Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Captain John and the Magic of S.T.O.P.

This week, Captain John shares one of his "185 Tips & Techniques for Better Navigation, Cruise Planning, and Boat Handling Under Power or Sail" in an excerpt from his book, Seamanship Secrets

Use the Magic of S.T.O.P. to Get Oriented Fast!

Guest blog by Captain John
Author of Seamanship Secrets and publisher of the popular boating education website

I got snookered one night when I confused a lighted buoy for a light structure. Both aids showed similar light characteristics and were within 100 yards of each other.

As we proceeded south, we kept the flashing light ahead just off the starboard bow. Suddenly, our spotlight picked up the reflective tape of the light, 50 yards off the port bow!

We made a sharp left turn at the last moment to leave the light structure to starboard. We were high up on a flying bridge that night, looking down into the water, and the light structure got lost in the shore lights.

From this incident was born the concept of S.T.O.P. It’s easy to use and works almost anywhere…


S is for slowing down to a crawl or stopping. After arriving at a leading light or known marker, slow to bare steerageway, stop, or even anchor. This first step is essential for safety.

T is for turning the boat or taking a bearing. You should already have plotted your magnetic course to the next leading light. Turn the boat to that heading or take a bearing using a hand bearing compass.

With a hand bearing compass, hold it to your eye and turn until the bearing matches the next course. You should see the light dead ahead. Time the light and use your spotlight to confirm color, name, and shape.

O is for orientation of the big picture before moving on. Before moving, turn off the spotlight and check the visual picture again.

If necessary, repeat the steps under T.

P is for proceeding only after being fully oriented. Keep ahead of the boat. Verify the color, name, and shape of each unlighted beacon or buoy you pass. Do you turn left, right, or continue straight at the next light ahead? Does an emergency anchorage lie to the left or right of your current position?

At all times, stay ahead of the boat.  Stop if you are in doubt.  Follow these easy sailing tips and you will have the confidence to enter any harbor day or night—wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

Excerpt from “Seamanship Secrets", published by International Marine/ McGraw-Hill by Captain John Jamieson.  Visit his website at to learn how you can get instant access to 425+ articles, video tutorials, newsletters, and free eBooks.

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