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Avoiding 'The Seven Deadly Sins'

You can have your cake and eat it too, if you plan , think carefully, be honest and avoid the ‘seven deadly sins’. To have a partner, better still, your whole family on board enjoying a quiet spot is what dreams are made of and can be attained with a lot of initial effort. During this initial journey, one should never push the psychological envelope and this takes careful thinking, word choices and does take time, a lot of time, even years.



1. Crew must Crawl before they can Walk

While fear of water rates second to fear of flying, heading on the water can be a very scary idea for the uninitiated and any wrong step will set one back years, not days or months. A good starting point is the swimming pool and swimming in general, if a person can’t swim, the first hurdle is set. This will present an automatic wall to ‘anything water related’. For the novice, this stage can take a year or more and competency should be worked on to a point where you can go under the water with goggles.

If this stage sounds familiar, then one should not be mentioning boats, swells, sinking or even buying a yacht AT ALL until a person can at least float in the water. Talking about these terms places undue stress on the person concerned and makes the ‘selling process’ that much harder. If the interest is there, reward always works wonders – like a holiday, which I elude too later.

Don’t push the swimming issue, use gentle positive encouragement, looking for small improvements each time rather than leaps-and-bounds. One MUST steer well clear of the words “No” or “I said” or “You are not listening”. These are all attack-negatives and will promote the “I can’t do” attitude. Always be sympathetic. Think of the negative words as anchors, each time you say one, another anchor is set in the plan and the anchors will need to be pulled at some stage. Too many anchors and you won’t be going anywhere, let alone a boat.

A great idea is to put a few dollars aside and get some private swimming lessons from a professional, they know the good techniques and this can be continued in the home pool, pretty good insurance if you think about it. It then removes you as the trainer and any blame then directed toward the professional.

Moving to the sea for a swim would be next on the list and having some cheap ‘lilo’s’ or boogie-boards will do wonders as these act as strong diversions from the challenge at hand. Planning is key, go to a beach that has small waves with little to no current and has warm water, near ly everyone hates cold water and we want all chips falling our way. Stay in water that is comfortable in depth, going further than chest deep, will scare the novice as they lose the security of being able to stand if they fall off. Falling off is however a good thing, it promotes the learnt skills in the pool and encourages confidence.

A big winner here is a holiday to some beach type resort, especially one with shallow water snorkeling. If the cards are played correctly, this avenue will provide some inspiration in the grander scheme of things.

The first deadly sin that must be overcome is to ‘crawl before you can walk' – we need to be able to swim before we can go boating (this is a psychological barrier that must be patiently overcome), or it will go pear-shaped and the battle will be lost, ‘the anchor will be too big to retrieve’.


2. Sea-Sickness does stick - in more ways than one

This is the second Deadly Sin and one of those ugly things that some get and others don’t. It also happens to be one of the worst forms of sickness and is the number one for family not coming back onto the boat – a sea-sickness event does stick and is very hard to erase. One good thing though is that sea sickness does gradually decrease with each event. The key is to ensure these events (initially anyway) do not occur on the chosen boat. This will allow your vessel to not carry the 'I'm feeling sick' stigma.

So what is sea-sickness?

Seasickness is a form of motion sickness characterized by a feeling of nausea and, in extreme cases, vertigo, experienced after spending time on a craft on water. It is typically brought on by the rocking motion of the craft. Some people are particularly vulnerable to the condition with minor stimulus, while others are relatively immune, or become immune through exposure. Human beings instinctively seek to remain upright by keeping their centre of gravity over their feet. The most important way this is achieved is by visual reference to surrounding objects, such as the horizon. Seasickness often results from the visual confusion on a moving craft, when nearby objects move with the motion of the craft. Because the lines of the masts, windows, and furniture on a ship are constantly shifting with respect to fixed references, humans, especially those unaccustomed to being at sea, can suffer a number of afflictions. Seasickness has such a remarkable effect because both the sense of sight and touch are disturbed by the motion of a craft on water. The severity of seasickness is also influenced by the irregular pressure of the bowels against the diaphragm as they shift with the rising and falling of the ship. (

There are two ways to tackle this challenge and the same pointers of patience, sympathy and positive re-enforcement are definitely required. Our test bed was a whale watching trip for the day on a large catamaran out to sea of Moreton Bay. It was here we were able to check who may be susceptible and at what the causes may be (ie the swell while stationary, motion over the swell or just motion itself). On this first testbed run, we all took seasick tablets (take it even if you don’t get seasick, it makes the others feel that we are all in the same boat – excuse the pun).

