Passage Planning Tips

Preparing to make passages across the South Pacific or any other long crossing for that matter can be an overwhelming process. Daunting at times to be certain but the work and planning are definitely worth every single sleepless night, aching muscle and penny spent. Here’s some thoughts and suggestions we’d like to share with you before you make your big leap!

Utilize The Vast Resources Available

  • Attend Seminars In Your Port Of Departure. We left from La Cruz, Mexico and attended many seminars about weather patterns in the South Pacific, cooking for long passages, chart exchanges and even medical training seminars given by Dr. Shukan. The good Doc discussed medical supplies you should have on board and even gave a hands on training for how to do internal and external stitches! We got re-certified in CPR with Dee Dee & Brent from SV Ninja too. We attended and even gave classes about SSB radios and Dan got the dubious pleasure of being the Net Manager for the Puddle Jumpers leaving from Mexico. (Hint: Don’t ask him about it. It was not a pleasant experience and is definitely one he’d rather forget.)
  • Read, Watch, Read. Spend as much time as you can reading blogs, websites and books. Watch Youtube videos and chat with anyone and everyone who has been there or has experience. It’s going to get overwhelming at times but that’s okay! Just take a lot of notes and give it time to sink in. In the end, you’ll be happy you did it.

Groups and Seminars

  • Join A Rally Or Group. If you’re so inclined you might want to join the Pacific Puddle Jump group so you can get in touch with others making the jump. The cost is $60-$75 depending upon your boat size. We did it when we made the jump in 2018 but honestly, we don’t think it is absolutely necessary. They do have big parties and events if that’s your thing but be prepared to be “sold to” every step of the way. They have to pay for all those parties somehow. LOL
  • Join Social Media Groups. There are many social media groups that share information and can give you what you need but they may not have the pomp and circumstance or commercial marketing affiliated with them. Honestly, our suggestion, pick the group(s) that suit you and your crew. We completely understand that not everyone is of the “group” mentality and interested in joining in on all the parties and events. Some, like us, prefer to experience this sort of thing on a more personal level without all the hubbub. Some Social Media groups we’d suggest include:
  • Cruiser Websites. Of course there are hundreds, maybe thousands of websites out there to help cruisers but some of them are much better than others. DazzlersWatch does not protest to be the most comprehensive site. Our goal is to provide cruisers with lots of information and imagery so you can actually see what so many other sites only discuss. Here are some of the sites we do recommend.
    • Noonsite. They offer great destination information including Customs & Immigration links and up to date details about the changes that are happening almost daily due to Covid-19.
    • Soggy Paws. Hands down they have the most information regarding anchorages including coordinates, cruiser comments etc… We highly recommend that you download the compendiums from their website for the countries you plan to visit. Do it before you leave because internet will be sketchy in most places. And, it makes for great reading on those long watches ahead

Communication

Fortunately in the world today we have the benefit of satellite communication so we don’t have to be completely out of touch. Of course that makes family and friends feel more at ease but it also gives us, as cruisers, a sense of peace as well. After all, if you’re at sea and something is happening on board that could be a problem you can let others know about it.

We have set two main contacts on land. One is Jilly’s brother and the other is Dan’s sister. When something goes sideways at sea, the first thing Jilly does is send an email to them with our coordinates, issue at hand, number of days of food stores on board, sea conditions and any other pertinent information. The key here is to make sure you don’t get overly excited and send your loved ones into a panic. We send only the facts and make certain we temper the email to the level of the issue. We also set a schedule of when we will provide updates. Depending upon the issue it could be hourly or even daily.

This starts a clock ticking that could help SARS if things really gets out of hand. Just make sure you pick “land” contacts who are calm and understand that while you say you’ll update hourly, it may not be able to happen exactly on that schedule. The last thing you want is for them to contact SARS when you are just unable to send an email for a half an hour. Good communication and discussions beforehand will prevent them from jumping the gun while making certain they do make the appropriate alert when necessary.

  • Check In On The Nets. It’s a great way to be sure someone knows where you are while you are at sea is absolutely encouraged. Our favorite net is the Pacific Seafarer’s Net. Why? Well, they not only take your information but they have procedures they follow in the event of an emergency. Unfortunately most cruiser nets aren’t prepared with what do do if an emergency arises. You need a HAM license to check in with them which is just one more reason to get that taken care of before you head to sea.

    Typically there will be other nets that are put on by cruisers and we do recommend you join one if for no other reason than to have a little company while you’re out there. We love being at sea together but hearing voices other than our own can be a very nice distraction especially if you’re having a bad day.

