Skip to main content

The Importance of Shore Support on Passage

Your shore support person should be  familiar with your  communications devices

Your shore support person should be familiar with your communications devices

Much has been said and written about preparing your vessel for an offshore passage, but few think about the importance of having good shoreside support set up before heading out to sea. Almost all offshore racing teams have sophisticated onshore support teams providing them with weather routing, sea conditions and critical equipment data to keep the boat running smoothly. Granted, few cruisers have the same resources available, but all it takes to get a degree of shoreside support is some pre-planning and the right communications equipment.

A land-based support team, for example, can supply weather information, assist with repairs by providing technical data, relay progress information to loved ones and help pass on information in the event of an emergency. For the average cruising sailor, this support is typically provided by family and friends.

A word of warning, though: the folks left back at the dock will most likely not have all the knowledge and experience needed to help. The average landlubber can’t be expected to handle the intricacies of weather forecasting and how to deal with an emergency. Even if your shore support aides are experienced sailors, they are not likely to have all the expertise that may be needed. Should a real emergency arise, friends or relatives may not react well because of worry. This is why it is so important to leave a comprehensive list of contacts and emergency numbers they can draw on.

PICK YOUR BACKUP

The first thing to do is to choose your main contact. He or she should have both the time to gather routine information and the ability to get it to you when needed. This person must be able to keep calm and organized in an emergency and be familiar with any communication methods that might be employed. It is important to have a backup contact with the same skills as your lead person.

Be sure to provide your helpers with lists of emergency contacts and professionals with weather, medical and mechanical skills who could be called on in an emergency.

Once your support team is selected you will need a full contact list for all crew onboard. For couples, make sure the information includes both families. Ask your crew to forward your contact information to their loved ones too.

Next, write a description of your vessel—make, size, hull color, number of masts, canvas colors and so on, along with documentation and/or registration numbers, dinghy type, etc. List all communications equipment, along with call signs, MMSI number and registration numbers for EPIRBs and PLBs.

THE CONTACT LIST

First on the list of contacts would be the Coast Guard and other rescue agencies. Try to provide a list of phone numbers that connect directly to actual humans rather than bots. This pre-research could save valuable time.

Next, try to add a medical professional to your contact list. If your personal doctor is unwilling or unable to help, look for a local physician or EMT who is a sailor—perhaps a member of your local yacht club. Medical emergencies often need to be handled quickly so it’s important to be able to get in touch with the right person without wasting time. Do not forget to have a dentist on the list and, if you have pets aboard, a veterinarian too.

If you are using a private satellite service such as SPOT or InReach, make sure their emergency numbers are up to date and available. These private services cannot do anything but forward information to a government SAR (Search And Rescue) operation. This is why it is important to have the government contact numbers first and foremost. You will also want your shore support to have access to online tracking maps, and tell them how to get latitude and longitude from the tracker.

After that, the next thing to have at the ready is a list of weather sources. Your contact person does not have to be a weather guru, but knowing where to get the right weather information to pass along can be just as important. Often, just relaying a weather forecast will be enough to allow the skipper to make the right decisions. If you subscribe to paid weather services, make sure your support has their information even if you will be receiving information directly from them.

If you know specialists, like marine mechanics, riggers and other boat repair technicians, add them to the contact list. Don’t be afraid to solicit help from boatyard staff or others you might work with while getting ready for your voyage, and ask if they would be willing to be a contact and help in an emergency. You will be surprised at how often these folks will be flattered that you asked. Should you have a failure at sea, experts like these can often give you valuable suggestions and advice for repairs.

COMMUNICATIONS

Of course, all these contacts will be of little help if you do not have a good method of communication between you and land. There are really only two ways to contact a vessel offshore these days—by satellite or by radio. Radio will consist of cell phone, VHF and SSB. Cell phone and VHF are limited to 10 or 20 miles offshore, while marine SSB will reach across oceans. Likewise, satellite can be worldwide. It is beyond the scope of this article to get into all the communication devices available, but whatever you select, make sure your support team knows how to get in touch with you.

If you are using a satellite phone or data transmitter, make sure your shore support has the ability to add minutes to your account. You don’t want to the phone cut off at a critical time because you’ve used-up all your prepaid minutes.

SSB is a bit trickier, unless your main contact is an amateur radio operator. With this in mind it may be best to find a contact from a local amateur radio club. Club members generally really like to help with things like an offshore passage and can even provide phone patches to land phones. Most radio amateurs are trained to deal with emergencies and can often provide relays should contact become difficult.

Finally, do not forget to have a complete float plan available. Should all contact be lost between the boat and land, an up-to-date plan can help should you be overdue for arrival. A good float plan should also include a thorough description of the vessel along with information about those aboard as well as planned and possible routes to be taken.

You do not need an expensive shoreside support team to stay safe at sea. A few friends and family will do. However, it’s vital that you take the time to teach them what to do and where to find the information they might need to help you. Not only will this keep you and your crew safer, but being able to share your experiences with those left on land can make your trip more interesting and fun. 

February 2020

Related

DUFOUR_470.JM-LIOT-15

Boat Review: Dufour 470

Annapolis may be the sailing capital of America, but if you looked around the United States Sailboat Show last fall, you would have no choice but to conclude most sailboats are now built in Europe. The Dufour 470 is a good example of a modern French performance cruiser. DESIGN & ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_6563

Close Encounters: Captain Sarah Schelbert

I met Captain Sarah Schelbert back in 2019 while on the boat trip from hell aboard a seaworthy but poorly run Triton 28 in the western Caribbean. I was trying to help the owner sail his boat back to Florida from the Rio Dulce, in Guatemala. Outbound from the river basin, we had ...read more

02-Voice-of-the-Oceans---sailboat-Kat-11

Raising Their Voices

Many of us who are cruising sailors have been sailing mid-ocean or walking along a perfect beach in the middle of seemingly nowhere, only to be appalled at the amount of plastic trash we find. Few of us, however, have taken that disheartening reality and turned it into a ...read more

IC37racingonSunday-Photo-by-Paul-Todd

IC37 North American Championship

This past weekend saw 20 IC37s off Newport, Rhode Island engage in fast and furious one-design racing with the win going to Peter McClennen’s Gamecock. “It’s huge,” said McClennen of the win. “I think of the one-designs of this club going back to the New York 30 [built in ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_2056

South Pacific Storm Prep

Having set ourselves the task of transforming our recently purchased Open 66 ex-Vendée Globe racer, NV, into a performance family cruiser, my partner, Timo, and I found ourselves (extremely) high and dry as cyclone season approached. The favorite cyclone strategy in Fiji is to ...read more

00-Alexe-1---GUaGKDY4-single-boat-sailing-away-from-skyline,-Hill-Holiday

Cruising: Find Your Own Adventure

Whether they’re at the end of their collegiate career or after aging out of a summer sailing program, a lot of young sailors have a hard time finding a way to continue sailing as adults. Some of the barriers to sailing, including location, finances and time, can be hard to ...read more

00LEAD-IMG_2183

Heavy Hitters on Heavy Weather

“What’s the joke about heavy weather? You know it when you see it.” Figure 8 singlehander Randall Reeves drew laughs from the Cruising Club of America (CCA) sailors attending the forum “Heavy Weather Sailing: Bluewater Perspectives” as part of the CCA’s centennial celebration in ...read more

Nominne-Promo-2048x1149

Best Boat Nominees 2023

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Some of it is timing. Some of it is just the way of the world. Either way, it can be fascinating to see the evolution of the boatbuilding industry over the years, as has been evident in SAIL magazine’s annual Best Boats ...read more