P Plates Overboard

Armed and Dangerous

I’ve just ticked off a major item on my longterm to do list.  As promised in last years post License to Thrill or License to Spill: Gettting Qualified on the Water, I’ve finally completed the requirements to obtain a NSW Maritime Boating License. Rather than do the self study and online test combined with completing a log book under Reg’s supervision,  I joined a class of nine others at the Australian Boating College for a full day course. This course covered both the theory and practical in one hit.

If you’re keen to get on the water in a hurry, this course comes highly recommended. The theory tuition does away with the confusing language of the standard training content and delivers it in a more user friendly format. Furthermore if you are new to boating, the course is delivered in the context of your local waterways. Throughout the morning we discussed local examples of hazards, common weather conditions etc. that we might come across in Sydney Harbour, Pitt Water and Port Hacking; something you wouldn’t benefit from by doing the course independently. We were also brought up to speed on recent changes to the maritime law in NSW, including that it is now compulsory for children under 12 years to wear a life jacket at all times (more on that next week).

Charting Dangerous Waters!

The afternoon on the water (4 or 5 students at a time for almost three hours) gave us all the opportunity to take the helm, practice anchoring, driving at speed, in figure eights in forward and reverse and emergency stops at high speed. Whilst the tinny can do 20 knots fully cranked, much of this won’t apply until we upgrade to a stinkboat (but why would we do that?!). Having said that it was quite a lot of fun hooning around the upper reaches of Middle Harbour, which was deserted by everyone else in favour of a dry afternoon indoors watching the election coverage. How dull.

Before we headed back to the boat ramp at Tunks Park we took a bit of a tour around some good spots to anchor or beach your boat. The waterfalls were running and the bush trails invitingly signposted, awaiting exploration. A few of my classmates expressed surprise at how remote and enticing these places seemed, despite being only a stones throw from the CBD. Now that they’re licensed the harbour is their oyster. Hand over the helm Reg.

Eat My Wake

Whats your bag baby? This is mine….

Oppie Origins

Various members of my family have a reputation for their “bag lady” tendencies. I am certainly no exception and my three year old is displaying similar behaviours. When I say bags, I’m not talking about designer Chanel numbers or a glittery Nicole Ritchie-esque shoulder suitcase. I’m talking about “proper job” kit bags. The kind you can take to the beach, stuff a wetsuit in, take on a picnic or keep useful bits and bobs in. The kind of bags in which you’d find a pocket knife, hair bands, bits of string, wet wipes and a waterproof tide table. If your sunblock explodes you can just wash it out and hang it on the line.

Over Christmas I added  another bag to my collection and am so chuffed with my purchase that I have decided to share the love here.  Sails in the City make tough but stylish bags from recycled sail cloth:

” Sails that have crossed oceans or travelled around the world, sails that have raced and won regattas, sails that have taught kids how to harness the wind, sails from big yachts and little dinghies. Each sail is carrying a piece of history and salty experience.”

Whilst making bags out of sails is not a new concept, we usually don’t get to find out about the origins of the cloth . The one I bought is made from an old Optimist (Oppie) sail from the Kerikeri Cruising Yacht Club. I love the fact that my bag was involved in the development of a young sailor and it also reminds me of some happy times with my dad, who lives in Kerikeri for much of the year. I like the fact that its made from recycled materials but it still feels like a new and exciting product. Each bag is unique.

If you have old sails you can donate them to the cause or have them made into something for your own use; bags, wallets, beanbags, hammocks, deckchairs, just use your imagination. In fact Reg and I were given some brand new sails for our 16 foot skiff as a wedding present, so when they have done their service maybe we could have some new curtains for the lounge?….Have you got a favourite kit bag for your boating bits and bobs?

Books on Boats and Things That Float

My Old Man and the Sea...

Whatever it is in life that floats your boat, is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy a couple of hours fossicking about in a book shop, flicking through the pristine pages of books on your favourite topic?

