Ahoy There Captain!

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Boating is a hugely relaxing pastime and as such we shouldn’t allow many things out there on the water to annoy us. I don’t easily get annoyed and even smile and wave when high-powered speedboats towing water skiers pass within a few metres of Envoy at anchor – that’s how it is in the Med. But I’m not perfect by any means so I do find the odd thing irritating.

High on the list is anchored boats displaying incorrect lights. I must admit this tends to be mostly sailing yacht skippers who display white or coloured flashing strobe lights instead of the regulation all-round continuous white light. They justify this by saying the white light is not clearly visible to other vessels, especially against a background of lights ashore and /or when high above eye level aloft the mast, whereas a flashing strobe is more visible. This is probably true, but if they’re going to display strobe lights they should also display the legally-required light. It would be interesting to see what liability was attached to a skipper whose boat was accidentally hit while displaying incorrect lights and whether he/she would be covered by insurance. Incidentally it’s illegal to display any anchor light, other than an all-round white light, that could be mistaken for another navigation light such as a nearby channel marker.

Another on my list is inconsiderate skippers laying out stern anchors and/or buoying their anchors in busy anchorages.

Stern anchors can be useful in exposed anchorages in keeping your boat aligned with the swell to reduce rolling, but they cause problems in normal anchorages when boats  swing to changing wind or tide, except of course the one with the stern anchor.

Anchor buoys can be useful in very rocky anchorages when the buoy’s line can be used to lift a fouled anchor, but some skippers also use them to mark the position of their anchor in an effort to discourage other skippers from anchoring anywhere nearby. There is a common misconception that a newly arriving boat should not anchor in a position where it ends up over another boat’s anchor. There’s actually nothing wrong with this practice, but what you shouldn’t do is lay your anchor chain over that of another boat thereby making it difficult for them to retrieve their anchor. These buoys and their lines can be a menace when boats move with wind and tide and I have no hesitation in removing any buoy that threatens to snag our running gear and politely returning it to its owner.

Then there is the incorrect use of the title “Captain”. When tradesmen come aboard Envoy they usually greet me and then carry on referring to me as “Captain” which always strikes me as rather ridiculous aboard a 14 metre vessel with mostly only two people on board. In most navies including the US, British, Australian and New Zealand the rank of Captain is very senior, in fact equating to that of Colonel in the army, whereas an army Captain equates to a navy Lieutenant.

You don’t have to hold the rank of Captain to command a navy ship and they’re often commanded by lesser ranks such as Commanders, Lieutenant Commanders or even Lieutenants on smaller vessels. By tradition in these cases he or she in command is referred to as “Captain” regardless of actual rank.

Whereas “Captain” is a rank in the Armed Services, in the Merchant Navy the term “Master” describes the person in command and “Captain” is a courtesy title that correctly used applies to those marine professionals holding an internationally recognised certificate of competency as a Master and who command or have commanded a seagoing merchant ship. Those who command pleasure vessels should be referred to as the “Skipper”, although when signing legal documents, such as those required for clearing in and out, may be required to sign as whatever that document requires (often “Master” or “Captain”).

Sometimes in boating magazines you find letters to the editor or advertisements for services signed by somebody prefixing their name with the title “Captain”. This is fine if the person concerned is or has been a Captain in the Navy or a Master in the Merchant Navy but should not be used by for example a charter boat skipper or someone who has completed a course offered even by leading providers such as CoastGuard, the Royal Yachting Association or other organisations (even if it’s called a “Captain’s Course” as some are). This is about as ridiculous as the local darts team captain using the term.

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