Making Use Of The Off-Season

June 2021 Multimedia Tim McKenna

“What are your plans for the upcoming winter season?” a friend asked me recently. This got me thinking as I’m really not sure. Hopefully, it will include some warm weather and a sailboat. But if that does not happen there are plenty of other options.

What kinds of things can we do to make us a better boater as we look to 2021? How about some resources, both online and on the shelf that can help us.

Study Up

Boat sales are up in 2020 and there are many new boaters as well. This winter would be a good time to review those old Rules of the Road, or “COLREGS.” I feel confident that the majority of boaters know some of the basics, but here is a couple again anyway. Remember, nowhere in the rules does it state that one vessel has the “right of way” over another. There are “stand-on” and “give-way” vessels.

Sailors tend to live by the premise that the sailboat is the stand-on boat and powerboats are the give-way vessels. This is generally true, but there are exceptions. For example, if the sailboat is overtaking a powerboat, then the sailboat becomes the give-way vessel.

In the case of two sailboats on opposite tacks, the boat on the starboard tack is the stand-on vessel. There are too many variables to list all of them here. You can find the Rules in book form or online. There are a couple of things that I think are important:

If you are the stand-on vessel, behave like it. If you are the give-way vessel, behave like it. If you are the stand-on vessel and the other boat is not doing the proper thing, sound the danger signal, change course safely and then give the international single digit salute when all things are safe again. There is even an app for the NAV Rules. Here is a link:

Knots To Know

Winter is also a good time to practice tying some knots. You can pull the Ashley Book of Knots off the shelf and explore the nearly 4,000 knot variations. Or you can go to the internet and look up Knots by Grog ( This is a great site for knots of all sorts of activities from boating to fishing and climbing. There is also an app for the ubiquitous mobile device. Practice makes perfect with the bowline, clove hitch, rolling hitch, splicing and more.

Get Educated

Another good thing to do with the winter season is to look at some online boating safety courses. Each state is different in what type of education is required to legally operate a boat. Here is a link to the USCG boating courses online site: This has some very good links to other resources as well. The USCG also has great mobile app with two features such as information by state, safety checks, required safety equipment, NOAA Buoys, etc. you can find it at

Simulated Sailing

It is also possible to just go sailing wherever you are at any time. There are more online sailing games, simulators and apps than I had even imagined. Some are free and some are not. Many of the simulators have you competing with other sailors in real time. There are websites and apps that let you participate in major around the world races. The ASA Sailing Challenge App is a good one, as is Top Sailor. US Sailing and NauticEd have links to virtual sailing games and apps as well. It is certainly a fun way to spend some time while dreaming about spring.

They say that there is an app for everything these days. I look at my phone and see at least ten weather apps, several navigation apps, two for knots and many more that I probably rarely look at. But I did find one recently that was very cool. Unfortunately, it is for California, but maybe someone out there can do this for the Great Lakes too. It is called “Pumpout Nav” and will help you find the nearest pumpout station while you are out cruising around.

Enjoy yourself. Look forward to spring and sailing our fantastic Great Lakes.

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