The Sharpie is Mightier than the Sword…. at Sea

There are a lot of opinions about what are the essential tools on a boat. Much has been written about what will save you during catastrophic events or stranding on remote islands, whale collisions or clogged joker valves! Self sufficiency is the sort of de facto credo of us boater types right? Well I’m going to Boy Scout this up a little and talk about an essential on-board tool that comes way before the boarding of pirates or the keel falling off.

The Sharpie! Label early and label often!

Explaining how to set the head valves to every guest, every time, while maybe making us feel very captain like, is not a great approach. Consider that at some point you may not be available to elucidate on the correct orientation to send the flush over the side or into the holding tank. Consider not being available to tell the correct placement on the engines raw water thru-Hull. Some very small bits of information can have very big implications.

Label everything. Draw little diagrams. Write on your hoses, wires, thru-hulls, bags, boxes and gear.

The moment someone really needs to know which is battery 1, may be the moment they don’t have the time for you to explain. I took no small amount of pride in my sense of being rough and ready; solving things on the fly. I had no need or all this prep stuff. That all went overboard on a particularly rough passage. Delivering a boat up the east coast, we got into some real snotty weather overnight with a building sea state and winds blowing into the 45 knot range. It was very dark and eventually, only two of us were able to stay on deck through all the shifts. Morning brought no relief as we stripped all sails and went blowing further out to sea under bare poles at 5 knots. The waves were enormous. Going on the foredeck meant taking water up to your waist as the waves swept the boat and dumped into the cockpit. The roar was deafening. We needed the storm sails.

Here’s where I learned the magic of the sharpie and the righteousness of planning ahead.

I slid back the companionway hatch and let the captain know we’d like the storm tri-sail. No one had ever flown that sail on the boat. The captain, confined to the nav station for the trip, could hear me but I could not hear him over the roar of the storm. He showed me the sail bag and to both of our delight, he bent over the top edge of the bag and showed me very clear diagrams and step by step instructions on how to rig the sail. He had drawn this. A few mute motions and pointing and the bag was on deck. My watch-mate and I set about rigging. An hour later the boat was under our control and heading toward home. I’m certain without this forethought and his Sharpie, we would have been unable to get the sail up in such abysmal conditions.

So label it, tag it, tape it, chicken scratch out a diagram or a step by step compendium. Your crew and passengers may just keep you still looking captain-like, averting a disaster by knowing what to do. Yes, I am advocating that rather than this device be excellent at stopping the ingress of water when shoved in a hole in the bottom of the boat, will, in a series of deft strokes, keep your friends from setting the gas grill afire.

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