Boat Preparation

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Preparation for such a long trip usually involves months or even years: Obviously the first requirement is a boat.


A sail boat needs to have a sound seaworthy hull. I consider a 35-footer the minimum size basically because of stowage space for the necessary equipment. It should have good ability to sail to windward. Many people lose sight of the fact that once they have made that beautiful warm downhill ride to paradise they must "face the music" and return by slogging to weather. Motor sailers generally don't sail to weather that well but have the power and range to make up for it.

The rig should be sturdy. A sloop is easiest to handle and points better, but ketches offer more sail combinations in heavy air. The mast should be stepped through to the keel.

I recommend diesel power. Gasoline is unacceptable due to its inherent complex ignition system and the added factor of fire and explosion.

A (reliable) diesel engine should be powerful enough to push the boat six knots to windward under average sea conditions. A minimum range of 600 miles under power is necessary to be able to bypass Central American revolutions. If your built-in tank capacity is insufficient, add deck (drum) fuel to obtain that range.

Deep draft vessels rarely will encounter difficulties in the ports mentioned in this book.

Good ventilation below is a consideration for all vessels in the heat of the tropics. There should be numerous dorades, hatches, and opening ports supplemented by electric fans.

The anchor set up of a 47' sailboat. The port anchor has 300' of chain and an electric windlass with manual capabilities. The other anchor has 300' of rode with its own separate hawse.


40' is the bare minimum for power vessels. They should have the same range of at least 600 miles at times augmented by deck fuel and running at reduced speeds.

Seaworthiness is the prime consideration. Trawlers are recommended particularly if they ride low, and have rolling chocks, or a hard chine to keep the beam roll to a minimum.

A single screw boat is acceptable if you are a superb engineer and/or have an emergency back up to the main engine. For example, some single screw vessels have hydraulic systems which will link the generator to the propeller to provide enough propulsion to make port in case of main engine failure.

Calculate your water consumption and strive towards at least a seven day supply.


One of the best forms of on-board insurance is good ground tackle. A properly sized anchor utilizing 300 feet of all chain usually covers even hazardous anchoring situations. 50 feet of chain with 250 feet of rode (line) is a bare minimum and many times is carried as a backup to the chain. The anchor should be securely mounted in position but ready for instant use. A power windlass with a manual back-up is ideal. All shackles should be safety wired and no line should be connected to the chain end of the anchor with less than a four tuck splice and a metal thimble.

A Danforth is a good all purpose anchor and a plow is equally good in most conditions except very soft bottoms and reef. A relatively light grapnel with a trip line is handy for rock and/or reef anchoring.

The ideal rig is two bow anchors mounted in place with their chain or line in individual below deck "chain" lockers. Be certain both or all "hawse-holes" are of sufficient diameter to render jamming or fouling virtually impossible.

A stern anchor brings the minimum number to three. It need not be as large as the others and may have a smaller amount of chain with rode.

The route from Florida to California is often directly in major shipping lanes. Clean, bright running lights to make yourself as visible as possible are imperative. Most boats are built with tiny running lights that, while conforming to Coast Guard regulations, are insufficient in many cases.

Although technically not "legal" a masthead strobe light saved me from being run down by several large freighters while lying becalmed and engineless one dark night in the shipping lanes off Manzanillo.

There is hardly anything that qualifies as "too much" when rigging for safe blue water travel. Most prudent deep water skippers carry a twin or back-up rig for every piece of emergency equipment aboard.

Always carry either a standard hard dinghy or an inflatable with wooden floor boards to give its bottom rigidity. An outboard motor is essential because in many anchorages tidal currents, rough water, and long distances to shore, make rowing impossible. What is more ludicrous or frustrating than having a small inflatable without a bottom stiffener and a tiny outboard hanging on the stem, with its carburetor dipping in the sea as you try to make two knots into a twenty knot head wind? Always carry oars, a small anchor and rode, life jackets, and a flashlight on board. Drifting helplessly out to sea is a frustrating fate.

Sailboats should have a good working sail arrangement including jiffy reefing on the main. Additionally, light wind sails and a pole rigged for down wind work are very helpful. For severe weather, a storm trysail should have a separate track on the mast and be backed up with a storm jib. Roller furling is convenient but doesn't set well and chafes when partially reefed. Have winches commensurate with vessel size and the number of sail combinations. Carry a good sail repair kit (your sail maker can give you good ideas on this one).

