The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating

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“John Vigor is the answer guy if you’re having onboard arguments about nautical terminology or the science of sailing in general, and his new book lives up to the promise in its title.”--Good Old Boat


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The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating: An A-Z Compendium of Navigation, Seamanship, Boat Maintenance, and Nautical Wisdom

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“Vigor is one of the finest boating writers of our time.”--Cruising World

“You name it, it’s in here. Covers every boating situation. This book is both informative and entertaining.”--Latitudes & Attitudes

“John Vigor is the answer guy if you’re having onboard arguments about nautical terminology or the science of sailing in general, and his new book lives up to the promise in its title.”--Good Old Boat

Whether it’s boat maintenance, navigation, boat handling in all kinds of weather, or the physics of how boats function, every sailor and powerboater needs a comprehensive go-to source for specialized information. Now you have it with The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating:

  • Addresses virtually every aspect of powerboating and sailing in 500 entries
  • Covers seamanship and boat handling, navigation, routine boat maintenance, boat design and building, and nautical reference data
  • Ranges from vital techniques--such as recovering overboard crew and measuring distances off--to essential concepts like reading the water and sky and evaluating a boat’s seaworthiness
  • Includes numerous cross-references and an exhaustive index to direct you quickly to the right entry and to unify related topics
  • Makes delightful browsing as well as a source of sound guidance for practically any boating situation

John Vigor has been sailing for more than 40 years in boats ranging from 11 to 72 feet, logging 15,000 miles of ocean voyaging. A journalist by profession, he has written for major metropolitan newspapers in Great Britain, South Africa, and the United States, is the author of seven nautical books, and contributes articles to Cruising World, SAIL, and Yachting Monthly.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071498883
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/31/2007
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 10.80 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

John Vigor has been sailing for more than 40 years

in boats ranging from 11 to 72 feet, logging 15,000 miles of ocean voyaging. He is the author of seven nautical books, and contributes articles

to Cruising World, SAIL, and Yachting Monthly.

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Read an Excerpt

The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating

An A Z Compendium of Seamanship, Boat Maintenance, Navigation, and Nautical Wisdom

By John Vigor

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2004 John Vigor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-149888-3




Abandoning Ship

Why it may not be such a good idea in extremely bad weather

You'll often hear the old advice never to abandon your boat until you have to step up to the life raft. It sounds deceptively easy, but the only time it works is in reasonably calm water. People who advocate it as a general rule have obviously never seen an inflatable life raft performing its antics alongside a boat in a bad gale, rising and falling like an elevator gone mad, crashing and bashing against the hull, jerking and tugging and doing its best to puncture itself or break the painter and fly away like thistledown in the winter wind. It's up one moment, down the next, and then it's disappearing forever over the swells to leeward.

Nevertheless, the principle is sound: Don't abandon your boat until you are absolutely, positively sure it's going to sink. Too often, a partially waterlogged boat is found still floating months or years after it was abandoned, whereas those who actually managed to get into the life raft are never seen again. Trying to board a life raft in those conditions may be far more dangerous than staying with the boat.

Fifteen lives were lost during the Fastnet Race in Britain in 1979—many of them when boats were being abandoned. It happened again during the Queen's Birthday storm off New Zealand in June 1994, when three sailors died—the only ones who abandoned their boat and got away in a life raft.

Unfortunately, the pressure to abandon ship before it's necessary is often very great. It's not easy to resist, particularly if you have a well-found raft in good condition.

You may be exhausted mentally and physically after fighting a gale, pumping bilges, and possibly suffering a dismasting or other damage. You'll experience a feeling of not being in control, of having made wrong decisions. You may also be frightened if the weather seems to be getting worse. You'll certainly be scared by the noise: the banshee scream of the wind and the bloodcurdling thunder of solid water hitting the hull. In addition, you'll probably be feeling guilty about leading your crew into danger.

It all becomes too much, and the inflatable raft offers a way out—you want nothing more than to curl up in the fetal position in the soft belly of a boat. It offers peace: relief from the great mental strain of making decisions and giving orders to a crew, or trying to quell their panic. The life raft will look after you. There's nothing to be decided: no more fighting, no more mess of tangled ropes, no more chaos down below—complete and wonderful capitulation. Just lie down and let it carry you away. The lure of the life raft is very strong.

Yet, it's a fact that few boats sink from the stress of storms, even those abandoned with hatches open. Your best bet is to think about the possibility well in advance, to be fully aware of the pressures you'll experience to abandon ship too early, and to fight them until it's quite evident that the raft really is your last refuge.

