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Sailing Skills & Seamanship

Sailing Skills & Seamanship

3.7 8
by Inc. U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Assoc., Inc U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Assoc (Manufactured by)

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Learn the essentials of sailing and seamanship from one of the world’s premier boating organizations

Since 1978, Sailing Skills and Seamanship has been the required manual for students in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary’s esteemed sail-training programs. Now this exclusive handbok is available for the first time to every beginning and


Learn the essentials of sailing and seamanship from one of the world’s premier boating organizations

Since 1978, Sailing Skills and Seamanship has been the required manual for students in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary’s esteemed sail-training programs. Now this exclusive handbok is available for the first time to every beginning and intermediate sailor. It is your thorough introduction to recreational sailing’s fundamentals, from choosing the right sailboat to knowing the rules of the nautical road and everything in between.

Discover the answers to all your questions on:

  • Essential equipment, both required and recommended
  • Docking and anchoring
  • Sailing fundamentals
  • Tuning your sailboat’s rigging for best performance
  • Knots, splices, and line handling
  • Operating and maintaining outboard or inboard engines
  • Navigation and the rules of the nautical road
  • Boat handling and seamanship on coastal and inland waters
  • Trailering a sailboat
  • Marine weather and marine communications
  • And much more!

Approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), with chapter review questions and answers, Sailing Skills and Seamanship is the ideal study and reference guide for honing your sailing skills and expanding your seamanship knowledge.

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McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
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8.40(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.84(d)

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Sailing Skills and Seamanship

By United States Coast Guard Auxillary

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2008 United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-147029-2



About Sailboats

Quiet anchorages like this one in Penobscot Bay, Maine, await the cruising sailor. (PHOTO BY STEPHEN GROSS)

The objectives of this chapter are to describe:

• Parts of a sailboat in proper language.

• Sailboat hull types and rigs.

• The variety of sailboats available to match your needs.

• How boats are built.

• How to get information on possible defects in a vessel.

• Considerations in a contract to purchase a boat.

SAILBOATS AND POWERBOATS together make up the world of recreational boating. The two differ considerably, not only in their appearance and locomotive power, but also in the ways people use them. Sailboats don't make very good fishing platforms, and you can't water-ski behind one, but they bring you closer to nature, to the wind and the waves. They challenge a skipper's skill and judgment. They require greater effort than most powerboats, but the rewards are often proportional to the effort expended.

To many people, the thrill of getting there, the ability to master the elements, is more important than the destination itself. These are the folks we see sailing in local waters week after week while their powerboating friends head off to new and exotic destinations. At the other extreme, we find that most around-the-world cruises are carried out in sailboats, which are more seakindly, less noisy, and not completely dependent on refueling facilities. There is room for all kinds of recreational boating on our increasingly crowded waterways, but only if all boaters respect both the interests and the rights of others.

Although there are literally hundreds of types of sailboats afloat today, all sailboats are basically similar. In this book, we will concentrate on the more common types, but the principles that apply to them will generally hold true for exotic or unusual craft as well.

What Is a Boat?

A boat is anything used for transportation on the water. Huck Finn's raft was a boat. A seaplane is a boat when it is on the water. Canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and other small craft are boats. Boats range in size from personal watercraft (PWC) to large ships, and they might have deep or shallow hulls; flat, round, or V-shaped bottom sections; and tall or short cabin sides and superstructures. They can be slender or stout, and they might have one, two, or even three hulls. They vary, too, in the materials from which they're built. As defined by the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971, all boats are vessels, but a vessel is not a boat (and therefore exempt from certain commercial safety regulations) unless it was manufactured or is engaged primarily for noncommercial use or is engaged in carrying six or fewer passengers for hire.

Language of the Sea

Newcomers to any subject usually must learn a new vocabulary, and boating is no exception. The language of mariners has been developing for many centuries. It has the virtues of utility, economy, and an exactitude you need when talking about boats and boating.

As we introduce terms, we will usually define them for you. You can also find some of them in the Glossary at the back of the book. If you do not find a word listed in the Glossary, look for it in the Index. The first time we define a technical term, we will print it in red.

