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Men at Work
Nautical self-help
September 2021

o. Not the five member Australian rock band from Melbourne formed in 1978. Remember “Who can it be now?”

No. I am saying that every sailboat needs a men-at-work sign.


More appropriately and gender correct, the sign should be ‘humans working’. If you own a sailboat, the meaning has depth. Ownership begets the requirement for labor. Once your name goes on the title or documentation, you are now a nautical general contractor. Congratulations.

john rahm
Captain John Rahm
As the general contractor for your boat, owners must know how to perform routine maintenance. Routine maintenance is imperative for a sailboat. The operating environment is harsh. The work must be accomplished in order to preserve the boat for future fun; super important. However, onboard preventative and routine maintenance on your boat is not the most important.

Say what? Read on.

The most important work for your sailboat is work performed on yourself.

This work on yourself comes in three categories.

The first category is Education.
Learning about sail boating is continuous. Knowledge will make you comfortable with what is going on around you. Know your boat. For a few examples:

• Engines How to check, add, and change the oil (300 hours). Tighten and change the belts. How to change the primary and secondary fuel filters. How to add coolant when required. How to check and add transmission fluid. Have you read a diesel engine repair book? What are the parts of the engine? Have you taken a diesel engine class? (Pamlico County Community College, Fall 2021, $180). Do you have the service manual? Do you have the parts manual?

• Electrical Can you, on a blank sheet of paper, draw the electrical system of your boat? Where are the shore power circuit breakers where the cord enters the boat? What are the circuit breakers on the A/C electrical panel? What breakers are on the D/C panel? Where are the battery banks? Etc.

• Thru hulls Can you, on a blank sheet of paper, depict the location and function of all thru hulls?

Your boat bookshelf should probably have more manuals and how-tos than fiction.

Do you know the navigation rules? Are you familiar with rule number nine? What does a preferred channel marker look like? There are some preferred channel markers around. There is one in the South River.

In short, knowledge translates to self reliance and financial efficiencies. Cruising has been labeled as “difficult repairs in exotic locations under impossible conditions.” Austere locations require self reliance. The alternative, hiring experts, can be expensive. The labor rate in local yards is now over $100 per hour. So, “Knowledge is good” (Emil Faber, founder Faber College).

If behind, with dedicated effort, it is easy to catch up on knowledge.

The second category for work on yourself is Proficiency.
• Can you dock your vessel without a subsequent insurance claim?
• Can you sail your vessel into your slip?
• Can you back your sailboat down a fairway?

Use your boat. Gather some self discipline and practice the four crew overboard maneuvers. Can you even name them? Be kind to yourselves and have fun practicing. Speaking of fun, have you read all my blogs?

The third category is Fitness.
Captains and crew do not have to be Reebok CrossFit champions. However, sailing can be an athletic event.

Hoisting sails and moving around the boat in rough conditions requires a certain level of balance and endurance. At the end of a boat pole, dock lines are heavy and uncooperative. And surprisingly, I coach way too many non-swimming boat owners. (Frightening.)

Perhaps a Village Health Club membership would be beneficial? Are you fit enough to overcome an unfavorable situation? Keeping in mind, bad things can happen, even on the best of days.

Boat yoga – more often it means twisting into the cramped compartments to fix some mechanical thing or other. But this works, too.

The ending…

Here is my recommendation: If you own a sailboat, perform work on yourself every day.

Yes, you, every single day.

Hundreds of local boats never leave their slips. This is not the boats’ fault. Owners have not performed the necessary work on themselves. Education, proficiency and fitness are necessary ingredients in order to enjoy this recreational activity.

So, take ten minutes. Do something boat-ish every day. Read about sailing or maintenance every day. Or, perform a maintenance task. Oh by the way, washing your boat gets you the daily credit.

Absentee owners are not excused. Distance learning is now all the rage.

So, do work on yourself and use your boat. Be kind and forgiving to yourselves. Above all, have fun doin it.

Fair Winds,
Captain John Rahm

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Captain's Blog on TownDock.net is all about making your time on the water enjoyable. Captain John Rahm teaches sailing and boat handling at Third Wave Sailing.