Over the years I have gathered a bit of a collection of nautical books, which when combined with Reg’s collection is the beginnings of a maritime library. When it’s cold, wet and windy outside, and for whatever reason you’re not at sea, what better way to while away the afternoon than with your nose stuck in K Adlard Cole’s classic “Heavy Weather Sailing” or a big colourful coffee table book showcasing the best of Beken of Cowes marine photography? It is for this very reason that Reg refuses to part company with twenty years worth of Yachting World, Australian Sailing and Offshore subscriptions. I have a dream that one day I’ll be able to dedicate an entire room of the house to boat books, a sailor’s drawing room if you like. Yes, I’m a boat book geek.

Step inside...if you have a few hours to spare....

This afternoon, in the absence of such a refuge, I indulged in a couple of hours of blissful arm chair sailing when I popped in to Boat Books in Crows Nest. If you’re a sailor, boater or a fan of anything remotely nautical or of a coastal inclination and you haven’t heard of Boat Books then keep reading.

Established for over thirty years and now with shops in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, as well as a comprehensive online catalogue, Boat Books is the one stop shop for marine literature, charts and chart software. The thing that strikes you most when you browse through the shelves is the volume and variety of marine related books in stock. Far more than you’d be able to locate at the biggest general book store (5500 items in stock to be precise). Everything from the practicalities of repairing and maintaining diesel engines, mending sails, building wooden boats and plotting a safe course, through to seafood cookery books, marine and naval history, novels, marine photography and poetry, would appear to be available. There is something for everybody and if not I’m sure enquiries could be made to source what you are looking for.

Natural history meets Navy

Boat Books is also an official agent for Australian, British Admiralty, New Zealand and Fijian charts and offers a correcting service for charts you may already have. You can also purchase your digital charts and navigational software here whether for commercial or recreational purposes.


A tea towel for the galley?

With titles like “Do Whales Get the Bends?”, “Dinner with the Fishwife” and “If Matthew Flinders Had Wings” it was a miracle I came out empty handed on this occasion. The only thing missing from the Boat Books experience was a nice cup of tea to sip whilst flicking through the pages of my next Christmas, birthday, anniversary present etc. Next time you are stuck for a gift for a boating enthusiast check out the online catalogue. In the meantime the gallery below will give you a flavour of what’s available.  Boat Books will have a stand at the Sydney Boat Show at Darling Harbour where Jessica Watson will be signing copies of her new book: True Spirit.

My trip to the book shop got me thinking about whether there is an absolute all time classic boat book. Perhaps its Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World or Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons? What’s your all time favourite?


Boat Books Australia

Sydney  International Boat Show

Licence to Thrill or License To Spill? Getting Qualified on the Water

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

If you are thinking of getting a tinny, (or indeed something bigger!) one of the first things you should be doing is getting your boat license.  Boating accidents have been in the press a lot over the last few years as our waterways get ever busier, so being properly qualified and trained is a must for keeping you and your family safe on the water.

As Chris has his license, so far he’s done all the driving (apart from a few put puts under 10 knots) but I can’t put up with this for much longer. I want to be able to take the boat out on my own when he’s not around….perhaps with a few girlfriends, child free, for a relaxing champagne picnic on a remote beach…

Anyway, since I’m currently setting about fulfilling all the requirements to get my license, I thought I’d share them with you on the blog. All the information is available on your state maritime authority website, however, I thought it might be useful for me to provide a quick list of the basics to give you the gist of the requirements.  I’ll be reporting back on my progress of becoming a fully licensed tinny skipper, in the meantime, what are your thoughts on the requirements? Do you think is it too easy to get a licence or are the requirements already stringent enough?  The list below is based on NSW Maritime licensing requirements:

  • Getting your license won’t protect you from irresponsible boaters, but it will make you a safer and better informed skipper, less likely to put yourself and others in danger
  • The speed at which you want to go determines the license. You don’t need a license to operate a boat at under 10 knots and for this reason most boat hire companies have motors which can’t exceed this (there is some controversy regarding whether people should be able to take boats out at all without licenses).There are 4 types of license in general:
  •  General Licence: for people 16 and over who want to drive a vessel at over knots (excluding PWC’s; otherwise known as jet skis)
  • General Young Adult Licence:  A restricted licence for those aged from 12 to under 16 years
  • PWC Licence: Jet ski licence
  • Young Adult PWC license: Jet ski licence for those aged 12 to under 16 years
  • There are a few simple steps you need to complete to get your licence:
  1. Complete the compulsory General Licence Boating Safety Course and for PWC applicants the PWC Licence Boating Safety Course;
  2. Provide evidence of practical boating experience; and
  3. Successfully undertake the general licence knowledge test and for PWC applicants the PWC licence knowledge test.

