You don’t have to get many miles under your keel to meet people who should not be sailing offshore.

These individuals lack situational awareness, and they have a deficiency in pattern recognition.

When I sailed across the Pacific Ocean, I met sailors who had serious problems over and over again. They had good yachts, but they frequently put themselves in harms way with bad results.

Most people would not go down into their galley to make a cup of coffee when sailing around coral reefs, but one sailor I know did just that, and it was no surprise when his boat hit a coral head. That same sailor took a knock down that bent his boom in Tonga. When the same sailor left New Zealand, he suffered another knock down that put his mast under water and flying gear on the interior of the yacht caused injury to a member of the crew.

This person obviously had a problem with situational awareness. He frequently did things that set himself up for disaster. He was not capable of consistently maintaining situational awareness for long periods of time.

Pattern recognition and situational awareness are essential skills for the offshore sailor.

Pattern recognition is about what is happening right now in the prevailing conditions, and situational awareness is understanding what will happen in the future if you take no action and continue on your present course.

Pattern recognition is a skill that develops over time, but it only develops if a person is paying attention.

Just because you have a lot of sea miles under your belt does not mean you have developed the pattern recognition skills to sail safely across oceans.

Some people are oblivious to their environment offshore. To them the wind is only a number. The size and direction of the seas are just an entry you put in a log book. The cloud are just puffy white and gray things in the sky.

These individuals lack pattern recognition skills. They just put the data in a log book, and that’s as far as things go.

That’s why I made a rule during our circumnavigation to keep us out of trouble. The simple rule is that when the wind speed reaches 23 knots, the crew members consult me day or night so I can assess what is happening.

When they wake me up, I instantly start pattern recognition algorithms in my brain, and in a few seconds, I know whether we are in trouble and need to make adjustments, or if we can continue with our present course of action.

When I look at the wind, the seas, and the clouds - I look for patterns. Most of the time, pattern recognition is a subconscious process that tells me everything is ok, or lets me know things are getting out of control.

Developing pattern recognition takes time. Getting offshore miles under your belt will not automatically create these skills.

The only way you can develop pattern recognition is to look at your observations of wind, waves, and weather, and draw conclusions about what you see. You also look at the behavior of your boat and draw conclusions about how the boat is handling prevailing conditions.

For this to happen in a meaningful manner, you have to turn on your brain and think about what’s going on and what it means. You also need to think about what will happen if you do nothing.

Some people never become situationally aware.

They may not be interested in developing the skill of pattern recognition. They may not be capable of paying attention over a sustained period of time. They may have fatigue issues that cloud their judgment or their ability to understand what is happening around them. Some people are just not interested in making the effort to develop pattern recognition and associated situational awareness skills.

I assess every crew member’s grasp of pattern recognition and situational awareness, because I have to know whether I can trust them to run the boat in the prevailing conditions.

Sailors who survive have expert pattern recognition, and they live and breathe situational awareness.

Pattern recognition keeps you out of trouble again and again.

We have a saying when performing surgery that you should stop just before something bad happens rather than just after. The same is true on a yacht.

That’s the heart and soul of situational awareness. Pattern recognition alerts you to a potentially hazardous situation, and situational awareness makes you take action before something bad happens rather than just after.

It’s more work to sail with people who are deficient in pattern recognition and who lack situational awareness. You can’t depend on them to keep the boat and the crew safe when they are taking watch. The situation is even worse when you sail with a person who does not realize they lack these skills.

Pattern recognition and situational awareness frequently are casualties of fatigue.

Just because you are a competent skipper or crew member when you are rested does not mean you will maintain good situational awareness when you are fatigued.

All sailors become impaired when suffering from extreme fatigue.

Fatigue makes cowards of us all, and with enough fatigue, pattern recognition diminishes and situational awareness disappears. Then bad things happen.

The faster you sail and the harder you push your yacht, the more important situational awareness becomes. When the yacht is screaming over the waves loaded up with lots of kinetic energy, a mistake can be catastrophic to the yacht and crew. The closer you sail to the edge, the more critical pattern recognition and situational awareness become.

When we sail Exit Only at night, we always carry a double reef in the mainsail so that things don’t get out of control in the dark. If we make a mistake, it will likely be a small one.

When you are sailing at sixteen knots in large seas, you better have razor sharp pattern recognition and awesome situational awareness.

