Skip to main content

Short Range Communication Recommendations

CCA Safety Moment for March 2022

Chuck Hawley, San Francisco Station

About a year and a half ago, the Storm Trysail Club held an all-day symposium concerning issues related to Offshore Sailing in which many CCA members were asked to participate. The breakout session I was assigned to concerned Communications. The results of our breakout session and as well as the other seven sessions are contained in the The Storm Trysail Club Offshore Sailing Leadership Symposium, which is available online ( and from the Storm Trysail Club.

I was reminded of our breakout session on Communication while sailing on a Sydney 38 last weekend. Animal is a well-sailed boat, with some crew members having sailed together for many of the last 20 years. But, as it is with many boats that require a large crew, there are always pick-up crew as well as those who have missed a couple of seasons while being otherwise occupied. Thus, we probably had six experienced veterans aided by four less experienced members.

The race committee wanted to run three races in about three hours, so each course was an unimaginative windward-leeward, twice around, with each leg being about a mile long. As we were the fastest boat, we had the least amount of time to prepare for spinnaker sets and douses, gybes, configuration changes, and most importantly, communication. This was evidenced by some truly terrible spinnaker sets, botched take-downs, shouting, possibly some hurt feelings, and a general feeling that we weren’t performing like a team. But no one got hurt, the boat was undamaged, and despite several fire drills, we won all three races.

What could we have done better? While this could be a long list, I think the takeaways can be boiled down to a few key points:

  1. Take the time to have a pre-departure discussion before leaving the dock. The skipper should set some expectations for the day, including having fun, the need to focus on safety, what the command structure is, who is doing what, and who may need some coaching due to inexperience. (While you can do this while underway to the starting line, the additional distraction of flogging sails, the droning engine, people going putting on their gear, etc. will reduce the impact of the messages.)
  2. Unless you’re specifically trying to cross-train, have crew members stick to their assigned positions. Yes, having someone jump in to grind a winch may be helpful, but it’s also distracting to the gal who thought it was her job.
  3. Keep requests and commands short and consistent. If you’re handing off the headsail sheet to someone to leeward, tell them “your winch” or “your sheet” each time, so they aren’t trying to interpret what you want.
  4. Don’t repeat commands to be helpful. If the trimmer wants the pole tip up, it’s not necessary to get another couple of guys shouting the same request.
  5. If you’re on the foredeck, take 15 seconds to tell the cockpit if it’s a weather or leeward takedown, the sequence of events (trip, pole tip down, grind the afterguy to bring the spinnaker tack to the hatch, etc.)
  6. Keep it quiet so the helmsman can communicate with those in the cockpit who control the weather helm, ability to point, when to tack, etc. Everyone else should be looking for kelp, hiking, and trimming. Movement and chatter are at a minimum.

None of this is new, noteworthy, or complicated. But we do fail to remember it, especially when the “yogurt hits the fan”. Volume is raised, tone is raised, and suddenly people are shouting rather than communicating. It doesn’t have to be that way, and good skippers won’t allow it.