Preparing for a sail & oar raid


This is the important bit.  The organisers will normally expect you to have the following items, which are taken from the Sail Caledonia sailing instructions:

  • Printed evidence of third party liability insurance of at least £3million.
  • Sufficient buoyancy to avoid sinking and to support the crew in the event of swamping or capsize. Watertight lockers that add to the buoyancy of the boat should not be used to store emergency equipment. Buoyancy bags should be extremely secure as they have a habit of working free in swamped boats.
  • The mainsail should have at least one set of reef points and be capable of being reefed underway.
  • A bucket secured to the vessel by a lanyard and at least one other method of bailing (pump, 2nd bucket, etc).
  • Anchor, warp and chain suitable for the vessel.
  • Sufficient oars and rowlocks to propel the boat against a strong headwind (including 1 spare oar).
  • 2 warps of 15 metres for use in the canal locks or for being towed.
  • Drogue or other device capable of slowing the boat in cramped conditions where oars cannot be used. (Strong bucket on long lanyard may be sufficient for smaller boats).
  • Foghorn.
  • Distress Flares, 2 x hand smoke or (preferably) floating smoke, 2 x pinpoint red. Flares to be kept in a sealed water-tight container securely attached to the vessel by a lanyard and accessible in the event of swamping.
  • Fire extinguisher (for vessels with engines or cooking facilities).
  • Buoyancy aids or lifejackets with whistle are to be provided for each of the crew. These should be worn on open water or when in canal locks. Buoyancy aids are preferred as they give assistance to the user in the event of capsize. Lifejackets that have no integral buoyancy are not ideal as they either provide no assistance or, if inflated, hamper the user in recovery of the boat. Automatically inflating lifejackets are not suitable as they hamper the user in the event of capsize.
  • 1st Aid kit.
  • Spare dry clothing in a water tight container.
  • Survival bag or Thermal Protective Aid.
  • Food and warm drink for long exposed races (e.g. Lochs Lochy & Ness).
  • Bosun’s bag with tools / shackles / cordage.
  • Sufficient fenders to protect one side of the boat.

In addition, you may want to consider bringing the following:

  • A small outboard (eg a Suzuki 2.5 or Honda 2.3), so that you don’t have to row those sections that are not part of the race.
  • Binoculars.
  • Hand-bearing compass.
  • Handheld VHF – useful for finding out what is going on.
  • Torch or head torch.
  • Good quality charts and a pilot guide of the raid area, which you have studied in advance.  OS maps can be very useful for inland areas of the UK.
  • Depending on the date and location of the raid, extra warm clothes, paying particular attention to the head, hands and feet – Loch Ness in May can be very cold, Venice probably less so.
  • Anti-seasickness pills if any of the crew suffers.  Ginger biscuits and giving sufferers something important to do can also help.  Small children can benefit from the placebo effect of blue M&M’s, swallowed whole with water (chewing gives the game away!)
  • Treats to keep crew morale up – chocolate biscuits, fruit & nut mixes, etc.  The more expensive and luxurious the treat the greater the effect.  For example, and in the opinion of my crew, there is no contest between M&S Belgian Milk Chocolate & Toffee Cookies and McVities Chocolate Digestives.
  • Sun and anti-insect protection as appropriate.
  • Good quality sunglasses.

Before you start, make sure that your crew members have a thorough understanding of what is expected of them.  Pay particular attention to the wearing of buoyancy aids, what to do in the event of capsize, and how to avoid one in the first place.

Double-check that your rigging is secure – if one of your shrouds or your forestay comes undone, at the very least you will suffer delays and at worst someone could get badly hurt.


To get the best out of your boat and depending on how competitive you want to be, consider having the following:

  • An absence of wildlife attached to the underside of your hull.
  • An absence of non-essential and bulky or weighty items, such as large outboards, your sprayhood, seat cushions, spare fishing tackle, portable barbecues, etc.
  • Telltales fitted to your sails, to help you adjust your sail trim.
  • For gunter-rigged boats, an extra stiff high carbon yard to help the mainsail keep its shape in strong winds.
  • For boats with a self-tacking jib, an extra strong jib boom, in either carbon or reinforced wood, to prevent flexing and keep sufficient tension on the jib halyard, which also helps maintain sail shape in strong winds.
  • Some sort of masthead wind indicator – this could be anything from a little burgee all the way up to a Tacktick electronic wind indicator.
  • A thorough knowledge of sail trim for your boat, including when it is best to reef (early to keep the boat upright and under control) and how to adjust the sails to get the best performance in light airs.
  • A GPS of some sort so that you can judge how well you are moving towards your next target.
  • Correctly sized oars if your raid includes rowing races – for a BR20, the aft rowing position should have 12ft oars and the forward position 11ft oars.  Because of the extra leverage involved compared to the standard short oars, your oarlock positions will probably need to be reinforced.
  • The ability to drop masts to reduce windage if rowing into the wind.  You will also need this if you are passing under low bridges, as in East Anglia.
  • Fit and competent crew – some raids are more demanding of your crew than others, so make sure that you have the right level for the prevailing conditions.
  • Extra large flags and pennants, so that you can occasionally cut a dash even if this is not borne out by your racing performance!

Two BayRaiders and a SeaRaider ghosting downwind during Sail Caledonia 2012 (photo courtesy of John Macpherson)

Graham W    November ’12