When You are sailing at five knots in small seas, a failure in pattern recognition and situational awareness is not likely to be catastrophic.

Pattern recognition and situational awareness are also important for the sailor when ashore. There are plenty of ways for a sailor to get into difficulty on dry land, and pattern recognition and situational awareness keep you out of trouble.

The easiest way for the shoreside sailor to experience the downside of situational awareness is to get drunk and leave a shady bar at 2am with a fistful of dollars in his hand. He will likely wake up with a lump on his head and a good deal poorer.

If you have a lot of sea miles and few disasters under your belt, you probably have good pattern recognition and outstanding situational awareness.

If your offshore voyages are peppered with disasters large and small, you probably need to work on your pattern recognition and situational awareness. Get your rest, carry less sail, reef early and often while you develop these skills.

A seaworthy vessel and top notch gear are nice to have, but eternal vigilance, pattern recognition, and situational awareness are the hallmarks of real ocean cruisers, and they will get you safely to your destination.

Captain Dave

Captain Dave - David J. Abbott M.D.





Exit Only

See what it's like for a family to sail around the world on a small catamaran

Captain Save Our Souls

Awesome music video that captures the essence of what it's like to sail offshore in a catamaran around the world when conditions are less than perfect. David Abbott from Too Many Drummers sings the vocals, and he also edited the footage from our Red Sea adventures. This is the theme song from the Red Sea Chronicles.

Red Sea Blues

Sailing up the Red Sea is not for the faint of heart. From the Bab al Mandeb to the Suez Canal, adventures and adversity are in abundance. If you take things too seriously, you just might get the Red Sea Blues.

Red Sea Chronicles Trailer

If you like drum beats, and you like adventure, then have a listen to the Red Sea Chronicles Trailer.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 1 - When Flying Fish Attack

Flying fish assault Exit Only in the middle of the night as we sail through the Arabian Gulf from the Maldives to Oman. And so begins our Red Sea adventures.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 2 - Pirate Alley

Sailing through Pirate Alley between Yemen and Somalia involves calculated risk. It may not be Russian Roulette, but it is a bit of a worry. Follow Team Maxing Out as they navigate through Pirate Alley.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 3 - Aden, Yemen

Stopping in Yemen was just what the doctor ordered. We refueled, repaired our alternator, and we made friends with our gracious Yemeni hosts. We also went to Baskins Robbins as a reward for surviving Pirate Alley.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 4- Gate of Sorrows and Sandstorms

After you survive Pirate Alley, you must sail through the Gate of Sorrows (Bab Al Mandab) at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Gate of Sorrows lived up to its name with fifty knots of wind and a sandstorm that pummeled Exit Only for two days. Life is good.

Patreon - Maxing Out

Captain Dave and his family spent eleven years sailing around the world on their Privilege 39 catamaran, Exit Only. During the trip, the crew shot 200 hours of video with professional cameras to show people what it's like to sail on a small boat around the world.

The Red Sea Chronicles is a one hour and twenty-two minute feature film showing their adventures as Exit Only sails through Pirate Alley in the Gulf of Aden and up the Red Sea. The professional footage documents their experiences in Oman, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, and the Suez Canal. It chronicles the rigors of traveling in a remote section of the world rarely visited by cruisers. Exit Only dodges Yemeni pirates, fights a gale and sand storms in the Bab al Mandeb at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The crew explores deserted islands on the western shores of the Red Sea, and learns to check the cruising guides for land mines before venturing ashore.

The Red Sea Chronicles also has outstanding Special Features including an Instructional Video on Storm Management that tells sailors how to deal with storms at sea.

And don't forget the two Music Videos: "The Red Sea Blues", and "Captain - Save Our Souls".

The Red Sea Chronicles is a first class adventure that stokes the sailing dreams of both experienced and wannabe sailors alike.

Red Sea Chronicles

Save A Tree Bookstore

Although I like the feel of a paper book in my hand, I love trees even more. When people purchase an eBook, they actually save trees and save money as well. Ebooks are less expensive and have no negative impact on the environment. All of Dr. Dave's books are available at Save A Tree Bookstore. Visit the bookstore today and start putting good things into your mind. It's easy to fill your mind with positive things using eBooks. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you can pull out your smart phone or tablet and start reading. You can even use electronic highlighters and make annotations in your eBooks just like paper books.