideal mug will have a wide base and secure lid. Be wary of cheap plastics that hold the flavour of your previous meal or drink.


When it comes to offshore sailing or boating, a cautious approach is never a bad idea and in my experience can even prove beneficial to a racing sailor. During the 2011 Rolex Sydney to Hobart, my youth crew discovered that reefing early improved the boat’s performance in a steep sea and we were able to make gains on many of the experienced inshore sailors who flew more sail.

On the subject of sails, storm sails absolutely must be hoisted before heading out to sea. Many sailors have storm sails, still crunchy and new, but surprisingly few of these sails have been fitted in a way that will allow the crew to safely use them in the conditions they are designed for. As for more general safety equipment, put together a solid first aid kit and a grab bag in case you have to abandon ship. Tie wooden bungs next to your seacocks and check that your life raft is very well strapped down. Every boat and sailor will have different communications equipment and preferences. Of course you’ll need to cover the essentials like EPIRBs and VHF radios, but after that it’s up to you. The important thing is to have multiple options and backups.

A man overboard drill is another critical exercise that I’d highly recommend practicing more than once. Rather than meticulously preparing for the first drill, try catching your crew off guard and then build on what you learn. Think carefully about the placement of clip on points and jacklines to allow you to move easily around the boat. Clipping on needs to be stamped into your muscle memory. You should feel naked without your harness and lanyard.

Also, sorry to mention such an unglamorous subject, but I have a problem with guys “visiting” the side of the boat. I’ve heard many tragic stories which resulted from this habit. So guys, please remember to tell someone what you’re doing, clip your lanyard on and be cautious—even on a nice day.

There are a million more things I could mention in regards to safety, but you’ll be fine if you value seamanship above speed, luxury or ego.

Weather and Navigation

When you’re at sea, you are completely at the mercy of the weather. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of good weather forecasting available. Pilot charts showing seasonal averages are a great place to start. Based on your experience and the capability of your boat, you’ll need to consider your limits and decide what conditions you’re prepared to deal with. On Pink Lady, the boat I sailed around the world, I was happy to (well, maybe not happy to, but prepared to) face over 60 knots of wind and 10 metre waves, but on your average club racer I’d be terrified to leave smooth water.

When it comes to navigation, you can choose from a chartplotter or any of the software available. But you’ll get your best information from cruising guides and up-to-date local knowledge like that shared in Deckee’s location guides. It’s important to again have contingencies for navigation. Paper charts are of course a good backup, but more and more boaties are also using Navionics on their iPhones and iPads.

With all this talk of cold, seasickness and sleep deprivation, I hope I haven't made offshore passages sound terrible. I’ve always found it better to tackle the tough stuff head-on so you can get on with enjoying the passage. At sea you’ll soon adjust to haphazard sleep, find your sea legs and come to appreciate the simplicity of life at sea.

What do you think are the important things to consider are before setting off on a passage? Why not help other boaties plan their passages by reviewing a piece of navigation or safety equipment, a location they might need to stop in to, or how about a boat that you’d recommend for offshore sailing?

3 people found this helpful. Do you?Thank Jessica Watson


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