One of the finest reefing set ups on the market. All control lines are operated at the base of the mast. A safe and ingenious method called jiffy reefing.

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Going aloft at sea in an emergency is a frightening thought. Mast steps are an easy way to facilitate this. They are expensive, tend to foul halyards, and add to windage. If lacking the steps, have a good bosun's chair.

To beat the tropic heat, awnings should be boat width and extend all the way to the mast. They can be designed with tubing leading directly into the tanks for collecting water. Large dodgers over hatches help keep the weather out and the hatches open for ventilation during heavy weather or rain. Bimini tops or an enclosed bridge are recommended for power boat flybridges.

Your most reliable crew member is usually a good autopilot; it doesn't eat. steers all day and night, and hopefully doesn't talk back. Small boats can get by on externally mounted pilots which hook directly to the wheel. Larger vessels need heavy duty pilots which are internally mounted, often hydraulically. Self steering vanes are fine for sail boats but I would use them to back up the mechanical autopilot. Their limitation is they won't function without wind.

Electronic navigation gear is a matter of budget. I'll start with basic necessities and progress into the sophisticated "big boy's toys."

A depth sounder is absolutely essential, preferably able to go to 100 fathoms in order to navigate that all important 100 fathom curve. Digital

readouts are fine, flashing is better but bulkier. A recording device is top of the line. A sounder is one of the items that should be backed up, budget permitting.

Radio direction finders are less useful in these waters than in the U.S. but still valuable. They range from portable, battery operated models to permanently mounted automated devices with mast head antenna. There are few marine radio beacons in Central America but there are some aero beacons on the beach. It is of particular value in finding Isla San Andres which has a powerful aero beacon.

Radar expands horizons and options manifold. It is useful not only in periods of reduced visibility (fog, rain, night, etc.) but for accurate position determination at all times, especially in unfamiliar terrain. Radar presents coastal features on a two dimensional screen which, when combined with a chart, should leave little doubt as to position for an experienced operator.

Electronics for offshore fixes aren't that necessary for coastal work as the offshore passages involved are short enough that a good dead reckoning plot will suffice. However, if budget is no problem, there are marvelous devices which cut the amount of time involved in navigation significantly and increase accuracy.

Loran C is extremely accurate and many models give continuous readout of latitude and longitude. Some are so exotic that they read true course

Offshore electronic navigation fixes are accurately and easily obtained by use of satellite navigation. Prices of such space age systems have fallen rapidly in the last few years and now fit in the budget of even smaller yachts. (Photo courtesy of Magnavox Marine Systems Division).

and speed over the bottom regardless of current and will interface with an autopilot. You set the coordinates of where you want to go, and loran and pilot drives you there. Unfortunately there is no coverage on the Pacific Coast of Mexico and Central America. As soon as you leave San Diego south bound it rapidly fades out. In the Southern Caribbean it is weak and unreliable but the Gulf of Mexico has very strong signals. Key West to Cozumel has pinpoint accuracy with its coverage. This is great reassurance when skirting the coast of Cuba and navigating in the strong, variable currents of the Gulf Stream.

Omega is a continuous positioning, world wide system. It is thus far somewhat unreliable. New stations opening in the future should help but SATNAV is the best device.

Navigation by satellite has made tremendous advances in past years and the prices have fallen steadily so that some units are now under $3,000. The disadvantage is that there are times when it can be hours between fixes requiring dead reckoning. This isn't a problem for most yachts but is for commercial fishing vessels who want to maintain position or find a particular fishing spot.

A note of caution: I enjoy using the above sophisticated electronics but I am alarmed at how they are used by others. They are no substitute for systematic, painstaking dead-reckoning—in short—cautious navigation. Do not rely on them. When they fail, be sure you know how to figure out where you are.

Radios are important safety devices. You can scream for help, monitor the weather, or place business phone calls.

The only radio transmitter you truly need is VHF. Most of this route is in or near major shipping lanes with ships monitoring Channel 16. If you are in distress chances are good your distress call will be heard by one of these vessels . . . A model with plenty of channels—you might as well get all 55—is handy as the traffic is getting intense. With more channels you have more variety of usage. The Panama Canal area uses nearly all of the designated frequencies to conduct its business. The more commonly used general frequencies are: 10, 12, 13, 22, 26, 28, 27, 83, 85, 68, 70, 71, and 72. The new direction finding VHF's are very useful particularly when making a landfall on the Panama Canal as you can lock in on the busy traffic.