    When we crossed in 2018 and Dan was the Net Manager for the Puddle Jumpers leaving from Mexico. We required all boats to file a float plan with us that we shared with all of the other Net Controllers. Why? Well, if you are in an emergency situation you may not always have time to provide contact details for your family etc… By having this on file we would be able to ask for just the pertinent information in the event of an emergency on one of the vessels in the fleet. Time is everything when all hell is breaking loose. And when you create this float plan, be sure to give it to your designated land contacts.
  • VHF Radio, HF Radio, InReach, Iridium. The type of communication cruisers choose is as varied as the types of boats they set to sea on. On Dazzler we left Mexico with all of them on board. Why? Well, you never know when one source will fail and you need a backup. The best part of this was that after crossing all the way to New Zealand we had enough time on them to decide that we would get rid of our InReach and just keep the Iridium, VHF and HF radios. The Iridium is much easier to use, allows us to update our website and get really good GRIB files from PredictWind and other sources. Of course it’s a bit more costly than InReach but it’s our goto communication device when we’re at sea. We highly recommend Iridium Go!
  • Pre-Program Emergency Frequencies In Your HF Radio. If you have an HF radio, pre-program emergency frequencies for JRCC Hawaii and New Zealand as well as others.
  • Check EPIRB and/or InReach Emergency Contacts. Make sure your EPIRB and/or InReach is registered properly and with the current family or friends you want notified in the case of an emergency. PLEASE, don’t leave land without an EPIRB properly registered! It’s one of those things that is really necessary!
  • Verify Communication Devices Are Working Properly. Make sure your communications devices are working properly and firmware is updated before leaving. Also make sure your payment information is up to date so they don’t shut off your service while at sea.
  • Get a HAM License. You will need it to check into the Pacific Seafarer’s Net and quite frankly it’s easy, relatively cheap and just all around good thing to get.

Medical

  • Stock Your Medical Bag. On Dazzler there are two things we consider must take items if we have to abandon ship. Our ditch bag and our medical bag. We’ve even discussed who grabs what based on the situation. Before we left we took our medical bag to Dr. Shukan in La Cruz and had him go through it with us. We replaced old sutures, medicines and other items. He made suggestions for medicines that we should have on board and we completely restocked. We have everything from mild pain relievers and antibiotics to injectable medications for serious emergencies.
    • Get some medical training. Remember, hundreds of miles offshore you have to be your own doctors so knowing more than just basic first aid is important. Learn as much as you can about medical emergencies and how to handle them. Take a CPR and/or medical training classes! You can’t be too prepared in this area.
    • Click below for a list of supplies Dazzler has in her medical bag. Our medical bag, like our ditch bag, is by Watershed.
  • Stock Up On Daily Medications. Make certain you have all of the medicines you take regularly on board and have plenty of them. You don’t know when you will be able to get them again. Some countries may have something similar that may or may not work for you. Our plan was to have enough to get us to New Zealand six months after we set to sea.
    • Be sure to put a regiment of your “regular meds” in your ditch bag as well.
  • Get a physical. Don’t leave shore without getting a medical checkup. It’s good to know everything you can about your health before you set to sea.
  • DO NOT LEAVE PORT IF YOU ARE UNWELL!!! We can’t stress this one enough. Even if it means you need to wait until the next weather window or the next year, stay in port if you aren’t feeling 100%! We actually know of a boat that left port when some of the crew were still experiencing food poisoning symptoms. They ended up abandoning ship and losing their yacht. Fortunately all survived! Stay in port if your health is not up to par. It could save your life and that of potential rescuers.