See also Life Rafts.

Accidental Circling

Accepting the inevitable could keep you out of trouble

Well-documented studies carried out in the Northern Hemisphere show that people who are cut off from sensory information about their surroundings tend to move in a circle, usually clockwise. It makes no difference whether they're driving, walking, swimming, or steering a yacht.

So, if you happen to be caught in dense fog in a dinghy—or even in a bigger boat—without a compass, accept that your chances of steering a straight course are slim. You may have a little breeze to guide you, but there's no guarantee it will remain steady in direction. If you have a fishing line, try trailing a length astern to help you keep going straight ahead. However, even if it does keep you straight for a little way, you won't know in what direction you're traveling, and sooner or later you're going to start veering off to the right, even if it does take a little longer.

Merely knowing that you're going to circle clockwise is not much of an aid to practical navigation; its usefulness lies in the fact that you will not fool yourself into believing you can maintain a straight course. That could keep you out of worse trouble.

To my knowledge, no equivalent studies have been carried out in the Southern Hemisphere, where it's possible that you might circle counterclockwise instead of clockwise.

See also Fog Types.

Accidents on Board

Dealing with a wide range of calamities that can't be avoided

Like many other sports, boating involves certain risks that can never be entirely eradicated. Despite the best training and precautions, accidents do happen and always will. But you can substantially reduce the risk of death or serious injury by preparing for the worst, installing equipment to handle emergencies, and knowing how to use it.

First, be aware of the wide range of accidents that occur on boats. The major ones involve fire, carbon monoxide, falling overboard from your boat or dinghy, collision, being hit on the head by a boom, getting a finger caught in an anchor chain or a line to a winch, and being run over by a propeller.

Following is what you can do (and what, in some cases, you are required to do by federal law) to lessen the consequences of an accident.


Keep several U.S. Coast Guard– approved fire extinguishers on board. Federal law dictates how many your boat should have, but it's the very minimum. Take at least of couple of extra extinguishers, and check them regularly. Place them near likely spots for fires—the galley and the engine compartment—and along exit routes, where you might have to put out a fire before you can escape into the cockpit. Show all your passengers where they are and how to use them.

Carbon monoxide

This colorless, odorless gas is a killer. It's a by-product of combustion, and it's found in copious quantities in engine exhaust. If exhaust fumes are blowing over the stern into the accommodations, beware. It also forms where open flames are burning—at the galley stove, oil lamps, and heaters. Your charcoal barbecue grill is another prolific producer of carbon monoxide, which, incidentally, has the ability to travel rapidly in a draft of air, even up-stream. Many deaths have occurred in sleeping cabins tightly sealed against cold weather in which open-flame heaters were being used. There have even been reported cases of knee- boarders overcome by carbon monoxide while being towed behind powerboats.

The danger signs are light-headedness, headache, light nausea, dizziness, and unnatural sleepiness. Drag yourself into fresh air immediately. In advanced cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, the skin turns pink.

The best defense is to vent your stoves to the outside atmosphere and maintain a steady flow of fresh air inside the boat, cold as it may be. It's equally important to install a carbon monoxide monitor-alarm. Marine stores sell battery-operated alarms.

Falling overboard

This risk is always present, in big boats and small. Even if you can swim well, it might be a long time before the boat can turn back to rescue you. In cold water, you will quickly become weak and confused as hypothermia sets in.

Most life jackets, as mandated by federal law, don't have to be worn all the time you're aboard. But it's a good idea to don one when the weather turns bad because you're likely to be in the water much longer if you fall overboard. Better still, discipline yourself to wear a slim vest-type life jacket all the time you're on deck. It won't hamper your movement much and, although it's not as buoyant as an offshore-type jacket, it will be ready when you need it. It should have reflective patches, a pocket for a crew-overboard light, and a good whistle.

Inflatable life jackets have now been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, but you'll notice that guardsmen don't wear them. That's because this type of life jacket is not foolproof: it doesn't always inflate when it should, especially if you fail to maintain it religiously. These life jackets are becoming popular because they look smart, don't get in your way, and can incorporate a harness; however, they're still not as reliable as solid flotation.

Lifelines, the wires running through stanchions at the edge of the deck, are supposed to stop you from falling overboard, but they are often too low to do the job properly, especially on sailboats. Regard them as backup; never rely on them.

