Approaching harbor during the sailing course

Going back to your anchorage or harbor after your sailing course session might feel tense after the exhilaration of the day. Careful attention must be paid to navigating through buoys and anchored boats or into a marina berth. Crew need to take bearings and sight landmarks, checking the water depth and identifying leading marks and transit lights. Start the engine well before the sails are taken down and be alert to the possibility of the engine stalling, steering failure or rope or other debris catching in the propeller. Mooring lines and fenders should be made ready.

Lowering the sails – sailing course

Packing the sails - sailing course

Packing the sails

When coming into harbor, your sailing course skipper when decide which sail to take down first. When taking down the mainsail, the boat is pointed into the wind to ease the wind pressure and lessen the chance of the sail flapping around the rigging. The main sheet and kicking strap are uncleated and the topping lift tensioned to take the weight of the boom. The main halyard can then be uncleated and the sail lowered.  Fold the mainsail neatly over the boom so it stays tucked away and secure with cord. Take up the slack of the halyard and coil any remaining pieces of cable or rope. Depending on how long the boat is going to be in harbor, put the sail cover on, or at least furl the sails neatly; it will protect them, make them easier to hoist later and is a sign of good seamanship.
The headsail is easier to neatly furl away if your boat has a self-furling sail. Simply ease off the sheet and haul the line in around the winch drum and the sail will furl itself. If the sail is hanked onto the fore stay, ease the halyard and lower the sail slowly to stop it dropping in the water. The halyard can then be taken off the head of the sail, coiled and hung on the cleat, while the sail itself can be secured to the guardrail.

Fenders and mooring lines

Fender sailing course Thailand

Fender sailing course Thailand - Photo by Frank van Mierlo

During your sailing course you will have learned the basic knots, so use a clove hitch to attach the fenders and secure mooring lines to the deck cleats fore and aft, hooking the lines through the fairleads. To avoid injury, do not try to use your hands or feet to fend the boat off a quayside and keep loose rope coiled out of the way to reduce the chance of tripping.
When approaching a pontoon berth, take care not to obstruct the skippers view and don’t jump ashore until the boat is positioned alongside. When ashore, wrap the lines once around the bollard just enough to take the strain, then rig the bow and stern spring lines to stop the boat surging back and forth. Extra lines can be secured across the breadth for security.
You may need to berth alongside other boats, so in this case step onto the other boat and temporarily fasten the line to a fore or aft cleat, then rig the spring lines. Take care to berth the boat so that the spreaders don’t clash, and rig the lines through fairleads to top them chafing.

Leaving the boat

moored sailing yacht - sailing course Thailand

Moored sailing yacht

When preparing to leave the boat, make sure all sails are neatly folded or secure and that the boat is clean with loose items stowed way. Check the bilge and fuel, gas and water supplies, making note of items you can grab ashore.
Sailing etiquette
Sailing is for pleasure, so it pays to be considerate of other boat users, for example when berthed next to another boat it is etiquette to ask permission to cross the bow if anyone is around. If crossing another boat, cross the foredeck carefully and at night remain quiet. In busy areas, always be polite to other vessels on the water, regardless of their size or use and take care not to upset smaller boats with your wash. Keep litter onboard and dispose of it in the bins provided on land and do not dump toxic chemicals such as engine oil or paint out at sea. Don’t discharge a sea toilet or holding tank and respect marine life and the environment.


On your sailing course you will learn the flags commonly flown on boats and understand that a boat is not officially recognized unless flying a masthead burgee or national ensign, these being a triangular-shaped flag with the insignia of a local sailing club (burgee) or a flag from the nation the boat is registered under. National maritime flags are called ensigns and should be flown at all times while at sea. In the boat’s home waters, a house flag (a rectangular private flag of the boat’s owner) can be flown from the starboard spreader. When visiting a foreign country, the house flag can be flown from the port side spreader while a courtesy ensign is flown from the starboard spreader. In this respect, your boat’s own national flag or ensign is flown at the stern of your vessel, a house flag (if any) may be moved to the port spreader and the flag or ensign of the country you are in is flown from the starboard spreader (courtesy ensign) during your visit.

International code flags

Before radio and electronic aids, signal flags were designed for communication between ships. There are a set of internationally agreed signal flags in use that consists of 26 rectangular or inverted arrow shaped letter flags, similar to Morse code, 10 numeral pennants and three substitutes. You will become familiar with these during your sailing course. A boat in harbor may hoist the whole set of international code flags to celebrate some special occasions.

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