Monday, December 7, 2009

Ageton Method

The Ageton method is an excellent alternative to the many celestial navigation sight reduction methods out there. For those not familiar with the Ageton method expect to spend a day practicing to get comfortable with Bowditch table #35 (or H.O. 211) and the suggested summing sequence of A, B, and K values. At first the whole process will seem strange but the method will grow on you each time a sight reduction is completed. Allow ten minutes to obtain an Hc calculated altitude and Z azimuth. The compact size of the tables and being able to use any assumed position are the advantages over Pub. 249 and 229. The whole reduction can be done on one side of an index card.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Flares are worth there weight in gold in an emergency which is why an assortment of flare types should be kept aboard. The 26.5 mm or 25 mm flares are good choices that launch higher and brighter than 12 gauge flares for night and twilight over the horizon signaling. Increase the chance of being seen by coordinating a flare launch on the VHF radio using two fired flares with the first flare for attracting attention and the second to confirm a bearing. For signaling short of the horizon hold a hand held flare to leeward using a leather glove. If no signaling devices are at hand then improvise by using an onboard mirror to signal during the day and a camera flash or laser pointer to signal by night.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Making Tools

Unique commercially manufactured tools can be difficult to find so having a welder or machinist make a tool can save time and provide a tool that is designed properly to perform a specific task. An example is the pictured custom rudder post extension which was made by welding a 1 inch socket drive adapter to a 1.5 inch diameter pipe for use with an emergency tiller.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Voyaging Tip #23 : Start Key Fail Safe

Stow the start key on the raw water intake valve handle to insure fail safe water flow to the engine cooling system. Double clamp hose to the ball valve and have a tapered wooden DC plug lashed to the through hull.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Voyaging Tip #22 : Battery H2O Top Off

Top off lead acid batteries in those hard to reach places using a turkey baster to meter in the exact amount of distilled water into each cell. Be sure to wear eye protection when filling battery cells to guard against acid splash rebound. The turkey baster is also useful for transmission fluid fill.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Portable Weather Station

The Sky Master is a compact portable weather station that the mariner can keep handy to determine accurate apparent wind, temperature, dew point, and barometric pressure measurements. A great back-up to the vessels fixed anemometer, thermometer, and barometer.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thermocouple Thermometer

The digital thermocouple thermometer leaves no doubt as to the temperature of a shaft bearing, shaft stuffing box, and engine. Other uses would be air, ocean, reefer, and roast temperatures.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Voyaging Tip #21 :Shaft Packing

Measure propeller shaft packing by looping around the shaft then finish off the ring by cutting the ends to meet at a 45° angle vertical to the shaft. At least two rings will be needed with the cuts of each ring placed on opposite sides of the shaft. Remember to remove all the old packing from the stuffing box using needle nose pliers before inserting the new packing. Caution-do not spiral wind a single piece of packing around the shaft which will bind in the stuffing box and ultimately score the shaft.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Voyaging Tip #20 : Secure The Becket

Secure the tail of a becket bend (sheet bend) with a clove hitch under the eye for extra insurance against slipping loose. This is a must when using new slippery double braided line.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Voyaging Tip #19 : Date the Filters

Give yourself a helpful visual cue on the oil and fuel filter exterior using a permanent black marker to mark the date and engine hours of the last change.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Franklin Celestial Navigation Tip

U.S. Navy Master Chief Byron E. Franklin has developed a very effective method for locating the vertical with a sextant. Try it and you will like it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Voyaging Tip #18 : Blocks for Ascending

A pair of swiveled double blocks with becket and sheave ball bearings using regatta braided line will help the rigger get aloft in a Bos'n chair with less effort by applying a low friction five to one mechanical advantage. The regatta braided line will have to be five times the height of the mast to ascend completely to the top.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Celestial Triangle

Label a plotting triangle with celestial triangle solution formulae and you have a very good companion to a scientific calculator. Formulae includes azimuth, altitude , and prime vertical. For online calculations go to :

Compass Rose Variation

Bring the compass rose variation up to date on older charts using this neat NOAA online calculator:;jsessionid=9FF564BE66E2AD6825A25B5E4A3

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Voyaging Tip #17 : Prussik Knot Aloft

Try the Prussik Knot (Triple Sliding Hitch) attached to a spare halyard the next time you go aloft to create a handy adjustable attachment point. Go to this YouTube video for a demonstration:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Voyaging Tip #16 : Improved Windlass Leverage

Attack the leverage sweet spot on your manual horizontal anchor windlass as Carlos Valencia does aboard his 30 ft. Bristol sloop "Felicia" by using a long handled modified 3/4" ratchet socket drive. Fitting the 3/4" drive to a windlass that takes a standard winch handle will require grinding a short 3/4" extension or adaptor to 7/10". Grind and file in increments until a good fit is achieved.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Distance by Doric

