I’m sure everyone has a different answer to the question – ‘What courses should you take before you sail around the world,’ but this is what we have done.
When my husband and I first made the decision to sell all our possessions and buy a 56′ yacht to sail around the world we were both excited and overwhelemed. The first stage of our transition was all about selling, buying, moving, and loads of planning and arrangements.
In the space of a few months we went from an England-based 6-bedroom house into a 2-bed temporary apartment while selling our 36′ sailboat and taking possession of our new, Mallorca-based, yacht. We moved from the outskirts of London to the South Coast of England (to be closer to sailing training courses). We purchased the yacht in Palma, Mallorca and moved it to Gibraltar. All this and we had our 3 ½ year old and my father-in-law in tow. To make matters more strenuous, we made the transition over the Christmas and New Year period.
Should we take courses or not?
While the arrangements were being taken care of, my husband and I surveyed the massive learning curve before us and decided that a few courses were in need. We thought that after the dust settled and before the warm weather hit the Mediterranean we’d have a few months in England to learn some key skills prior to our epic adventure departure date.
After a few discussions, we decided that the whole ‘wing-it’ approach didn’t suit us. On the flip side, we didn’t want to over-prepare either. Based on our past experience of courses and sailing, we’ve discovered that the best way to learn is a combination of both learning and do-it-yourself experimentation. And learning anything about sailing in the classroom doesn’t come close to actually doing it! So we eventually decided on a good mix of courses and booked ourselves on them.
Dealing with a casualty or engine failure at sea doesn’t sound like fun
We didn’t want to learn as we went along for particular things such as first aid or engine failure! I know that you can’t prepare for every eventuality, but knowing the basics will always hold you in good stead. That being said, we originally booked ourselves onto four courses.
During our prioritisation process, we put four main elements on our list: Sailing/navigational know-how, VHF Radio knowledge (mandatory), first aid and engine knowledge. We could have included many more items and courses but both time and money were in short supply. Our decision making revolved around the core basics needed to get from one point to another safely (and enjoyably!).
Sailing and navigational know-how
Sailing around the world necessitates the ability to actually sail! After 10 years of an our annual flotilla vacation and two years of taking our 35′ Moody in and out of the English Solent, one of the busiest waterways in the world, we’ve learned an invaluable amount about sailing – especially local sailing information. I think we’ve had a good learning foundation but I wouldn’t consider it extensive.
On flotilla vacations and when we first started sailing our own boat, we relied on local help, electronical devices (GPS) and a ‘go with the flow’ approach. Fortunately, we never got into major trouble but looking back (after taking the courses), we didn’t know what we didn’t know!
To improve our sailing and navigational knowlege, I completed a Day Skippers RYA qualification and my husband is soon to finish his Yacht Masters RYA qualification. These courses cover boat handling, navigation, safety procedures and all the basics that are necessary to sail a boat safely. The courses consist of theory and practical components ending with examinations.
In the end, the student is able to get the boat prepared to set sail, plan a passage, command the crew and safely get the boat and passengers to a final destiation. Having the knowledge of map reading, plotting a course and understanding weather, tides and other sea state factors is absolutely necessary to know for the safety of all concerned.
VHF Radio Knowledge
Aboard every vessel there must be at least one person officially licensed to use the VHF radio. When we first purchased our Moody 35 my husband became licensed making us legal to take the boat out. Under his supervision anyone could use the radio. From time to time, when my confidence was high, I’d call into the marina and let them know our estimated time of arrival (ETA) and ask for berthing instructions. Using the radio wasn’t difficult.
That being said, when considering our around the world voyage, I heard this internal voice saying, ‘what happens if you need to use the radio to make a MAYDAY?’ I thought, ‘what if Simon is injured and I need to save us all?’ I know I’m being dramatic but I wasn’t 100% sure about how the radio worked and what I needed to do to ensure we were safe. Yes, we had the laminated MAYDAY card next to our radio and yes, I knew how to call the Coast Guard but when push came to shove, did I really know what to do?
Taking the RYA VHF Radio course was an absolute mind opener. I honestly thought I knew how to handle the radio but I was wrong. The course not only taught me how to effectively use he radio it, more importantly, gave me confidence, through making test calls.
If you’d like more information on radio courses, read my article: Is a VHF Radio course really necessary to take if you’re a boater?