Some nautical terms have found their way into our everyday vocabulary. The term "blue Monday" came to us from England. The British Navy disciplined sailors on Mondays for infractions over the preceding week. The punishment consisted of lashes with a cat-o'-nine tails, or whip. No wonder Monday was blue. When not in use, the cat stayed in a sack. Of course, the cat was "out of the bag" when used.

Other terms came from Norway. Sailboats are steered by rudders. On an ancient sailing boat, the rudder was to the right of center at the rear, or stern, of the vessel. There it was protected from damage when the ship was in port. The tiller, which turned the rudder, was kept under the helmsman's right arm.

In Norway, the rudder was a "stjorn" board or steering board. Stjorn, when pronounced, sounds like "starn." So the right side of a vessel when looking forward became known as the "stjorn board" or starboard side (Figure 1-1).

When a vessel came into port, it was with its left side next to the wharf. This was the side most visible to the helmsman. It was also the side for the "load board." No wonder the left side of the vessel became known as the larboard side. "Larboard" and "starboard" are more exact terms than "left" and "right" since they do not change if you are facing forward or aft.

Because larboard and starboard sound somewhat alike, they are easily confused. Thus, larboard was changed to port. This was a logical choice, as this was the side of a vessel next to the wharf when the vessel was in port. Larger vessels load through ports, or openings, in their sides.

Remnants of ancient boats made of large, hollowed-out tree trunks or keels still exist. These unstable vessels took on water easily. Although they didn't sink, they were of little value when slightly submerged in rough or icy water.

Planks were added later, and the trunk became but one part of the vessel. The name keel remained, however. The body of the vessel, formed by the keel and the planks together, became known as the hull.

The aft terminus of many boats is a flat, vertical surface extending from one side of the vessel to the other. This part of a boat became known as a transom, from the Latin root "trans," meaning across (Figure 1-2).

The bow is the forward most portion of a vessel. This term came from the Norwegian word "bov," meaning shoulder, and pronounced "bow." You can almost see the shoulder of a boat pushing its way through the water.

Components of a Sailboat

Once you become accustomed to using sailors' terminology, it will come naturally. It's a lot easier in the long run to have at your command a word like halyard, for instance, than to grope for the approximate equivalent in everyday English: a rope or wire that raises and lowers a sail.

There are two basic parts of any sailboat—the hull (or hulls) and the rig. A sailboat hull is simply the load-carrying part of the vessel. Besides supporting the crew, their equipment, the engine (if any), and the mast and sails, the hull has other functional requirements. It must move efficiently through the water in the direction the boat is steered while at the same time resisting forces that attempt to push it in other directions. Meanwhile, it must stay reasonably upright, opposing the pressure of the wind on the sails.

The rig is the collective term for the various elements that form a sailboat's power system. There are basically three interacting parts—the spars (see below), the rigging, and the sails.


Many sailboat terms are so much a part of the language that you'll find you know them already. Others are less well known. We covered bow, stern, port, and starboard above. Now let's run through a few others that pertain to the hull.

If you were to measure the length of a boat along its deck from bow to stern (but not including a bowsprit or stern sprit, if either were present), the dimension would be labeled as length overall. When the dimensions of a sailboat appear in magazines or sales literature, this term is frequently abbreviated LOA (Figure 1-3). Length at the waterline (for more, see below) is called LWL for short. The width of the hull at the widest point is her beam, and the depth of water required to float her is known as the boat's draft. Many sailboats have retractable bottom appendages called centerboards (which retract by pivoting sternward) or daggerboards (which retract straight upward), so in this case two drafts may be listed—one with board up and one with board down (Figure 1-4, and see page 23).

The waterline is the line of intersection of the water surface with the boat's hull. A stripe painted along and above the waterline when the boat is floating upright is called the boottop or bootstripe (see Figure 1-3). It serves as a useful reference to determine if the boat has been properly loaded. When the boottop shows clearly around the hull and is parallel with the water surface, the boat is said to be correctly trimmed. If the hull is down by the bow or stern, or tipped to one side or the other, or too high or low in the water, she's out of trim (Figure l-5).

