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For those of you that wish to gain formal qualifications, you must know and be able to explain the following and will probably have to give a practical demonstration at some stage, so get them into your head!

The Five Essentials

Boat balance – If a yacht is allowed to heel away from the wind, it will tend to turn into the wind or luff up. If the boat is allowed to heel towards the wind, it will tend to turn downwind or bear away. In either ease, some rudder movement will be needed to keep it on course, which will slow the boat down. Turn the boat using the wheel to the desired course to steer. This may be a definite bearing or towards a landmark, or at a desired angle to the apparent wind direction.

Trim fore and aft – The distribution of crew weight fore and aft is just as important as balancing the boat. The best way to learn the techniques is to practice them, but the idea of shifting your weight towards the wind will help. In other words, that means moving forward in the boat when sailing to windward and moving aft when sailing downwind. The aim is to adjust the position of the crew forwards or backwards to achieve an ‘even keel’. In a small boat and on an upwind course, the crew will normally sit forward, when ‘running’ it is more best for the crew to sit to the rear of the boat. The position of the crew matters less as the size (and weight) of the boat increases

Sail setting – A sail should be pulled in until it fills with wind, but no further than the point where the front edge of the sail (the luff) is exactly in line with the wind. As a guide, you will find that any sail, whether jib, mainsail or spinnaker, will set best by letting out until it starts to flap gently along the leading edge, then pulled in just enough to stop that flapping.

Centreboard – As well as driving a yacht forward, the action of the wind on the sails will push it sideways across the water – this is known as making leeway. To prevent this, the yacht needs more grip on the water, which is provided by a centreboard daggerboard or keel. The difference is simple. A centreboard will pivot around the bolt in its case; a daggerboard is moved vertically up and down In some older yachts you might find a metal board, referred to as a centre plate, all three do the same job. If a movable centreboard is fitted, then it should be lowered when sailing “close to the wind” but can be raised up on downwind courses to reduce drag. The centreboard prevents lateral motion and allows the boat to sail upwind. A boat with no centreboard will instead have a permanent keel, some other form of underwater foil, or even the hull itself which serves the same purpose.

Course made good – This is exactly what it sounds like – the shortest, or quickest, the distance between two points. The course made good will be a straight line from start to finish. You need to decide the best way of getting from one point to another in all other conditions.

Survival Training

Blue handmade canoeThe difference between living and dying in difficult circumstances is often down to the person’s will to live if you haven’t got it strong enough you will die!

No amount of training can instill that will to live, but training can give you a good advantage on the unskilled, you may be able to light a fire, source good water, build a shelter, get food, signal for help, all of these tasks give you something to do, keep your mind off your plight and when they start to work, they give you a sense of satisfaction, that there are some things that you control. The cumulative effect is that it boosts your will to live. We hope that none of you ever find yourself in real survival conditions but would like to think that your training with us helps you “think outside the box”

There are many different survival exercises, all of which are enjoyable and involve teamwork, they will be described in some detail on this page so that you will have an idea of what to expect.

Building a Canoe

This is a common Survival exercise and one you will learn.

two boys sailing in a canoe they built


This is a twelve-foot canoe, easily able to take three crew. the length is very important as it greatly increases buoyancy.
Oisin Matthew and Daragh won the Westport Scout river race for the second year (2008 & 2009).




man sailing in a handmade canoe

This was a canoe made on a camp at Lough Keel in 2008, we were struggling to find materials, we got some discarded pipe and polythene and had string and tape. we used timber saplings from the nearby forest for the runners. The biggest problem was finding timber long enough and yet flexible to form the canoe shape, older dryer timber just cracks and we had difficulty in cutting fresh saplings (not to mention damaging the environment). We discussed taping/tying the runners to make them longer but decided not to, we were worried that the joint would come apart and as we hadn’t a lot of string or tape to spare, we wouldn’t take any chances. (Subsequent tests at a later date, showed that the joint remained good so we need not have worried). In the end, we had a vessel of approx 8ft, it did the task we wanted but was not as buoyant as we would like. the photo was taken after 3 hours on the water and a fair bit of water ingress, had we gone for the longer construction, this may not have happened

When Anchoring, how do you know how much chain you have out? Mark it!

When you set your anchor, you need to know how much chain and rode you have out in order to get the best out of your anchor and tackle. The rules of thumb for all chain rodes are three feet of chain to one foot of water depth in light conditions and five to one in heavier conditions. For nylon rodes, you need five to one in the light stuff and seven to one in heavy breezes. So, you need to mark your chain and rode so you know how much is out there.

For nylon rodes, the best way to mark the line is with tabs, available at most chandleries, that slip into and are made fast through the twisted laid segments of the rode. A tab every 50 feet is probably enough. You may want to use a system of one tab for every 50 feet of rode, two at 100 and three at 150, so you can feel the measurement in the dark.

On-chain rodes, you will see some cruisers paint the chain with bright colors every 50 feet or so. This can and will disappear rapidly. A solution that has worked for us for years is to mark the chain with small cable ties. You can come up with a system that works for you. We put a single small cluster of ties at 50 feet, two clusters at 100, three at 150, four at 200 and five at 250 feet. By attaching more than one, you ensure that you don’t lose the marker and that you can add replacements as the cable ties fall off.

You should always anchor with the right length of scope to be secure and to swing in the appropriate area. Reliable anchor markers will make the job a lot easier.