Licence to Thrill?

 There are several ways you can achieve all of the above and these are detailed on the authority website. However, in short, you need to complete a safety course either online, by purchasing a DVD or by completing the course via a recognised training provider (RTP). You can then take the knowledge test. Practical experience must be gained either via an RTP or by registering your practical experience, gained under the supervision of a qualified skipper, in a Maritime Authority issued log book . When all three components are complete you can apply for your licence.  Log books and handbooks can be downloaded from the website or picked up free from a maritime authority office.

Useful Links

NSW Maritime

A NSW Based RTP (others are also listed on the maritime site)

You're The Skipper

Nautical Flag Knowledge: Are you Dragging Your Anchor?

Nautical Flags

A must for everyone who puts to sea in boats is some kind of guide to nautical flags. Most people who are regularly on the water, whether it be to race or cruise, know some of the most commonly used flags such as the Alpha signal for  “I have a diver down; keep well clear at slow speed”.  In yacht racing the code has its own specific set of applications, for example the Y flag on the committee boat indicates that lifejackets must be worn, the Sierra flag for a shortened course etc.

But when challenged I don’t think there are many of us who could identify every single flag and its various applications without making a mistake. The exception (you’d hope) ought to be those operating on the water commercially. Having a handbook on board is all well and good but not if you’ve run over the diver in your tinny or over shot the shortened course mark in your yacht by the time you get the book out, in which case you could find yourself in a lot of trouble.

The Nato Phonetic Alphabet (not to be confused with the International Phonetic Alphabet ) corresponds with the names of the International Code Flags and  is the international radiotelephony code for transmitting messages over radio. Again, having to translate as you go from a handbook, when you are exchanging information over radio in an emergency situation at sea/on the water, is far from ideal.

As a side, I have found that knowing this alphabet has come in very handy when discussing the antics of naughty (small) children in their presence or mentioning topics that are taboo such as; “its time for “Bravo, Echo, Delta”, or “so and so is being a thorough pain in the Alpha, Romeo, Sierra, Echo”. This type of regular use is also a good way of learning the code during day to day so it comes to mind when you really need it.

Recently, however, I found a much more practical tool for learning everything in the international code. The Nautical Flags Application on Iphone lists them all with clear pictures and descriptions, includes the racing flags meanings, coastal warnings,  as well as flash cards and a quiz which you can test yourself with on a spare minute on the train.

Nautical Flag App Functions

Test Yourself


It also has a really cool “spell it with flags” tool where you can type in a message such as “Happy Birthday” and it will display the flag sequence, useful if you want to use your nautical bunting to say something meaningful in a “best dressed boat” competition! It also includes the Morse Code and the coastal warnings flags.

There are a number of Iphone apps that offer this type of function but the one I’m describing is called “Nautical Flags”, costs $1.19 and was created by Pub 9 Nautical

If you don’t have an iphone, here’s a really useful link instead. You can also purchase stickers at any good chandlery (boat shop) that display the code and its meaning that you can place in a sensible location in your cockpit or nav station etc.

Can you decode this without checking your handbook?

First person to correctly decode the sequence in the picture above gets a picnic trip in the tinny.