Very small sailboats may be completely open (Figure 1-6). Most boats, however, have a covering, the deck, over the forward part of the hull (Figure 1-7), and in many craft there are side decks as well. The deck keeps rain and spray out of the hull, provides a place to attach hardware, and helps keep the mast in place (Figure 1-8). The cutout tub in the center of the deck, from which the skipper steers and the crew operates the boat, is the cockpit. There's frequently a raised lip around the edge of the cockpit—the coaming—that serves to deflect water.

The floor of the cockpit is called the cockpit sole. In a contemporary fiberglass boat the decks, the cockpit tub and sole, and the cabin sides and top (if the boat has a cabin) are frequently molded as one large piece, which is then bonded to the hull mold. In wooden boats, however, all these parts are hand built. Like other walk-on surfaces aboard, the sole should be nonskid (Figure 1-9). A nonskid effect can be achieved using paint with sand in it, or, in a fiberglass boat, with a molded-in pattern. If your boat doesn't have nonskid where it's needed, you can buy, at most boating supply stores, waterproof tape with a slightly abrasive surface. It's a good investment in safety. Some wooden boats and older fiberglass boats have a grate of interlocked wood strips (usually teak) on the cockpit sole to provide good footing while keeping shoes dry.

Most hardware on a sailboat is connected with handling the sails, but some pertains to the hull itself. Even the smallest boat should have a cleat or eye bolt at bow and stern for attaching mooring or towing lines. Cleats may be wood, metal, or plastic, but they should be bolted through the deck and preferably through a backing plate under the deck as well (Figure 1-10). More and more fiberglass sailboats—especially smaller, more open ones—have built-in flotation between the outer skin of the hull and the inner skin, called the liner. This flotation (as in Figure 1-10) is usually in the form of rigid plastic foam, inserted in sufficient quantity to keep the water-filled boat plus her crew afloat.

Some small sailboats have self-bailers built into the after end of the cockpit. These are one-way valves that operate to expel bilge water from the hull—but they only work when the boat is moving at a good clip and are therefore only found on high-performance sailing dinghies. Don't count on them to empty the boat when she's at rest. For that you'll need a pump or bailer. Some self-bailers admit some water if the boat isn't moving, and must be shut off once the boat slows down. If you have such a device built into your boat, make sure you know how it works before setting sail.


Spar is the general term for the rigid members that support and extend the sails. The primary spar is the mast, a vertical member that holds the sails up. Most boats also have a boom, which holds out the foot, or bottom, of the sail at right angles to the mast. The mast and boom are joined by a kind of universal joint called a gooseneck, which allows the boom to pivot up, down, or sideways (Figure 1-11).

There are other types of spars—gaffs, yards, and spinnaker poles, to name the most common—but they are restricted to specialized boat types or advanced forms of sailing, and will be dealt with later.

Spars were traditionally fashioned from wood, but the strength, light weight, and durability of aluminum have made it the most popular spar material for contemporary sailboats. On some smaller boats where bending spars are useful, fiberglass spars, rather like oversize fishing poles, are occasionally seen. Carbon fiber, which is even lighter and stronger than aluminum, is sometimes used on high-performance sailboats when cost is no object. Some older boats and ones of traditional appearance still retain wood spars, either hollow sections glued together or solid pieces of timber.

Whatever the construction material, all spars have much the same kinds of fittings attached to them. As we shall see in a later chapter, it's important not only to extend a sail but also to vary the tension along its edges, thereby controlling and optimizing its shape. Sail control fittings on the spars perform this function. Once we've had a chance to consider how sails are shaped and how they are fastened to spars, we can consider the various types of fittings and how they work.