In heavy weather, it makes sense to use a harness and tether attached to a jackline running fore and aft so that you're always attached to the boat. Try to arrange it so that the tether is short enough to stop you going overboard—people have drowned from being dragged alongside in harnesses and not being able to scramble back aboard.

A crew-overboard pole, equipped with a flag and a strobe light, is a valuable aid for locating someone in the water, and should be kept ready for use in the cockpit.


Whether you collide with an iceberg, a rock, or another boat, there's always a chance of sinking. A collision mat might stem the flow of water until you can make temporary repairs, but some alternative form of flotation is advisable just in case: a life raft or a dinghy.

You can avoid collisions by cautious navigation and thorough application of the rules of the road, but primarily by keeping a good lookout at all times.

Head injuries

Your only defense against being hit on the head by the boom is to be aware of the danger and duck at the right time. Accidental jibes happen without notice, so be extra cautious if you're in a sailboat that's running dead downwind. If it's a long leg, pin the boom forward with a preventer line so it can't jibe. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to wear a helmet; an even better idea is to wear a life jacket. If a jibing boom knocks you overboard and you're unconscious without flotation, you'll be lucky to survive.

Finger injuries

Anchor lines and sheets handling heavy loads around winches often cause finger injuries. The immediate cure for a trapped finger is to ease the load on the line or cut it, but prevention is a matter of awareness and caution. Be sure to tell landlubbers to keep their fingers well clear of winches and cleats.

Propeller injuries

If you're in the water being rescued, keep your legs well clear of propellers; they inflict nasty wounds. If you are the rescuer, turn off the motor at the last moment. Don't assume the prop will stop turning in neutral gear because sometimes they don't.

See also Fire on Board; Harnesses; Heaters; Jacklines; Life Jackets; Lookouts; Preventers; Winches.


Four types of boat glue and one powerful sealant

Modern glues have proved to be surprisingly efficient and durable, even on boats, where salt, moisture, heat, grime, and the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun do their best to degrade them. Many boat parts that formerly required fixing with nails, screws, rivets, or nuts and bolts are now fastened in place with glue only. Indeed, the major hull components of many small plywood boats are now held together solely by fiberglass tape glued in place.

Nearly all glues used in boat work fall into one of the following four categories:

Rubber glues, the basis of contact adhesives, may be natural or synthetic.

Melamine-urea types of glue are water-resistant and very forgiving, which makes them suitable for amateur use. Examples include Weldwood plastic resin, Casco urea-formaldehyde, and Aerolite resin glues.

Epoxies, probably the most popular glues used on boats, also are forgiving in many ways because their curing times can be controlled, and they can be stiffened and strengthened with fillers to avoid dribbling and slumping. Epoxy resin fills large gaps and is an excellent sealer for wood. It is almost exclusively used to laminate new fiberglass to old fiber-glass hulls.

In fact, epoxy sounds like the ultimate glue, and it might have been except for two flaws: in its normal state, it's not waterproof or heatproof; and it can be adversely affected by salt water and sunlight, both of which are plentiful where boats abound. For exterior use, therefore, it should be protected from salt and sunshine by paint, preferably white or a light color. Varnish that contains UV- ray filters offers some protection, but not as much as paint.

Resorcinols have the very qualities that epoxies lack: they are not affected to the same extent by water or sun. Typically a purple-brownish color, they are the glues used in exterior- and marine-grade plywoods. The original resorcinols were not gap-filling and required a good fit between the pieces of wood to be joined. However, newer varieties have the ability to fill gaps and require less clamping, making them the best wood-to-wood glue available for marine use.

Resorcinol comes in two basic forms. One needs temperatures of 70°F (21°C) or higher to effect a cure; the other, an imported version made by Ciba-Geigy and known as Aerodux or Cascophen, will cure in temperatures as low as 50°F (10°C). The U.S. product is known as Weldwood and is available at marine hardware stores.

Polyurethane sealant needs to be mentioned in connection with glues. It's a bedding compound that also has great adhesive powers—so much so that anything you bed down in polyurethane is never likely to come apart. It's used for permanent sealing bonds, such as hull-to-deck joints, or where a ballast keel joins the hull.

The most popular brand is 3M 5200.

See also Sealants.

Air Masses

What you can expect when the barometer rises or falls

All forms of boating are directly affected by the weather—but what exactly is weather? It's simply the reaction of the atmosphere—a relatively thin layer of air that surrounds the Earth—to changes in temperature and pressure.