The sturdy water proof K&E Doric is a plastic slide rule from the past that out performs an electronic calculator for at the helm all weather daytime calculations of time, speed, & distance.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Navigators Mate

The Palm Centro smart phone is quite the navigators mate in the cockpit and at the chart table. When in port the phone provides NOAA weather from the internet. At sea the applications smartly deliver full celestial navigation , sailings, piloting, chronometer and tide functions. The bonus is a full media capability to document a voyage by photo, video, and audio. If boredom strikes in a calm then there are games and music features as well. Truely amazing!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Calculator Compass Check

Checking the magnetic compass at sea is a snap with the assistance of a pocket calculator and the azimuth formula

SIN azimuth = (COS declination x SIN meridian angle) / COS altitude

For the formula altitude use an estimated (hs) sun altitude by counting the solar diameters above the horizon and multiplying by 0.5 degrees. (hs) Altitudes above 3 degrees will require a sextant. Declination is easily retrieved from the Nautical Almanac. Meridian angle will require GHA from the Nautical Almanac and a DR longitude. Time should be to the second as per short wave time tick on frequency 5000, 10000, 15000, and 20000 kilohertz. Double check calculations with Pub. 249 tables.

The pictured calculator is a CANON F-710 which is an excellent value calculator for trig applications. Also recommended is a book CALCULATOR AFLOAT by H. H. Shufeldt

Friday, May 29, 2009

Slip Stick Navigation

The slide rule is a splash proof non-electronic calculator with numerous nautical applications. Try one out for time, speed, and distance calculations on the internet at:

The 10 inch Keuffel & Esser 4080 models are good values on eBay. Also look up a reference book SLIDE RULE FOR THE MARINER by H.H. Shufeldt.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Virtual Weather World

The internet offers an incredible amount of free weather information for the taking. A sailor in port can tap into this virtual weather world and plan a safer more comfortable passage to the next destination.

Glean weather info at the following sights:









Friday, May 15, 2009

Voyaging Tip #15 Low Tech Solution

When a fuel gauge reading is in question then it is time to revert to the original low tech fuel measuring system THE STICK. Sticking a stick into a fuel tank leaves no doubt as to the contents. Go a step further to improve the stick by marking it for every five gallons of fuel.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Voyaging Tip #14 Deadman Diesel Start

If there is that dreaded sound of silence when pushing the starter button on the vessels diesel then go to plan B and start the diesel directly at the starter using a deadman switch. Connect one lead to the starter positive 12 volt terminal and the other lead to the positive terminal of the starter solenoid. Push the deadman switch button and the engine should turn over provided that the 12 volt cable to the starter terminal is live.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Voyaging Tip #13 A Very Cool Tool

A hand held IR laser thermometer is an affordable useful piece of equipment that provides remote temperature sensing of the engine, coolant, raw water, exhaust, transmission, bearings, water heater, freezer, oven, and shaft log packing. The laser pointer doubles as an attention getter as well. Calibrate by taking the IR temperature of a standard mercury thermometer that is at ambient temperature. The difference in temperature of the two thermometers can be applied as a correction to the IR thermometer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Voyaging Tip #12 Digital Log Keeping

Advances in digital camera flash cards enables photographic storage for thousands of pictures. This gives the vessel log keeper a new log keeping tool for recording time stamped photographs of everything from the engine temperature guage to the GPS position. Begin by taking a picture of the vessels chronometer to confirm the cameras time stamp.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Voyaging Tip #11 Bridge Clearing by Laser

Make sure there is room to clear the mast and antennas before attempting to pass under a bridge. This is particularly important when the tide is high. Stop the vessel just before passing under the bridge then compare the laser range to the top of the mast with the laser range to the underside of the bridge. There should be an ample difference to allow for clearance of antennas. If there are any doubts don't chance it. Wait for low tide and laser range again to be absolutely sure of clearance.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Voyaging Tip #10 Slipping the Hook

Be prepared to slip the hook when sea and weather conditions demand it or if the anchor is stubbornly stuck in the mud. In the event slipping becomes necessary why not give yourself the best shot at a recovery attempt later by bending a spare fender to the chains bitter end. Attach a leader line equal to the depth and mark the fender with the vessels name, home port, and registration numbers. Don't forget to note the GPS position before abandoning the tackle to the deep. Have that extra primary anchor in place and available for duty also.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Voyaging Tip #9 Boarding by Bos'n Chair

A traditional bos'n chair can serve as a boarding step when shackled directly to the toe rail. This proves especially useful when boarding from a dingy or kayak.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Voyaging Tip #8 Inflation Made Easy

I bet you thought this tip would be about treasury printing press maintenance but there is the more important task of inflating the inflatable to address. Inflating a dingy tube is very efficiently done by using a shop vac in reverse to blow air into each one way air valve. A 1000 watt inverter will be needed to power up the shop vac. Complete the inflation process by using the foot pump to firm up each tube chamber.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Voyaging Tip #7 Laser for Anchoring

