Practicing sailing skills is the final element of safety management. Do you know how all of your major systems function on your boat? Do you know how to navigate her using paper charts and charting tools? Can you properly operate your VHF radio? Can you deal with a medical emergency on board?

There are numerous excellent courses available where you can work on a wide variety of skills. They are offered through the Canadian and US Power Squadrons, the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Canadian and American Red Cross and private firms. Your local yacht club may offer a series of courses as well or be open to starting a program. Take them. You will be pleased to see your sailing skills improve and with that comes real confidence.

If you are setting out with a spouse/partner and perhaps family, consider some 'how to' basics. These could include how to quickly drop sails, make a VHF call, especially a MAYDAY call, how to operate the engine, how to do a Man Overboard procedure (it could be you in the water), how to do some basic emergency first aid and how to figure out where you are.

As important as it is to learn these skills, it is just as important to practice them Develop a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's) and then stick to them. Develop checklists and use them. They will ensure that you don't overlook something. (As a Coast Guard auxiliarist, I have lived with checklists and believe in their usefulness.) Develop checklists for major 'events' such as pre-departure, engine checks, closing up your boat, etc. They can be as simple as a set of cards or they can be designated pages in your log book. And then, use them.

Along with checklists, develop procedure lists. What will you do if there is a fire on board/ man overboard?, etc. After developing these, practice them.

It is steps like these that will contribute to your overall safety and make your cruising experiences much more enjoyable.

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