In simple terms, the atmosphere consists of huge invisible bubbles of air, often hundreds of miles in diameter, rising and falling, warming and cooling, like the colored wax in a lava lamp.

The restless motion of the air masses is caused by simple physical laws, but the results are so complicated that even professional meteorologists armed with the latest computer technology can rarely issue a forecast that is valid more than three days ahead. Nevertheless, boaters who know a few basic principles concerning the movement of air masses can often forecast the weather in their immediate vicinity with reasonable accuracy.

Warm bubbles of air are low in pressure and will rise; cold bubbles of air are higher in pressure and will fall. Air in a bubble of higher pressure will try to balance the pressures by moving toward a bubble of lower pressure; the action starts when two bubbles meet. These boundary zones are called fronts.

The larger the difference in pressure between the two air masses, the faster the air will flow from high to low pressure. That's the air movement we call wind.

If your barometer drops 6 millibars (0.177 inch) or more in 12 hours, thus indicating that the pressure is changing rapidly, you may safely assume that a major low-pressure storm system is fast approaching—especially if the cloud cover has been increasing and the winds have either changed direction or increased in speed.

Air that flows into a low-pressure area is forced to ascend; as it rises, it cools, causing the water vapor it contains to condense and form clouds—hence, the increasing cloud cover in the vanguard of a storm. But air descending from a high-pressure area and moving outward from its center tends to be warm and dry, so fewer clouds form. When your barometer is high, therefore, expect fine weather.

See also Barometer; Buys Ballot's Law; Clouds; Weather Fronts; Weather Maps.

Air Pressure on Sails

How the wind causes pressure on sails and why that's important

You've probably heard the America's Cup experts talking about the pressure being better over on the starboard lay line. In the language of sailors seeking to dazzle television viewers with their expertise, that means there's more wind over on the right. How does air pressure equate to wind and what does it mean to ordinary boaters? Well, it should mean something to sailboat owners because, simply put, wind creates areas of high and low pressure on sails, and that's what makes them work when you are sailing across or obliquely into the wind.

Excerpted from The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating by John Vigor. Copyright © 2004 by John Vigor. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents




Abandoning Ship
Accidental Circling
Accidents on Board
Air Masses
Air Pressure on Sails
Aluminum Hulls
America's Cup
Amp-Hour Ratings
Anchors, Anchoring
Anchoring Rights
Anchor Types
Antifouling Paints
Apparent Wind


Bahamian Moor
Balanced Helm
Ballast Ratios
Ballast Taboo
Barge Hazards
Barrier Coats
Battens in Sails
Battery Choices
Battery Needs
Beam-to-Length Ratio
Beaufort Scale
Bilge Pumps
Black Box Theory
Blisters in GRP
Block and Tackle
Block Sizes
Boarding Ladders
Bosun's Chair
Bottom Painting
Bower and Kedge
Brake and Shaft Horsepower
Broaching To
Buoyage Systems
Buys Ballot's Law


Calling for Help
Capsize Screening
Catching Water
Center of Buoyancy
Center of Effort
Center of Gravity
Chain Locker
Chain Stoppers
Chart Datums
Chart Scales
Chart Stowage
Checking a Battery
Choosing a Boat
Circles of Position
Coast Guard
Cockpit Drains
Code Flags
Coiling Line
Coin Under Mast
Collision Bearings
Collision Regulations
Color at Sea
Color Blindness
Companionway Formula
Compass Bearings
Compass Courses
Compass Tests
Compass Types
Complex Lights
Cooking Afloat
Coral Reefs
Coriolis Force
Counting Seconds
Course Corrections
Cranking Ratings
Crew Overboard
Cruising Anchors
Cruising Boat Size
Cruising Lifestyle


Danger Angles
Danger at Sea
Danger Bearings
Dead Reckoning
Delivery Trips
Deviation Cards
Diesel Engines
Diesel Fuel
Diesel Maintenance
Diesel Smoke
Dinghy Capacities
Dinghy Life
Dinghy Oars
Dipping Lights
Displacement Ratio
Distance Logs
Distance Off
Distress Signals
Dockage Costs
Dock Lines
Dragging Anchor
Drinking Seawater
Drowned Outboard Motors
Dry Rot


Eating Plankton
Echo Pilotage
Electrical Bonding
Electrical Wiring
Emergency Navigation
Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon
Engine Life
Engine Oil
Enlarging Plans
Estimated Position
Estimating Angles
Exhaust Line


