Staying Safe at Sea – Passage Planning

  • Post category:Safety
  • Reading time:6 mins read

Safety has always been a core part of Marintech Marketing. We believe that a great boating adventure always starts with being safe while you are out at sea. Human error causes as much as 80 percent of navigational accidents. In many of these cases, the human error can be avoided by accessing information that could have prevented the accident.

Planning your passage is an integral part of sailing and boating. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” We realize that at this moment in time, most of us are limited to more familiar Singapore waters due to the ongoing pandemic. However, as the oceans will eventually open up, boaters seeking to head into unfamiliar seas should employ the skill of passage planning.

What is passage planning?

A passage plan aims to develop a location to location navigation plan by determining a route to reach the next destination safely. Listed are some parts of passage planning.

  • Recognizing the hazards, and assessing associated risks and decision points
  • Checking the depth of water and the sea room
  • Acting with respect to the anticipated traffic and weather conditions
  • Complying with all applicable environmental protection measures

To begin, we will borrow some information from the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s Guidelines For Voyage Planning. More specifically, the legal framework concerning Passage Planning Chapter V of SOLAS Convention and IMO Resolution A.893-21. 

These Guidelines specify three key items to consider in the practice of voyage planning:

  1. Obligation to develop and implement such a plan as, “of essential importance for safety of life at sea, safety and efficiency of navigation, and protection of the marine environment.”
  2. Voyage planning is necessary for all types of vessels on all types of voyages
  3.  The plan’s scope should be based on all information available, should be “berth to berth,” including when under pilotage, and the plan includes the execution and the monitoring of progress.

Four Stages of Passage Planning

There are four stages for passage planning as specified by IMO

  1. Appraise all relevant information – Identify and assess the risks in order to ensure that the vessel is safe during the voyage. Navigation, berthing requirements, port entry requirements, national requirements etc are also to be considered.
  2. Plan the intended voyage – Plan the voyage using electronic or paper charts. One should follow established conentions when plannign the route.
  3. Execute plan taking account of conditions – Vessel speed is adjusted according to ETA and expected weather & oceanographic conditions. Fuel, water and food onboard must also be taken into account.
  4. Monitor the vessel’s progress – Constantly monitor the position of the vessel to ensure it is safe from danger areas. If one should deviate from the original plan, a discussion should be made amongst the Captain and crew. Seamanship, experience and personal judgement should all be contributed.

Putting theory into practice

First of all, you need charts. You can use paper charts or electronic charts from Navionics. Both of them are safe and easy to use. In recent years, sailors often than not, plan their passages using electronic charts as they include more information than paper charts. Electronic charts may contain information about foreign marinas, VHF channels, up to date warning signage etc. But making your plan on the paper charts helps you to understand exactly where are you going and what distance you will take. It is akin to planning a car trip via paper maps via relying on GPS system in you car. One way you know by heart the route you will be taking while the other is highly electronic depended.

You will also need a pen and paper, cruising guides for the related areas or pilot book and nautical almanac. This will help you when you approach a foreign destination with ease with key formation such as tides, currents, wind & traffic information. These days, Navily (For Europe region) can be a good replacement for a cruising guide book.

Once the above information is gathered and considered, you can begin the process of actually laying out the voyage. This involves projecting various future events including landfalls, narrow passages, and course changes expected during the voyage. A good plan will include a track line laid out on a suitably scaled chart. When the track is finished, it is becoming common practice to also enter it into a electronic chartplotter. Also, if the boat is undergoing a voyage with multiple crew, it must be communicated and consulted on by the various crew members.

 

There are 3 critical parts to planning a passage.

NAVIGATION
ENVIRONMENT
BOAT

Navigation:

First, you plan your navigation in four parts. 

  1. Leaving the marina
  2. Crossing
  3. Entering a new marina
  4. Mooring/docking

Navigation example;

  • Leaving the Marina
  • 5 miles
  • 120 deg 2 miles to the bridge
  • Bridge (opening times)
  • After bridge 210 deg 5 miles (follow the channel)
  • After the channel (across part)
  • 280 deg 30 miles
  • 320 deg 10 miles (in)
  • Then mooring, anchoring, if marina reservation, berth number etc.
Passage Planning examples from http://www.passageplanning-sales.com

Environment

You check basic things such as weather, wind force and wind direction, tides (if important) and currents. Based on this you decide the time of leaving and arrival. You can use weather apps like Windy, Predictwind together with the tidal atlas or equivalent tides app for the local area. If you are sailing in an area with satellite weather, you can also consult that. If you are sailing more than few days, it may be wise to find a weather window that allows you to head to your destination the fastest or safer way.

Boat

Ensure that a boat has everything needed onboard. One can follow a checklist that is easily available from the internet. Having things fixed before the departure is extremely important, no one wants a outboard motor breaking down. You also don’t want the see you only have 10 liters of water left in your fresh water tanks for a week of sailing.

Here are some tips that we have gathered:

  • Checking your boat: Try to follow a check list. Major items like bilge, engine, engine oil, sails, running/standing rigging so on
  • Is the crew well rested and experienced?
  • Is there adequate food, water and other supplies onboard?
  • Are the safety equipment in working condition and easily accessible? Do the crew and passengers know where they are and how to use them?
  • Relevant paper work (if you are crossing to another country)
  • Personnel shift rotation plan
  • Have you informed a loved one or friends on my travel plan and estimated arrival dates?

No matter how solid is your plan, it is always good to have alternative plans (plan b and plan c). For example, if you are following a coast, on your way mark few places in between where you can go and spend the day in case something goes wrong, your boat needs a repair or somebody get sick. Start small, build experience, try and fail. Sailing is progress, not perfection.

Fair winds and following seas.