The golfers laser rangefinder is a perfect tool for a sailor attempting to drop anchor in a crowded anchorage. The helmsman can quickly laser range between vessels while maneuvering into position then range to shore for a dragging reference after the anchor is set.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Voyager Tip #6 Getting a Handle on Your Bucket

The bucket is perhaps the single most useful tool on a boat especially when paired with a scared sailor. So lets give that bucket some respect by improving the handle from wire to rope. The conversion requires 4 feet of old 1/2 inch dock line and 5/8 inch holes drilled through the original bucket handle holes. Feed the 1/2 inch line through the 5/8 inch holes from the inside out then figure eight knot each end.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Voyaging Tip #5 A Better Bitter End

Hot knifing a bitter end on modern synthetic line may not be the most durable means to secure the cover to the core. An alternate method would be to tape an end very tightly with electrical tape followed by a clean cut through the tape using a smooth edged knife. Point the cut end straight up and soak super glue into the end until fully saturated. Let stand for a few hours before removing the electric tape. What results is a tough perfectly molded tight bitter end that will glide effortlessly through blocks and clutches.

Voyaging Tip #4 Small Craft Collision Avoidance

An under utilized technique for avoiding collisions is the use of magnetic bearings taken with a hand held magnetic compass.
First take and record an initial bearing of a crossing vessel then compare to a subsequent bearing six minutes or so later. If a bearing change is observed then under most circumstances a risk of collision does not exist. If there is no appreciable change in a subsequent bearing then assume that there is a risk of collision and follow the RULES OF THE ROAD accordingly. For the most current RULES OF THE ROAD go to :

Friday, April 24, 2009

Voyaging Tip #3 LED Conversion

A few clicks on the internet can deliver LEDs to a boater which will replace most original incandescent bulbs. LED lighting offers a significant amp hour reduction, cooler temperatures, and a smaller voltage drop on the 12 volt system. Converting just the anchor light will conserve 20 amp hours per night when on the hook. Also recommended is the conversion of onboard flash lights to LED for greatly extend battery life. Start your internet search at to get a feel for cost and bulb type availability.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ground Tackle Checkup

Lay the vessels entire ground tackle cable on the dock to allow for a birds eye view. Walk the chain looking for corrosion, rode chafe, wear and tear on thimbles, swivels, shackles, and shackle seizing. Double check swivels and shackles to be sure that they are one size above the chain size. Inspect the seizing of all shackle pins (do not substitute nylon zip ties for seizing wire).  Welds on the anchor need to be carefully scrutinized. The electric windlass terminal connections should be cleaned of corrosion. Snubbers, cleats, bow roller, and chocks also need examining. When all is in order then hose everything down with fresh water, let dry, and stow. Don't forget to clean out the chain locker and tie off the bitter end before stowing.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Medicine for Murphy's Mischief

Every sailor is familiar with Murphy's first law IF IT CAN GO WRONG THEN IT WILL GO WRONG but it is Murphy's second law WHEN IT DOES GO WRONG THEN IT WILL GO WRONG AT THE WORST POSSIBLE TIME that gets sailors in the most trouble. The best medicine for a Murphy happening is the new first rule of voyaging MAKE SURE IT CAN'T GO WRONG. Get an edge on Murphy by developing a full set of practical skills, have the right tools, and keep the bos'n locker full of spares. Another adage to keep in mind is that a stitch in time saves nine. This translates to DO NOT PROCRASTINATE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. So there is no better time than now to tackle potential Murphy mischief.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Voyaging Tip #2 Backup Diesel Day Tank

There is nothing like getting a second chance when you really need it and a portable backup diesel day tank is that second chance for your vessels engine. The portable day tank provides a means for bypassing the built in fuel system when a fuel filter clogs or when fuel becomes contaminated. Simply hook up or valve directly to the engine at the secondary fuel filter intake. The bonus is having reserve fuel available and being able to change the primary fuel filter with the engine still ready to go. My portable diesel day tank is mounted on the centerline above and behind the engine for positive gravity feed on any angle of heel. An inline bulb hand pump assists priming and purging. Remember to keep the fill cap vent open to break the tanks vacuum so positive gravity flow is maintained. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Voyaging Tip #1 Lightning

When sailing in or near thunder clouds where lightning  is seen or heard then it is time to protect your portable electronics from electromagnetic radiation by using the onboard microwave oven as a Faraday cage. Portable items to be protected would be the EPIRB, Sat Phone, GPS, VHF, Quartz Watch, Digital Camera, Laptop, and Short Wave.  The conventional oven will also work as a Faraday cage but protection isn't 100% unless the oven window is covered with aluminum foil. Ground the rigging with  jumper cables  and trail the  opposite ends in the ocean. Unplug antennas  from the Radar, SSB, VHF, and GPS. The prudent sailor should still carry a sextant, mechanical chronometer, and a magnetic compass just in case.