First Aid for Boaters and Medical Care for Ships
Originally, we only wanted to take one 4-day First Aid for Boaters course. However, the sailing school that we went through must have been persuasive as hubby informed me of an additional 5-day class that he enrolled us on – Medical Care for Ships.
Looking back, I’m very pleased to announce that both courses were brilliant. A lot has to be said for the great teacher we had – Sue Johnson. A boater herself, with an extensive background in nursing and an excellent sense of humour makes her one of the best teachers I’ve had.
In the first aid course everything was tailored to life on a boat. Essentially, there are three main differences between helping a casualty on land versus on a boat:
- Lack of space to work on a causalty
- An unstable environment (possible pitching and rolling!)
- Medical response within hours/days rather than minutes
The last one is the doosey. When I realised that my sustained and informed efforts might help or hinger a life – perhaps a life of a loved one, I wanted to really pay attention. I felt that I no longer had the ability to bury my head in the sand. Either I help to save my husband or else…
Read my article 10 things I learned from taking a First Aid for Boaters – OMG, you’ll want to know these things! If nothing else, it will tell you what to do with detached body parts!
The Medical Care course was enlightening and empowering
After all these years of doctors visits and hospital trips I finally know a bit more about why they do things and how they do them. I’m proud to say that I can now take blood pressure, a pulse and respiratory rate. But what’s more exciting, is that I can put in a cathater, suture a wound, do injections and set up and IV drip. Furthermore, the qualifications that we received allows us to buy prescription drugs like antibiotics, morophine, etc.
The picture above might seem a bit shocking, but those working models are the same models that doctors and nurses learn from. Both Simon and I used them to understand how to catheterise a woman and a man. That being said, everyone in our class (and passers by) thought the models were quite interesting!
Is that going overboard (no pun intended)?
Perhaps it is, but considering we’re going around the world I’d rather stitch up my husband or daughter rather than having it done in a 3rd world dirty shack. And I’d also like the ability to administer antibiotics if necessary. What if we’re days away from land and my daughter has suspected menigitus? What if a crew member can’t pass liquids and we’re 10 days across the Atlantic with at least 7 more to go?
What I realised during the Medical Care course is that basic medical care isn’t that difficult. In the past, it was all shrouded in mystery, but now I feel confident and empowered to medically assist my family if need be. As a side note, I wouldn’t do anything without contacting Radio Medical Advice and getting a doctors advice.
An introduction to the Marine Diesel Engine
After previewing our options, my husband brought two courses to my attention. The first was a 1-day Diesel engine maintenance course and the other was a 4-day more extensive course explaining how a Diesel engine works including trouble-shooting techniques.
Throughout my business life, I’ve always had the attitude of learning how to do something so that I can then ensure that whoever does it for me, does it correctly. Managing anything truly requires that you know what you’re managing! I took the same approach with our engine and opted for the 4 day course. I felt that if I had a solid knowledge of the engine I could maintain it with the knowledge of how one part affects the whole, more accurately determine the problems/solutions and know when a consultant is doing the property job or trying to rip me off.
Taking the course gave me a massive boost. The cloud in my head labeled ‘engines’ was finally cleared! I now know what a 4-Stroke Diesel engine does and how it does it. I know all the components, where they’re located and how the work. Furthermore, I know how to service them and what to keep an eye on when I need someone to externally service them. Also, I’m no longer ignorant to fuel quality – I know how to check for bugs, dirt and water before I put it in my precious engine!
Read my article: Diesel marine engine course – Top 10 interesting tid-bits I learned
Boat motors and ancillary items
While on our Diesel Engine course, our teacher, Paul Bennett, informed us of another course he was teaching and lucky for us, we were able to fit it in. We learned about motors (starter motor, alternator, etc), generators, batteries, water pumps, fridges, freezers, air conditioners, reverse osmosis water-makers and electrity.
By the time we finished all our courses I felt extremely knowledgable! I’m sure that hubby and I only touched on the basics but the courses gave us a solid grounding and perhaps increased our ability to troubleshoot issues with the boat or an unwell crew member!
The combination of our courses and sailing on our own has been invaluable to building up our knowledge and confidence to take the ‘sail around the world,’ decision.
So what do you think? Have we gone overboard or perhaps have we missed anything out?