Boat Handling and Docking: Hands-on Exercises to Improve Your Helmsman Skills by [Stewart, Jim]Capt. Jim Stewart has been sailing for over 30 years and has been teaching boating since 2004. An employee of SailTime on Lake Michigan since 2005, he has a Merchant Marine license and is a certified American Sailing Association (ASA) instructor. Suffice it to say, he knows his stuff.

There’s a lot of practical advice in this small volume, perhaps the best of which is “You learn to drive a boat by driving a boat.” The book walks the reader through 25 exercises that cover such basics as simply understanding the throttle controls and continues through much more challenging material such as Mediterranean mooring and handling a boat in confined spaces during windy conditions. The exercises are applicable to both sailboats (the author’s primary focus) and powerboats. There’s even a section on multi-hulls and the particular skills required to handle them. The author provides a very useful caveat to all the exercises in the book when he states that, with regards to how, exactly, they are to be performed in the real world: “It depends on the wind.”  The practicalities of the exercises in the book all really depend on the conditions you encounter when performing them — particularly the wind.

If there’s one thing about the book that needs improvement, it’s the illustrations.  Many of them look like “cocktail-napkin drawings” or white-board screen captures and that lack of clarity detracts from their usefulness.  Oddly enough, some of the diagrams (page 15) appear to be professionally drawn (or more probably, computer-generated), so one wonders why they all couldn’t be equally clear. Also, there’s an error in the drawing on Page 12 where the caption says “port” when it clearly refers to “starboard.” Granted, the accompanying text description of the maneuver has the correct directions, but to a beginner such errors might cause a bit of confusion. Also, on page 67 the author mentions a line handling “trick” he saw some Coast Guard sailors perform while docking and provides a rudimentary description of it, yet he doesn’t provide an illustration until page 69. Only then did I really understand what he had described two pages earlier.

While reading the book I couldn’t help thinking how much more useful it would be if it were a DVD (particularly for hard-to-describe stuff such as the line-handling maneuver described above).  Actually seeing examples of how to do the things described in the book would, in my mind, be more useful than static drawings and text descriptions.

Perhaps Capt. Stewart is working on that, and if so, I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Given the amount of useful information in the book and its low price, however, I think it belongs in the library of any sailor or powerboater, regardless of their level of experience.  If we aren’t constantly learning, we aren’t sailing. The practice exercises in the book are useful and could even make for a fun day on the water — one that could save your bacon on one of those not-so-fun days on the water.

Boat Handling and Docking: Hands-on Exercises to Improve Your Helmsman Skills by Capt. Jim Stewart (Snowbank Buddha Publishing, 2015, 78 pages)