A few pointers that may help on this initial run:

  • Don’t overeat or drink too much,
  • Don’t go with a hangover,
  • Don’t make a scene getting there, this just raises anxiety and stress levels,
  • Eat and drink small amounts on the vessel,
  • Don’t go below decks whilst in mo tion, unless absolutely necessary (ie toilet), even then make it quick and get back out, and
  • Let everyone know that many people get seasick (including seasoned sailors) and it’s the brain playing tricks with the senses and is a normal re-action, they are not different.

Pointers that help defer and even stop the onset of seasickness:

  • Always face the direction of travel,
  • Always look far forward to the horizon and not what is happening at your feet or on the sides of the boat,
  • Get into fresh blowing air at the best point of C-of-G (centre of gravity) of the boat. This is the point where there is the least fore/aft pitching (normally 2/3rds of the way back on the boat),
  • Talk about a subject – distraction does work, especially on a topic of there choice, and
  • As the leader, never assume – always politely ask if they are feeling OK (privately). This psychologically makes a person feel wanted, 'cared for' and opens the door to talking about the issue when and if it does occur. It also promotes positive senses within the person.


If this proves reasonably successful, move onto a short (3-day) trip on boat in one of the more popular boating destination, even a houseboat works wonders. Houseboats are especially good as the promote all the positives:

  • You’ll only be able to hire a houseboat in calm water areas,
  • It has plenty of hot water,
  • It has the creature comforts of home,
  • Allows for family fun and swimming (enforcing and promoting a 'fun event').
  • Its around now that one can gauge the feeling of moving to the next step. If the seasickness and swimming fear challenges still exist, one should be very careful approaching the ‘we need a boat to go to far away places’ subject. It will backfire.


3. Be confident without being over-confident or overbearing

Quietly plan, plan and plan more. During the Houseboat holidays, keep your travel time to 2-3 hours maximum, then stop. Don't attempt 5-6 hour boat runs, its a huge turn-off. Rather make them want to want more by telling you 'its not long enough' or 'next time we must...'. Discretely note as many positives without asking. They like the speed, they comment on the electric toilet flush, they like the barbeque, they like to swim of the back of the boat - the memory bank should be in forth gear. Most partners are happier when the kids (including dogs in some cases) are happy (just food for thought), keep the kids active and happy with the fun things. Let them get away with things they normally wouldn't get away with at home - within reason. There will be plenty of time later to do your fishing, water skiing or even snorkeling/diving.

All these little pointers should be used in the grander scheme of things. In the P ure Majek Diary, we discuss what we want in our yacht, not what others think we should have. It is very important that ALL have a say in the final decision and what we discuss here definitely inspired the decisions we listed.

Being seen to be confident (our third deadly sin) is very important especially when out on your own with your partner or family. Apart from being very dangerous from a safety perspective, being over confident can and does work against you, finding the balance is the key.

Being seen to be confident DOES NOT mean:

  • Complicating something that can be very simple (from your partners point-of-view),
  • Making mountains out of molehills (from your partners point-of-view),
  • Being over-bearing (from your partners point-of-view), or
  • Being bossy (from your partners point-of-view).


Being seen to be confident DOES mean:

  • Knowing and being familiar with what you are doing,
  • Always having a simple plausible answer (from your partners point-of-view),
  • Finding the positive when the chips are down (this can be very difficult, but is a real winner),
  • Always having a (big picture) plan and being safe,
  • Always having a Plan B (discussed later – fifth deadly sin), and
  • Being clam and collected when times are testing.


4. Be Safe and lead by example

The feeling of having all the safety items checked is a physiologically ‘satisfying’ positive. It breeds a feeling of ‘they know what to do when things go wrong’ and lightens the worry-load of others.

Choose a quiet time with no distractions to explain all the safety items in the boat and be able to easily fit your own life jacket without looking. Keep it very simple and straight to the point. Start with the worst-case issues and work backwards. Examples include:

If the skipper is accidentally washed over the edge, what do you think we should be doing first? Get their input on the topic, this forces the thinking process and engages the mind-gears and weights the gravity of the issue, but don't scare them. This will also be approached a lot better with more and more experience on the vessel, where crew become ‘empowered’ with likable tasks (discussed later). Never reply with 'NO', its a huge barrier and massive turn-off - try use the words 'any more suggestions' or 'any more ideas'.