If you can’t tie knots…

…tie lots, is how the saying goes. Having a few basics up your sleeve is probably a much more sensible strategy though for any sailor, climber, horse rider or person venturing outdoors. And of course knowing how to get them undone again in a hurry always helps. For years, a little book called “knots and splices” which I stole from my dad’s bookcase, has accompanied me on my various travels and landed firmly here with me in Australia. Unfortunately I don’t think I have ever learned a single knot from it. Through practice and various experiences I have mastered the usual suspects; bowline, reefknot, figure eight, half hitch etc. but anything more complicated has phased me. Mainly because I just cant get my head around the diagrams on the pages of these books. I am one of those people you see in an unfamiliar town or country, turning the map upside down to try and gain some sense of orientation.

The Animated Rope Knots App

But I think I have discovered a solution. My “App of the month” for February is the Animated Knots App from Itunes. It has 22 common knots including the bowline and the slip knot. Each knot is shown complete with a description of its intended use and then a short animated video of how to tie it, which you can pause and replay as you practice tying the knot yourself. It also provides advice on what “not” (excuse the pun) to use the knot for. For example a bowline should not be trusted in a life or death situation such as mountain climbing.

If you are looking for the reef knot (an absolute necessity for any sailor) then it is referred to in the app as the square knot. Many people when learning this one (including me) make the mistake of tying a double granny knot. A good way to avoid this is to remember “left over right and then right over left” . Likewise with the bowline; “make a hole for the rabbit, the rabbit goes up and out of the hole, around the tree and down the hole again.” 
If you dont have an iphone there are also some useful clips on you tube that provide the same real time instruction.



So if you see some deranged lady on the Illawarra line in a business suit with a length of 15ml spectra tying herself in knots whilst trying to operate an iphone, its probably me trying to master a  double fishermans bend!

Navionics: Navigation for the Technologically Challenged

As a rule I prefer to leave the technology at home when I head out on the water or on a bushwalk. For me, the allure of 3 days at sea on a yacht race is being unreachable by phone and email, left to my own ponderings whilst gazing out to sea. I’ve never been particularly tech savvy, demonstrated by the fact that I have had an iphone for a year and only have three apps (applications) on it, all of which were installed in the last 6 weeks!

Pittwater Road Test

But I may have to change this habit as a result of recent purchase from iTunes. Navionics is an iphone app that provides interactive coastal nautical charts for Australia. Here’s an excerpt from the description on the iTunes store;

Ideal for boaters, fishermen and water sports enthusiasts of all kinds. You can plan your on the water adventures anytime, anywhere…check tides, set routes and markers, and search for marinas. While on the water track your navigation, capture geotagged pictures, and create a virtual travelogue of your entire trip that you can share with your friends and family via email, facebook and the Navionics community.”

It gets some pretty good reviews on the app store with some people having tested it in parallel with their expensive GPS and navigation equipment. The charts are offline too so you don’t need network coverage for it to work as it works off satellite*. I particularly like the photo geotagging feature as supervising a two year old and trying to take photos with a decent camera is quite tricky; much easier to have your iphone in your pocket. However I will be buying a transparent waterproof pouch to put it in to be on the safe side! Here’s a quick summary (although not exhaustive) of what you can do with this application:

  • Track your route along a waterway
  • Take photos along the way which are geotagged and attached to the relevant location on your plot
  • Click on points of interest such as marinas and access local information including direct click through to marina phone number
  • Save up to 100 of your tracks
  • Create up to 100 routes
  • Digitally mark favourite spots
  • Email tracks and photos to yourself, friends etc and view them through Google Earth
  • Check tides, currents, depths etc.

For $14.99 I think it is pretty good value if you have an open boat such as a tinny which you are using on inshore waters. We road tested Navionics last weekend up at Pittwater, see snapshot of the track we recorded above.

Navionics also offer applications for ski and lake locations as well as charts for other countries. However I would not recommend relying solely on your iphone as a navigational tool. Always plan your trip in advance, take hardcopy charts and check the marine forecast before setting off. We’ll be using this application to record future trips in more detail and share information with you about great places to explore. If you decide to download this application feel free to send in your travelogues and recommendations; just be sure to switch the phone to silent if you want to remain unreachable!

Do you have any useful mobile applications for the outdoors?


*3G version of iPhone and later.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...