Safety

  • Update Emergency Contacts on your Epirb and InReach.
  • File A Float Plan. Create a float plan and send copies of it to your family or friends, whoever is going to be keeping tabs on you. Make certain you go over the emergency contingencies as to when they should calls SARS if they haven’t received contact from you. Remember that while communications is pretty good these days you could have times out there when you just can’t get an email or message through. As a general rule we told our two land contacts that if we were more than 48 hours overdue then it would be time to start looking at calling SARS.
  • Give Land Contacts Information On Who To Contact In An Emergency. In your float plan or an email or wherever works best, give your land contacts all of the information for SARS as well as other cruisers who may be able to reach you via HF radio. Email addresses for a few of the boats in your fleet are a great idea. This way they can email them and see if they’ve heard from you before they send in the big guns.
  • Make copies of your boat documents, passports, credit cards etc… and put them in your ditch bag. None of us ever want to use that bag but we all should have them and important paperwork is one of the things you really want to have in there.
  • Stock Your Ditch Bag. We all have them but how often do you actually go through it? Take the time to go through yours and evaluate what’s inside. Check lighters, lights etc…to be sure they work. We added a change of clothes to ours. Oh yes, when we back up our laptop each month, we back up to a second hard drive that is in a waterproof bag in our waterproof ditch bag. Sure would hate to lose all the great memories we have on it, not to mention all of the business documents.
    • Make copies of your boat documents, passports, credit cards etc… and put them in your ditch bag. No, we never want to use that bag but we all should have them and they should be well stocked.
    • Our Ditch Bag is made by Watershed and is a backpack style design to keep hands free during an emergency.
    • Click on the image below to see a list of the items we keep stocked in our ditch bag.
  • Do “what if” drills with your crew on a regular basis. Whenever we are sitting around we talk about things like, “What if the engine fails in 4 meter seas?”, “What if we start taking on water?”, “What if our electronics fail?” Thinking about these things before they happen means you won’t necessarily panic if they do.
  • Do man overboard drills so that everyone knows exactly what their job is in the event something happens. By having the drills regularly, even in your head, your mind is prepared if something really does happen out there. It means you will react without having to think about it. THAT SAVES LIVES!
  • Create a spreadsheet and print it. List what is in each storage compartment on board including food. If an emergency happens you may not be thinking clearly but you will be able to quickly access something that will remind you what you have on board. This could help you remember where you put that spare pump or can of meat that you need to survive.

Checking In & Out Of Countries Easily

  • Download Check In Documents & Information Before You Leave Your Port Of Departure. Do your homework ahead of time, download the appropriate forms for each country and fill them out when you still have great internet. As we said before, internet is going to get sketchy as you head out so anything you can do before you leave the land of plenty is a bonus.
    • If you’re using Iridium remember that you can’t send high quality photos so get your forms sent when you have good net. For example, with New Zealand we send all of the forms before leaving Fiji or Tonga and then only have to send an email with the updated arrival time. If you don’t do this you will find yourself typing long emails with lots of arrival information.
  • Food & Stores Spreadsheets. We actually provide a spreadsheet of our food provisions at each check in. On that sheet we include the item, quantity, location on board and classification. We sort it by classification so that when Biosecurity is looking at it they can determine quickly what they might need to take from us. Be prepared, they will likely take something. It could be beans, popcorn, leftover meat or veggies…whatever. Our philosophy is this….We’d rather have too much food than not enough. You don’t know when a passage could take longer than planned. And, if they need to confiscate a little food because we over provisioned then we did great!!!
  • Honesty Counts. Don’t try to slip something by the border control agents. First off, it’s unethical but most importantly, it can get you in big trouble. If you took a shell from some beach and are afraid it’s going to be confiscated it’s better to show it to them and let them decided. Try to understand that they are there to protect their borders. Things we may think are harmless could be a huge problem for their country.
  • Checking Out. This is usually the easiest part of the process. Be sure you’ve checked their requirements, downloaded and printed forms ahead of time. It will make it that much easier.
  • Don’t Forget That You Are A Guest! Remember that you are a guest in these countries. Please be patient and understanding with the officials. It’s YOUR job to prove you’ve done the right things and provided all of the required information and even if you have you might find their process to be antiquated and cumbersome. Yes, some country’s procedures can prove to be more hassle than others but in the end, as long as you are doing things by the book, it’s not that big of a deal. Don’t forget….you’re in the islands now and nothing needs to happen in a hurry!

Odds & Ends

  • Don’t forget to notify your bank of your travels. The last thing you want is to have your credit card or ATM card shut off when you’re on some remote island. We’ve had it happen even though we notified our bank! It can be a hassle when internet and phone service is not easy to come by.

Captain Dan’s Tips

Of course all of the above is just part of the equation. You also need to wrap your own brain around what lies ahead, get your vessel in order and be sure your crew is ready for the adventure. For more information on those items, click below to read more of Captain Dan’s tips on getting you, your boat and your crew ready for the open ocean.

By now you are probably a bit overwhelmed and asking yourself, “Is all this really necessary?”

Well, you will be more than a thousand miles offshore with help possibly days away so you decide for yourself. As for the Dazzler crew, we certainly wouldn’t have done it without it. No, we didn’t have to utilize many things but you have to look at it like insurance. You plan and pay for it hoping you never have to use it. When it comes to offshore cruising we’d rather have done all of the things we did and spent the extra money to have the items on board than to have needed them and not had them. As far as we’re concerned…..it’s space, time and money well spent!

We know there’s a lot of information here so we’ve create a checklist to help you get organized. Click here to download a writeable PDF compliments of DazzlersWatch.