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communication - page 1

7.1 Communications

Communication and navigation are integral functions in modern sailing. Today this partnership is growing closer due to technology. As an example, instruments can be linked to accept information from a variety of sources and give the helmsperson or auto pilot instruction. Data transmission takes place between instruments on vessels, ground stations and other vessels via satellites.


Non-electronic Communications

Sailing has been around for thousands of years. Electronic Communications has been around for less than 100 years. So before the harnessing of electrons and radio waves, humankind used many other forms of communication. Many are still used today. Forms of non-electronic communication include:

  • Verbal

  • Hand signals 

  • Flags & pennants 

  • Sound making devices, bells, horns, sirens, whistles, and cannons

  • Megaphones – just an improvement on verbal

  • Flares 

Each of these forms has unique uses depending on the situation. Yet most all of these require the understanding of their meaning. Even with verbal communication, you have to be careful because of all the terminology.


Verbal Communications

Unfortunately, many a newbie sailor has been turned off sailing by a few crusty captains because of the verbal communication style (AKA abuse). Don't be a crusty sailor. Below are a few people skills inserted into this course.

A loud clear voice is often preferred to gain the attention of someone not looking. The most common of these would be to announce "STARBOARD" in a potential sailboat-on-sailboat collision situation. By stating this, you are stating that there is a close quarters situation, that collision is possible, and you are stating you are the Stand-On vessel. 

It is your responsibility to state this: the other boat may not have seen you, they may be completely unaware of the rules, or they may believe they might squeak by. 

Yelling is out. Loud clear voice is in. We say this because the word yelling has a negative connotation. And creating negative situations only heightens emotions. We are all familiar with road rage and the truthful person would admit that they, at some time, have been guilty of it even to the slightest degree. If you've ever done the bird - the finger - the flip then you have been suckered into your negative self.

We address yelling and road rage (on the water) here a little more because it's important. Despite the wide expanse of the ocean, there is no room for negativity on the water.


There is the yeller, the skipper who yells at his crew, his spouse and his friends. This is just a bad leader. "But" the skipper says "it was necessary, we were about to hit the dock". The best way to hit a dock is to freeze up your crew by yelling at them. If you use an authoritative clear loud voice with specific instructions you will get things done smoothly and perfectly and maintain/increase your respect. For example,  "Mike. So, we are going to hit the dock. Please take this fender now and go up front. Put it between the boat and the dock so we don't crush into it. Thanks". 

Back to using a loud clear voice, think about your audience. Can they understand what you are saying using the terminology? Can they even hear you? A classic case where communications are compromised is between the bow and the helmstation;  it is near impossible in wind. Hand signals are preferred, although bigger more sophisticated boats use microphones and ear pieces.

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