Faint Lights
Fighting Currents
Figure-Eight Method
Fire on Board
First Aid
Fisherman Anchors
Fishing Boats
Flotsam and Jetsam
Fog Prediction
Fog Types
Fouling Sheets
Foul-Weather Gear
Four-Point Bearings
Freak Waves
Freeing Anchors
Fuel Capacity
Fuel Consumption
Fuel Economy
Fuel Weight


Gaff Mainsails
Gales at Sea
Galley Placement
Galvanic Corrosion
Gasoline Dangers
Gimballed Stoves
Green Flash


Hauling Out
Heaving Lines
Heaving To
Heavy Weather
Height of Eye
HELP Posture
Holding Power
Holding Tanks
Horse Latitudes
Horseshoe Buoys
Hull Colors
Hull Costs
Hull Shapes
Hull Trim
Hurricane Areas
Hurricane Tactics


Ice Damage


Jet Drives
Jet Streams
Jib Numbers
Jumping Lights
Junk Rigs
Jury Rigs


Kayaks as Tenders


Lateen Rig
Latitude, Longitude
Lead Lines
Lead Percentage
Lee Helm
Length-to-Beam Ratio
Life Jackets
Life Rafts
Lifesling System
Lightning Protection
Lights at Anchor
Lightweight Anchors
Lines of Position
Lines Plans
Locating Batteries
Lubber Line
Lying Ahull


Mainsail Slides
Making Fast
Man Overboard
Marine Operators
Mast Steps
Mast Vibration
Mayday Calls


Navigation Lights
Net Tonnage
New Anchors
Nighttime Boating
Noises in Fog
Nonskid Surfaces
Nylon Line


Ocean Currents
Ocean Temperatures
Ocean Voyaging
Ocean Water
Oil Bags
Outboard Motors


Paint Amounts
Painting Time
Pan-Pan Calls
Passages, Gangways
Plow Anchors
Plunging Breakers
Polyurethane Paint
Pooping Seas
Powerboat Engines
Propeller Advances
Propeller Drag
Propeller Facts
Propeller Fouling
Propeller Options
Propeller Thrust
Propeller Vibration
Propeller Walk
Pulling Power
Purifying Water


Quarter Berths
Quick-Stop Method


Radar Reflectors
Radar Sets
Radio Transmitters
Rafting Up
RDF Sets
Reciprocal Bearings
Reefing Options
Renaming a Boat
Resins for Boats
Rhumb Lines
Rigging Tension
Right of Way
Rigging Sizes
Rogue Waves
Roller-Furling and Roller-Reefing Headsails
Roll Times
Rope Strength
Rope Stretch
Rope Versus Line
Rudder Loss
Rules of the Road
Rum Punch
Running Inlets
Running Off


Safe Anchorage
Safe Anchor Weight
Sail Area
Sailboat Engines
Sailboat Handling
Sailboat Rigs
Sail Cloth
Sailing in Gusts
Sailing on Friday
Sails and "Lift"
Scope for Anchors
Sea Anchors
Sea, Land Breezes
Selling a Boat
Setting Anchors
"She" Is for Ships
Sheet Sizes
A Ship's Log
Shrouds and Stays
Single-Handed Sailboats
Single-Handed Sailing
Skid Fins
Slack and Stand
Slips Versus Moorings
Smart Regulators
Solar Panels
Sound Signals
Speed Limits
Speed of Boats
Speed Trials
Splicing Line
Stability Limits
Stainless Steel
Starter Draw
Steel Hulls
Steering Systems
Stern Anchoring
Stern Drives
Stern Glands
Stove Fuels
Sun Exposure
Synthetic Fibers


Tacking Downwind
Teak Finishes
Thunder and Lightning
Tidal Streams
Tidal Waves
Time Signals
Time Zones
Towing Drogues
Trade Winds
Traffic Schemes
Trim Tabs
Twelfths Rule
Twin Screws


Unlucky Colors
Unlucky Names


Varnish Details
Voices in the Night


Wasted Fuel
Water Needs
Waterplane Area
Waterproof Clothes
Watertight Bulkheads
Wave Height
Waves in Gales
Weather Fronts
Weather Helm
Weather Information
Wheel Turns
Wind and Altitude
Wind Generators
Wind Systems
Wire Terminals
Wooden Hulls
Wooden Spars

X - Z

Yacht Definition
Yacht Design
Your Performance
Zinc Anodes



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