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

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.

Can Adventure and Motherhood Co-exist?

Taking The Plunge

A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that perhaps motherhood really has changed me profoundly in more ways than one. I think the usual clichés of being less selfish and not sweating the little things are not unique to parenthood and perhaps could result from a number of life changing experiences. However, when out on the tinny a few weeks ago I wondered whether parenthood may have significantly altered my propensity to take risks and seek out adventure.

It was a calm, sunny afternoon, very close to shore on the closed waters of Port Hacking. We ventured into some really shallow water to get a look at a potential camping spot. All of a sudden I started fussing over whether we had checked the tides properly, how much daylight we had etc. I didn’t want to be stranded with a two year old and a dog and have to be rescued by the volunteer coastguard. The reality was we had checked the tides, there was plenty of daylight left and we had in fact purchased a tinny for the very purpose of getting into shallow inaccessible spots. Rewind three years ago and even if we had been cut off by the tide we would have simply dragged the tinny back across the sand, pushed it into the water and put putted home.

I quickly snapped out of it and resumed enjoying the afternoon but it got me thinking about whether becoming a parent does something fundamental to your previous tendency to take risks and look for adventure. Once motherhood is upon us can we continue to participate completely and wholeheartedly in pursuits that require a certain level of risk taking?

I know I will definitely return to competitive sailing in the not too distant future, but the sailing I have done since having a baby has been less frequent and not at the same level as before. Reg and I have agreed that until the kids are older neither of us will do the same blue water (Category 1) ocean race at the same time. Is this rational when we’re probably more likely to be run over by a bus when walking across the road?

Take It All In

I’m optimistic that the answer to the question “can motherhood and adventure coexist?” is a resounding yes. That your sense of adventure and appetite for adrenalin is just sitting dormant until the kids are big enough to take part with you. I believe that the best way to protect your kids from danger is sometimes to give them some cautious exposure to it and equip them with the knowledge and skills to embrace adventure by setting a good example.

I take some inspiration from the likes of tennis player Kim Clijsters, who has discovered her killer instinct after the birth of her first child, mother and daughter duo Cheryl and Nicky Clarke who conquered Everest together, and closer to home some good friends who regularly take their two year old and dog on short coastal passage races in their twenty five foot yacht.

Are you worried that motherhood has stolen your mojo or are you confident it will return when the nest is empty? Perhaps its never left you? Do dad’s and mums feel effected in the same way? What are your thoughts and experiences?

The Curse of the Aussie Mossie

Citronella Candle

Since I’m a “pom”, mosquitoes seem to have a natural affinity for my blood and I’m always first on their list when I’m sitting among a group in the back garden on a balmy Sydney evening. We’ve had a fair bit of “balmy” weather lately (or “barmy” weather according to its affect on my state of mind!).  Coupled with unusually heavy rainfall this has apparently set prime conditions for unusually high levels of mosquito breeding. I’ve heard it mentioned on the radio and in the local paper during the last couple of days that we are due an explosion of mossies in about three or four days time, when the two week incubation period of the larvae comes to an end.

Of course mossies are an every day part of summer living in Sydney (and all year round elsewhere) so most Sydney Siders wouldn’t blink an eyelid. However, the entomology department at Westmead Hospital (thats the boffins who study insects and insect borne disease) think otherwise. They have been keeping an eye on things over the past twelve months and last summer did detect the presence of Ross River Virus in mossies they trapped in the St George area of Sydney.  The virus has not been detected yet this year and it typically doesnt make it this far south. But it can’t hurt to be a bit prepared, especially if you are heading out after dark, like we will be next weekend when we head to Wollemi National Park to go camping.

We’re all familiar with methods to keep mossies away but here’s a summary of the advice from NSW Health on the topic:

  • Avoid being outside in late afternoon or dusk (tricky one if you’re camping!)
  • Use a repellent every few hours
  • When applying to children avoid the eyes and mouth areas. Some repellents are also not suitable for prolonged use on children (so I am on the look out for one that is chemical free, particularly for children under two).
  • Light mosquito coils (we also use citronella candles)
  • Cover up as much as possible
  • Use mosquito nets and fly screens (especially when camping)
  • Use insect sprays in bedrooms (we used a plant based one)

Here’s a link to the NSW Health fact sheet


Here’s the link to the Westmead Entomology Department (if you’re interested the science and more info on mosquito borne disease):


If anyone knows of a good repellent for children, let me know. Just to be on the safe side I’ll also be cooking with lots of garlic!

Cabin Fever

I’ve spent the last couple of days trapped indoors nursing a toddler with a nasty fever.  So plans for a St Valentines inspired romantic riverside picnic for four (thats me, the toddler, the dog and the husband) have been temporarily put on hold. So between administering to Tessas’s temperature and watching back to back episodes of Wallace and Gromit with her, my mind turned to matters, not of cheese (as is normally the case with W&G), but to matters of medicine. 

Cabin Fever

I have been meaning for a long time to sign up for a long overdue first aid course . My first port of call is the St John’s ambulance website www.stjohn.org.au

St John run a range of courses including one aimed at carers of children. They also mention courses targeted at specific groups such as divers, although these are not listed so you may need to make enquiries and schedule a course. They also have a remote area first aid course. They are very affordable (if you can put a price on these kind of skills!) and usually run for 8 hours from 8.30 -4.30 at locations all over Australia.  The site is very easy to navigate and you can easily find a list of the courses available in your state.

In the meantime there are lots of other useful resources on the site including  fact sheets and publications specific to particular emergencies such as snake and spider bites . You can also purchase first aid kits online.  I am going to book myself on one of the St John’s courses over the next couple of weeks and will report back on progress. Has anyone else been on a good first aid course they can recommend? In the meantime…back to that romantic picnic…..

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