We all have questions and it seems like a boat is a perfect place to be perplexed by a lack of knowledge even if you are a salty veteran of the sea. Not to worry, our resident expert, Elbert “Ash” Ashbaugh, can help answer your questions and help you spend more time sailing and less time thinking about those pressing issues that are keeping you up at night.
Q: Hi Ash! I have a boom vang that I have never even touched! What am I supposed to do with this thing?
Ash: As a general rule, a boom vang helps shape the sail. On an upwind leg, especially if you’re overpowered, tighten the vang to depower the main by flattening the sail.
On the downwind side of life, before you bear away, ease the vang — this will make the mainsail fuller. Then trim the main so the top batten of the sail is parallel with the boom.
That’s an extremely basic overview, but the boom vang is important, so experiment and learn!
Q: I have to confess, sometimes I hear other boats sounding horns and I don’t know what’s going on. What am I hearing?
Ash: You’re not alone in not knowing what these horn signals mean, but it’s really crucial to know a few of these important ones. If you hear five short blasts that means, “I’m not sure of your intentions.” In other words, you’re making someone nervous and you need to clarify whatever you’re doing.
You might often hear 1 short blast. Keep your head up and understand that the boat you’re hearing is altering its course to starboard. If it is two short blasts, they are altering their course to port.
There you have it. You should know that there are sound signals that are different depending on whether they are in international or US inland waters, but these examples apply to both and are the more common and relevant of the sound signals that you’ll hear in your day to day travels.
Oh, and also be mindful that while it’s usually an actual air horn that you’ll hear, it could also be the sound whistle. Small boats often carry whistles.
Tip From the Text – A Tip from ASA’s Coastal Cruising Made Easy
Remember! A stern light arc is 135-degrees. This arc of white light visibility is the same as the overtaking zone. So when you are sailing at night, visualize that area and use it to help determine if you are overtaken or overtaking. Sailing is a thinking person’s game! Always watching, calculating and remembering!