The mast fits into or onto a mast step, or socket, which is shaped so that the spar's heel, or base, cannot slide off (see Figure 1-10). In most boats the step is cast metal (though it may be wood in a wooden boat) and is mounted in a reinforced area of the boat's bilge. In some boats, however, the mast is stepped on deck, making it much easier to raise and lower at the beginning and end of the sailing season. If the boat is trailered and the mast must be raised and lowered frequently, it will often be stepped in a pivot fitting called a tabernacle. Any deck-stepped mast must be supported by a compression strut or other substantial reinforcing structure beneath it to transfer rigging loads from the deck or cabin top to the boat's hull and keel.

When the mast is stepped in the bilge, it passes through a tight-fitting hole in the deck or, in some small open boats, through a hole in a forward seat. Often, in larger boats, the mast passes through the cabin roof, where a reinforcing collar called the mast partner is placed to help take the strain of the spar. On some small boats, this arrangement alone provides sufficient support for the mast, but on most boats a certain amount of rigging, varying with the size of boat, is necessary to keep the mast up and straight.


There are two types of rigging—standing and running. Standing rigging stays put; it supports the mast under tension. Running rigging requires frequent adjustment; it runs through blocks (the nautical term for pulleys) to raise, lower, ease out, or trim in the sails.

Standing Rigging

The standing rigging of the average sailboat is not complicated. Its purpose is to keep the mast upright and straight. Remember also that any pull on the mast from one direction must be matched from the opposite side if the spar is to remain in position and in column (i.e., undistorted). A backstay keeps the mast from falling forward over the bow, while one or more forestays keep the mast from falling over the stern. A forestay that runs from the very bow of the boat to a position at or near the top of the mast is also called a headstay. On some boats an inner forestay, or babystay, runs from a point on the foredeck midway between the bow and the mast to a landing point some two-thirds of the way up the mast, permitting a smaller jib to be flown in strong winds (Figure 1-12).

If a backstay landing on the middle of the boat's transom would interfere with the tiller and rudder, the backstay might be offset slightly to one side or the other, or it might be split into two lower legs, one leading to the boat's starboard quarter and one to its port quarter.

When, for reasons of design, the forestay doesn't end near the masthead, aftward tension to balance the forestay is provided by a pair of running backstays, one on each side of the boat (Figure 1-13). Each running backstay ends in a rope tackle, and only the windward one (the one on the side over which the wind is blowing) is set up. The one to leeward is left slack so as not to interfere with the mainsail.

A mast is kept from falling to the side by standing rigging called shrouds. On small boats there is usually only one set, running from the side of the hull up to the masthead. Sometimes, to make a more mechanically effective lead of the shrouds to the masthead, a pair of horizontal spars called spreaders are fitted about two-thirds of the way up the mast. The spreader, as its name suggests, simply widens the angle at which the wire reaches the masthead, giving a more effective sideways angle of pull.

The shrouds that run over spreaders to the masthead are called upper shrouds, or just uppers, or sometimes cap shrouds. Other shrouds run from the sides of the hull to the mast just beneath the intersection of the spreaders; these are lower shrouds or lowers. There may be one or two pairs of them. On some boats, an inner forestay does the same job as the pair of forward lowers.

Shrouds and stays are normally made of stiff stranded wire rope, generally stainless steel. Since it's necessary to balance the stresses of the various pieces of standing rigging against their opposite numbers, adjustable fittings are provided at the bottom end of each stay and shroud. The most common fitting for this job, called a turnbuckle, is usually cast in bronze or stainless steel (Figure 1-14). It allows for a limited adjustment of wire tension, a process called tuning, dealt with in more detail in Chapter 11.

Excerpted from Sailing Skills and Seamanship. Copyright © 2008 by United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. 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.

Meet the Author

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is known as “America’s
Volunteer Lifesavers” and throughout its 68 years has assisted the U.S. Coast Guard in vessel inspections and search-and-rescue operations.

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Sailing Skills & Seamanship 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
CTO More than 1 year ago
At about 100 pages into this Nook book, I am quite satisfied. The arrangement of the topics is logical and seems inclusive. The writing style is fluid and introduces new concepts in a gradual and clearly defined way. I am learning on almost every page. My one gripe, which is the reason for 4 stars rather than 5, is that the diagrams are often chopped off on the left and right sides. More careful formatting of the Nook version is needed.
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