Coastal Skipper

The Coastguard Boating Education Coastal Skipper course teaches you about traditional coastal navigation practices. It is so easy to just rely on GPS for all your navigation these days, however if you lose all your power, or if the GPS charts aren’t accurate – as in some Pacific Islands for example, then it is important to have some other navigational skills up your sleeve to use should the situation arise.

As well as Navigation, the course covers coastal weather and passage making. I am now studying for my Ocean Yachtmaster exam, and as part of that they can also ask any questions from the Coastal Skipper syllabus. So as part of my revision I am covering off all the topics in Coastal Skipper again too. Phew!

Here is what the course covers. The blue highlighted bits are links through to my study notes. You can click on these if you want to learn more.

Module 1 – Coastal Navigation

  • The Chart – information on the chart, symbols, lights, chart corrections, measurement of position, distance, height and depths
  • Courses and Bearings – The relationship between compass, magnetic and true courses and bearings, and relative bearings
  • Water Track and Ground Track – Wind and tide effects on course, estimating position and course to steer
  • Fixing Position – Methods of fixing position, position lines, ranges, GPS and radar
  • Tides – Finding heights and times of tides, heights above water at a given time, meteorological effects on tides, use of the rule of twelfths
  • The Magnetic Compass – Magnetic compasses, steering compasses, fluxgate and lubber line compass, hand bearing compasses
  • Magnetism – Variation and Deviation, principles of magnetism, areas of magnetic abnomoly, heeling error
  • The Deviation Card – to establish the compass error and deviation from a known true bearing or transit bearing, to construct a table or curve of deviation
  • Marine Radar – Basic principles of Radar, the function and operation of radar controls, interpretation of the radar picture, the errors, limitations and precautions associated with marine radar navigation
  • Global Positioning System GPS – An appreciation of the basic principle of GPS, the setting up and modes of readout of GPS, the major errors of GPS, information provided by GPS, waypoint navigation and precautions.


Module 2 – Coastal Weather

  • Air masses and Fronts – Tropical maritime and polar maritime air masses over New Zealand, warm front, cold front, occluded fronts
  • Pressure Systems – Anticyclones and depressions, the isobaric patterns for high, low, trough and ridge, seasonal movements of the systems
  • The Weather Associated with: Fronts, occlusions, anti-cyclones, depressions, secondary depressions, tropical cyclones
  • Surface Wind – An understanding of pressure gradient and isobar spacing, effect of isobaric curvature, diurnal variation of wind speed
  • Fog – Radiation fog and advection fog
  • The Effect of Topography on Wind & Weather – Land and sea breezes, katabatic winds, effect of mountains and hills
  • Sea, Waves and Swell – Effects of wind and tide combined, relationship of wind and waves
  • Interpretation of Weather Maps – interpreting a simple weather map and series of maps
  • Weather Forecast Information – Types of forecasts, terminology used in marine forecasts, content of forecasts, modification of a forecast when given prevailing conditions and time.
  • Aids to Local Forecasting – typical weather cycles, use of the barometer, cloud interpretation, local knowledge


Module 3 – Coastal Passage Making

  • Passage Planning – publications required, choice of route, laying off safe tracks, alternative routes and shelter, making a landfall, the use of GPS waypoints, the use of radio, preparing a safe route on the chart, identifying possible dangers, applying safety margins, analysis of tide and current effects, identifies possible position fixes,
  • The Collision Regulations – A working knowledge of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, rules of the road, use of Radar.
  • Legal Knowledge – The Maritime Transport Act in relation to obligations relating to distress, collision and dangers to navigation and accidents, salvage, keeping a log book, skippers responsibilities, reporting dangers to navigation, rendering assistance to vessels in distress, obligation to safety of your own vessel and crew.
  • Stability – Shifting, adding or removing weights, reserve buoyancy, stiff and tender characteristics, list, heel and loll, down flooding, free surface effects, preservation of watertight integrity, prevention of down-flooding.
  • Equipment – Lifesaving and firefighting, provisioning of food and water, usage, stowage and care of equipment such as life raft, fire extinguishers, grab bag, EPIRB, VHF etc. Calculation of fuel, food and water supplies, stowage and care of spare gear, tools and instruction manuals.
  • Instruments – Depth Sounders and Logs, position fixing equipment, weather instruments, knowledge of how to maintain, calibrate and operate. Knowledge of how to take bearings with pelorus, and ships compass and hand bearing compass. Reading and interpreting a barometer.
  • Ship Handling – Manoeuvring, berthing and leaving a berth, buoyage, anchoring, heavy weather sailing, sea anchors.
  • Anchoring – selecting an anchorage, checking seabed conditions, types of anchors, how much cable length relating to depth, checking tidal range, size of anchor relative to size of vessel.
  • Handling a vessel in heavy weather, preparation of vessel, seeking shelter or sea room, ensuring heavy equipment is stored low, ensuring all hatches and openings are secured, knowledge of where to close skin fittings, secure stowage of deck equipment, wearing of harnesses and life jackets, reporting position to Maritime Radio, heaving to, lying ahull, use of drogues or sea anchors,
  • Crossing a bar, checking the conditions, tide and forecast, using local knowledge, check steering and engine before attempting, ensure vessel is prepared – loose equipment stowed, watertight etc, briefing of crew, everyone wearing life jackets, advising via radio re crossing, knowledge of risk of broaching, correct angle of approach to the waves,
  • Emergencies – fire fighting, stranding, collision, heavy weather damage, control of leaks, jury steering and gear systems, distress procedures, distress signals, deploying life raft, helicopter rescues, MOB procedure, taking care of crew, protecting hull from further damage, abandoning ship, life rafts, search and rescue, man overboard, towing and being towed, assisting a vessel in distress and rescues, serious illness or injury to a crew member, danger of exposure, sources of outside assistance.
  • Responsibilities of a Master – Crew selection and management, crew watch bill and responsibilities, legal responsibilities, keeping a log-book, routine checks of vessel, safety briefings, pollution, reporting of accidents and incidents.


Lots to remember! Have you done the Coastal Skipper course or similar?

If you want to do the Coastal Skipper course, you can do it in a classroom or by home learning. Check out the Coastguard Boating Education website.


7 thoughts on “Coastal Skipper

  1. Sounds like a great course! I did a coastal navigation course a while ago which was a lot of fun – great practice! Our “final exam” was a race in which there were no buoys, but you had to round “marks” by taking bearings to make sure you were in the right place. Good fun!

    Great to have some Wifi and catch up on your blog – always enjoy your posts!


  2. Am I right in thinking the Coastal Skipper course doesn’t now exist in the same form, or it’s called something different? I remember doing Day Skipper theory at evening classes, about ten years ago, and loved it. I then did Yachtmaster theory classes, and loved that too, but I wasnt good enough to do the YM practical. My husband has sailed for over 50 years and has never done, and never would do, any recognised sailing courses or exams.


  3. Pingback: Ocean Yachtmaster | Astrolabe Sailing

  4. Pingback: Gift Ideas for Sailors | Astrolabe Sailing

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