Ham radio is the most versatile and cheapest worldwide communication system for a yacht. It is a difficult license to obtain as it takes much study time to pass the Morse code requirement, something you will probably

never use once its learned. It is, however, a worthwhile project. In addition to the radio's normal uses you'll be able to make free personal phone calls back home via a phone patch with a stateside shore station.

Single Side Band is an expensive unit but offers good long range communication. Its license requirements for operation are not nearly as stringent. The cheaper, low power sets with only a few channels are of limited value. Channel 12A has a very useful network of boats covering the entire west coast of Mexico. USCG weather broadcast on SSB are extensive and important. You may place phone calls through the high seas marine operator at $5 per minute with a 3 minute minimum; costly but much more effective than trying to call from some of the primitive land line stations. A large number of frequencies enhances your ability to get through. There are so many cruise liners placing phone calls for their thousands of passengers that it is impossible to get through otherwise.

Lacking a budget for a Ham or SSB, you'll need a good radio receiver covering all of the bands. You can monitor all of the Coast Guard weather broadcasts, information from Channel 12A, and pick up time ticks and weather from WWV.

CB is used widely south of the border in remote areas where there is no phone system. It's not much use if you don't speak Spanish. A walkie talkie portable using a ship board base is cheaper than a VHF portable.

Tools of the trade. A sextant is also a piloting instrument. The round hand bearing compass is very accurate yet tiny. The small radio receiver is good for both time and weather.
A separate navigation area, such as the one shown, is important. Working off the "kitchen table" is not acceptable. This is the nerve center of the boat.

A hand held VHF portable radio makes communication from shore to the boat a snap. For instance, you can send someone ashore to do the shopping, run them in with the launch and return to the boat. If you forget to tell them to get some important item you can call them up. When they are ready to return to the boat they can call you to pick them up with the launch.


1. A good adjusted ship's compass with a telltale compass below.

2. Hand bearing compass. The small circular kind are very accurate, take less space, and the continuously operating batteries last for five years and won't corrode as do the other models.

3. A log indicating distance run, makes dead reckoning much easier and more accurate. Internally installed devices frequently fail. The most reliable is the ancient Walker taffrail log. There is very little to go wrong other than a fish eating the spinner. Be sure to carry a spare.

4. Binoculars. The best navigation device you have are your own two eyes—binoculars extend that range. 7x50's are excellent for marine use.


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"Night hawk" lenses are a recommended option for higher efficiency at night.

5. Barometer. Don't be cheap. Many devices that look pretty on an office wall are totally inaccurate for on board use.

6. Dividers. The bigger the span the better. I also like the model which has a pencil lead in them for use as a drafting compass. Particularly good for use with radar plotting.

7. Parallel rules. These are notorious for their slippage across the surface of the chart. I prefer to use a Warner's Aircraft Plotter. This has a built in compass rose and can be used in a smaller area. It works from true north only, a practice which should be observed at sea anyway.

8. Anemometer. This tells wind strength and enables you to determine true wind speeds from boat speed and wind direction. This is particular useful at night and in judging when to take in sail.

9. A well laid out chart table and navigation area. You will spend a lot of time there—the nerve center of the boat. A separate area set aside for that purpose is certainly preferable to working on the salon table from which you must be constantly moving your tools and charts.


The galley should never be positioned forward of amidships where the motion is more severe. Preferably it should be placed aft near a hatchway, with opening ports for good ventilation. The shape is important. A U-shaped galley is more compact and will prevent you from falling out. You may need a retaining strap on certain tacks. A double sink with back up foot pumps for salt and fresh water, helps with dishes and fresh water consumption; wash with salt, rinse with fresh. It should also have good stowage.

There are a variety of stoves to choose from. Alcohol has no place aboard whatsoever. The flame is not hot enough and is difficult to light. Kerosene is OK but smelly and difficult to light. However, you can find kerosene in nearly every port. Gas—preferably the lighter than air variety—is cleaner and easier to light. It is very dangerous if it is heavier than air, as it collects in the bilges awaiting a tiny spark to turn the entire boat into one large bomb. For safety, use an electric solenoid with a switch and red light indicating that it is on, mounted on the bulkhead adjacent to the stove. Turn the switch on and light the stove. When through, turn the solenoid switch off, extinguishing the flame, then turn the valve off on the front of the stove. This burns off the gas between the solenoid switch and the stove so it doesn't find its way into the bilge. Ventilate the bilge with the bilge blower before each usage.

