Planning a cruise

A description of some of the items which the author considers on a longer cruise are provided below, which may be helpful to other skippers planning a trip of more than a week or two, and in areas where a high degree of self-reliance is required. There is much to be undertaken and drawing up a list and schedule of work helps to ensure being ready for the departure date. If you are intend to undertake a similar type of cruise to that outlined here, you will need to assess whether you have a boat of suitable design for the intended voyage, and have the appropriate navigational and seamanship skills.

I use a 'rule of thirds' - whereby we aim to reach the furthest point in the cruise within the first third of the time available. having undertaken a number of trips I know how many miles we have logged over a similar duration in the intended area of the cruise. This rule provides some contingency for the return leg for bad weather days - increasing the probability of arriving back within the time available.

You can be more relaxed (ignore the above) if your cruise is an area, say around the Irish sea where any destination is within 24-36hrs of your home port. In such circumstances you need just keep an eye on the 5 day weather forecast during the last five days of your cruise.

I can work out average numbers of bad weather days and the average mileage sailed on each day of actual sailing. This helps me consider whether on the next trip I want a slightly less or more ambitious cruise than the average !

So with the time available known, and distance of the furthest in the cruising range, the next step is to order and look out some large scale charts. Save ordering the detailed charts and pilot books until you have found your crew (if need to find volunteers) and have worked out whether you are likely to require all available detailed charts.

Then I check the likely weather for the area to be cruised. Sources I have used include:

By now you should be forming a good picture in your mind of the range of conditions that might be encountered (important when it comes time for Crew Selection - see below). Reconsider whether the trip is still feasible - too ambitious considering the range of conditions that might be encountered and the probable crew ?

By this stage I have started creating (or updating) a Passage Plan Document.

-          Water (rule of thumb, more than one tank, emergency water)

-          Consider where you can get fuel with least delay

Insurance - check the area covered by your boats policy. If intending to cruise outside your insured area, you will need to contact your insurers. Be ready to advise them of the maximum you might cruise to (latitude / longitude) as they may have to contact their underwriters to see whether cover can be extended, and for calculation the additional premium.


Undertaking similar trips of equivalent duration and with the same boat makes assessing feasibility relatively straightforward. I know how many miles I've logged in previous trips of the same duration, and how many bad weather days were encountered on each trip. I can therefore calculate both an average number of bad weather days (i.e. those when sailing was not feasible) per trip, and average mileage achieved for each day of each trip. I multiply the daily mileage by the average number of sailing days in the 30 day period to arrive at the cruising range for the next trip.

I use the rule of thirds. Get to the further point of the within the first third of the time available for the trip, and that will leave some leeway for being delayed by bad weather during the return leg.

In 30 days leave, I know that we can sail 1,500 miles and can expect about 7 days sitting out bad weather.

If you don 't have statistics from previous trips and you want to do a more adventurous cruise than normal, it is a useful exercise to find and read as many narratives of other peoples trips as possible. Take care to note what type of sailing they were doing (i.e. were they hardened racers and delivery crews, or cruising sailors with bags of available time) as well as the type of boat used.

Compare this with the type of sailing you normally do, and make some estimates of what you think you might achieve in your own boat. Use the rule of thirds, and you have your cruising range.

Preparing The Boat (refit plus heavy weather preparation...)

If relying on a commercial organisation to help prepare the boat - book the work well in advance and ask for dates as to when they will undertake the work. Consider what action you can take if it transpires they are 'string you along' as to when they will get round to doing the job. No skipper wants to let down crew you may have spent a couple of hundred pounds on waterproofs and equipment specially for the trip, negotiated with their employers for an extended period of leave and booked travel early to reduce costs.

Various checklists are available from the site's General Information Page which may be useful in drawing up a list of preparation tasks for your own boat.

Preparation (Equipment)

Review your own boat's equipment list, and look at the example Equipment List on this site.

Things to consider include:

Crew Selection

A few tips concerned with managing crew expectations.

Once you have identified the more promising volunteers, get them onboard for a weekend before agreeing to their participation in the challenge. Will their characters / personalities fit in with the other crew members, are they keen to learn and participate, etc ? Try to select an initial cruise that resembles a destination that might be made on the intended cruise (still managing expectations!).

If the prospective crew are (still) keen, and you believe they will be a contribution to the endeavour, let them know your decision. This is a key time - as your decision is likely to trigger their spending on equipment, the making of arrangements for leave with their employers and making an investment investing time.

Crew Preparation

Encourage crew to help with preparation even if they is only a limited range of jobs they have the experience to help with (involvement will increase their commitment to the venture, help them to learn names of parts of the boat and equipment, be familiar with storage locations and operation of equipment and hopefully be able to spot potential problems and head them off during the trip)

Aside from the usual pre-passage safety briefings, addition al preparation is useful before adventurous cruises - which can be spread out across a few weekends leading up to the cruise - refer Heavy Weather Crew Preparation


Different cruises/different considerations

The above may discussion may be useful in planning your own cruises - but there may be other things you need to consider (aside from making arrangement to pay those bills which might arrive through the letterbox whilst away!) which are particular to your own cruise:

You may well already been thinking of other items relevant to your own intended cruise - why not have a brain storming session with the rest of the crew ?

Bringing it all together - Create A List from now counting down to departure

With so much preparation you need to have a master list and a schedule. Try and identify tasks that can be delegated to the crew.

If all goes according to the schedule, the last week should just consist of tasks such as:

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