  • If everything goes wrong and its all turning pear-shaped, what should we be calmly trying to do? "Get the anchor out". Accept all there input, allowing you to understand what their primary thoughts are,
  • If a fire starts in the galley, what do you say? What do you do first? Where is the fire extinguisher? How do you use the fire extinguisher? How would you escape if you were in the forward cabin? Would you fight the fire from the forward cabin?
  • How do we know when we 'ground'? (Don’t mention words like ‘die’ or ‘hit’ – that’s a strong-negative in word choice). What happens when we ground? Are we going to sink? (This is exactly what they are thinking).
  • Lead by example, when they see you calmly getting a life vest on (and you saying nothing), they will ask, so be ready to calmly lead and provide a good reason in ‘safe’ words.
  • Do not leave things to the last minute for whatever reason. Plan when the sails should be dropped in a clear area well away from other vessels, and
  • Choose an easy interesting destination that is within say three hour cruising. If you are overnighting, make sure that it is comfortable if the weather deteriorates (which will if Murphy has it his way). Do this until all are familiar with that destination. Your crew will then ask to adventure further afield, and that’s the door-opener you are waiting for and a key indicator that you plans are falling into place. We initially chose a river that was calm in all conditions (except for the mosquitoes) and then ventured on short trips during the day, returning mid-afternoon.

There are many more items not mentioned here that show leadership, better still, your safe approach to the whole experience.


5. Always have a simple Plan B

At number five is a very important point. Having a plan in ones own mind is a key to be able to make an informed decision. Don’t rely on your crew for decision-making. Many hate making a decision with their limited information or time.

If your 'overnight position' is too rough when you get there, what is Plan B? If the wind is much stronger than forecast, what is Plan B? If someone is starting to get queasy, what is Plan B? If someone has been badly bitten by sandflies or mosquitoes, what is Plan B? If you have left the repellant at home, what is Plan B? If someone has been sunburnt or burnt their hands while 'hauling the sheets' (yours truly), what is Plan B?

Quietly call a gathering and calmly state your thoughts and more importantly, provide a solution with your reasons (don't lay blame in your reasons either). Then finish with, "What do you think?" Nine times out of ten, crew will back your decision and be ready to help being part of the decision process. They can see a solution through your leadership and calm approach and you get the result you want.


6. The Power of Empowerment

The sixth deadly sin is the lack of crew input or voluntary involvement. Not only is this a safety issue but a misuse of free resources. Crew involvement provides empowerment and being smart about organising your duties indirectly empowers your crew to help. Their input can be seen by them to be valuable and opens the door to them providing even more information. Having said this, ones crew input can be stopped in an instant, by rude, or angry replies from the skipper. It is a very delicate balance especially when the pressure is on.

While some input will be seen by the skipper as stupid or annoying (especially when ones concentration is at a high), count to five quietly ask yourself 'why they are saying this' before you respond. If a child walks up to you one day and says they can smell smoke, or when the partner asks if we are drifting, these are cues to act on their senses. It may end up being nothing, but better than ending up on the rocks. Always thank them for bringing it to your attention even if it was nothing.

The policy on our boat is that you come along for the ride. If you would like to get involved, I can happily give you a task. If you choose to sit down and just go for the ride, that’s fine too. We take all sailing questions seriously and try and provide a solution. Its about positive teamwork.

Examples of tasks we have include:

  • Steering the boat from the helm on your own (for those who don’t sail - this may not be that exciting),
  • Only having a PS3 or XBox on the yacht (none at home),
  • Programming the autopilot and plotter (and inserting the next waypoint),
  • Helping with the wind direction and 'working out the way we can go the fastest',
  • Looking out for whales and dolphins (better still - crab pots), and
  • Picking our anchoring area.

While these may appear to be mundane to the skipper, these choices for a person who does not sail provides empowerment, confidence - if something does go wrong and a feeling being a 'part of the team'.


7. Providing Ownership and Security

The last deadly sin is not providing ownership or a sense of security. Ownership can easily be given by way of:

  • Your own room, that is yours each time you return,
  • Your own toothbrush or cup that stays on the boat,
  • Your own clothes that are left on the boat, or
  • Games that are 'for the boat only'.

By security we mean 'the feeling of security' reflected in the operation of the vessel. Compare:

  1. A rush around, bumpy trip with no time to think, getting wet and uncomfortable, with
  2. Leisurely sailing (and motoring if need be) to a calm position with time on your hands and a great barbeque.

Its this security that they seek.

Topics and items listed here are by no means the be-all and end-all of this phase. It is vital that one get off on the right foot and if you want to win, play the game and yes, you will lose a few small battles but finally win the war.


Writer: J Coomer


References and Further Reading:

  3. There are some videos on YouTube that advance from ‘The Seven Deadly Sin' theory, a few are located here.