Electric stoves run from an auxiliary generator and cook things just like back home, provided you can keep the generator going. They should always be backed up by some sort of stove in case this goes out. The Sea-Swing, a bulkhead mounted, gimballed, single-burner, kerosene stove is quite popular. They are useful on sailboats also when the weather is too rough to cook on the main stove.

Refrigeration keeps cruising civilized. It is not, however, the most reliable system on the boat and is a source of failure. The engine driven variety seems to be more reliable provided the compressor is well-mounted. This system draws no current from the ship's batteries. Lose the engine and you have big problems. Refrigeration operating from the battery power requires constant vigilance of the battery condition and frequent charges. Power vessels generally use household type equipment which is reliable as long as you can keep the power plant running.

Sleep is an all important part of cruising. Berths for use underway should have boards or cloth side screens of canvas or dacron to prevent the occupant from being rudely thrown on the deck in the middle of a deep slumber.

Small fans in berthing areas and the galley make sleep and work possible in the tropics if you don't have air conditioning. Even air conditioning is prone to failure, so have fans to back it up.

One very wise "old salt" stated: "A boat can't have too many bilge pumps." To that I can only add "Amen."

Electric Rule type pumps with built in strainers are fine for normal usage. Those with automatic float switches need a red light on the control panel to indicate when and how often they are operating so the person on watch can be made aware of a problem. Solid state circuitry bilge alarms indicating water past a pre set level are great accessories.

In addition all vessels should carry a back up double diaphragm manual pump permanently mounted, ready-to-go. and with easy crew access.

Clutch geared engine driven pumps generally put out the largest amount of water most efficiently and in an emergency may keep you afloat. In addition, many power boats have rigged their engine water pump to double as a bilge pump in an emergency.

In the engine room a well designed filtration system for fuel will help eliminate the major source of problems with a diesel engine while cruising in southern waters—dirty fuel and water. Dual Racor filters should be plumbed so that if one needs to be changed, the other can be brought on line without shutting down the engine. This then can be changed at a later time. Vacuum gauges on the filters will tell you in advance if they are going to clog and need changing. The process of bleeding the system is speedier with an electric fuel prime pump than a manual fuel pump. Learn to bleed

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Good fuel filtration is extremely vital in Central America. This system, including a water separator, is adequate for a sail boat.

irms tunt In louble Wielp the engine at your own dock so you don't have to learn in an emergency situation.

Depending on your current requirements, you need at least two batteries. One should be isolated to serve as an engine start battery only. A third, disconnected charged battery can be held in reserve to start the engine with jumper cables when all else fails. Have a battery test indicator and monitor it as part of the watch routine. Some newer boats have cabin-top solar photovoltaic panels permanently mounted in acrylic as backup battery chargers. "Hot battery insurance" in any form is highly recommended-

110 current makes cruising more like home. Main engine driven "cruise" generators are adequate for sail boats, though they are troublesome and the building of the mounts is critical as is regulation of voltage and the cycles. For vessels large enough, a separate diesel generator is preferable. Two separate generators are superlative, as they are notoriously unreliable. Hopefully you can keep one of the two running. For smaller vessels, Honda makes a small gasoline portable generator that, combined with a battery charger, helps get the engine started in a tight spot. Great care must be taken in handling gasoline on board.

Self Preparation


Life Jackets

Man Overboard System Safety Harnesses Flare Gun Radar Reflector Heaving Line Emergency Tiller Life Lines

Collision Kit (incl. tapered wood plugs) Automatic Inflatable Life Raft

Automatic Radio Transmitter—Seawater activated y is usu; He


Take a book like Advanced First Aid Afloat by Dr. Peter F. Eastman and study it. It gives recommendations for putting together a medical kit. since

Consult your family physician as you will need him for prescription drugs andP"

anyway. The first aid kits sold for marine use are hardly more than bandaid youl kits. There are some doctors who put together advanced medical kits for advar.

the fishing fleets. They are complete and well organized and these doctors can be reached by high seas radio. AuJ

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How To Have A Perfect Boating Experience

How To Have A Perfect Boating Experience

Lets start by identifying what exactly certain boats are. Sometimes the terminology can get lost on beginners, so well look at some of the most common boats and what theyre called. These boats are exactly what the name implies. They are meant to be used for fishing. Most fishing boats are powered by outboard motors, and many also have a trolling motor mounted on the bow. Bass boats can be made of aluminium or fibreglass.

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