Beyond the shoreline: 10 things to consider when offshore sailing

Offshore sailing, navigating waters when the shore is out of sight, is one of the most challenging sailing disciplines. Adela Denkova highlights the 10 crucial considerations for proper preparation.

Usually, we choose to sail in coastal waters, enjoying leisurely trips from marina to marina (or anchorage). However, deep down, many of us crave the true sailing experience, surrounded by the vast blue ocean. And perhaps a part of us even aspires to cross the Atlantic. Luckily, the thrill of offshore sailing can be found much closer to home, in the Baltic Sea. Let's take a look and what you need to consider when venturing out on the high seas.

1. Planning

Planning is the key to offshoring. Simply boarding a boat, starting the engine, and hoping to reach land within a few hours for supplies and to sort out any issues is not enough. When the possibility of being at sea for days or even weeks without access to shore or communication exists, it's necessary to thoroughly consider the situation and have contingency plans in place.

2. Weather forecast

When coastal sailing, a forecast for the next one or two days is sufficient. For offshore you should be interested in the long-term forecast, although this is something you won't be able to completely rely on. However, there are some phenomena that are constant or recurring, such as the direction and strength of currents, wind flow, storms or even when hurricane season hits. So, you'll need to find all these out in advance and plan accordingly.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Hurricanes bring torrential rain, high waves and incredibly powerful winds. So, how do they form and why? What time of year is hurricane season in exotic sailing destinations? And how to prepare for the arrival of this treacherous tropical storm? In our guide, Hurricane season in exotic yachting destinations, we'll advise you when to plan yachting in tropical climes and which destinations to avoid.

Satellite image of the hurricane

3. Sailing route

You can't just blindly embark on a journey offshore. Thorough planning of your route, including researching and understanding weather patterns is essential. After all, the weather will determine when you set sail, not you. Due to dangers like hurricanes, some areas can be inaccessible at certain times of the year, and in other places, the winds might consistently blow in one direction until a certain date before abruptly changing course. The currents near the coast also behave very differently from those miles out to sea. Research all these things carefully beforehand and accept that you might have to take a longer route to get favourable winds. 

Whether you use traditional nautical charts and a ruler, or research online and plan the route in Navionics, it's vital to have a backup plan. Preferably on a second computer or tablet — we rely too much on electronics these days and unfortunately, they have a knack of breaking down or starting to update just when we need them the most.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Hand on heart, who navigates solely using paper charts? Almost every sailor nowadays has several handy apps installed on their phone. We asked our skippers which ones they use the most and put together our top 10 sailing apps that have proven their worth over hundreds of nautical miles.

4. Boat sturdiness

Whether it's a long-distance ocean crossing or a shorter passage, having a dependable boat is essential. The ideal offshore boat should be sturdy and stable, which may mean it is not as fast as other boats. Single-hulled boats are generally considered better for offshore use than multi-hulled boats, and for harsher conditions, it's best to choose a boat made of strong materials such as multi-layer laminate or aluminium.

To ensure a safe offshore trip, it's essential that you boat is equipped with not only standard marine electronics but also a radar reflector or AIS. An autopilot is also a must, especially if you're planning to go solo, as it will make navigation much easier. Additionally, ensure the boat has large enough water and diesel tanks, or you take extra barrels on board as a backup.

5. It's not just about the wind

When h eading on a week-long holiday to Croatia, you can afford to sail practically without a motor. Usually, there's a bit of a breeze somewhere and you can cruise from A to B for hours at 3 knots, as long as the sun is shining and the waters are calm. But if you're planning a longer voyage, you need a backup plan — you may find yourself without wind for a few days, and you don't want to be adrift on a boat with way to manoeuvre. Obviously, a broad reach or running with the wind is ideal for longer passages, as it would take you twice as long beating, but what about when there is a headwind? Either you'll have sufficient time to simply cruise or you have to use the engine. And, for that, you need enough fuel.

Vintage wooden boat in coral sea, view from the top.

6. Supplies

In addition to fuel, you should precisely calculate your food and water supplies. Water is the most important and you'll be needing for rinsing dishes and personal hygiene as well as drinking. Count on a usage of about five litres of fresh water per person per day. In terms of food, it's up to you to decide what your diet consists of, but make sure you work it out properly — you don't want to run out of supplies halfway. The approximate daily caloric intake for a moderately active man is 2500 calories, but for more energetic activities such as racing, it's recommended to have at least double that. It's also important to have some reserves in case the trip takes longer or goes differently than planned.

7. Lifesaving equipment

A normal charter boat is equipped with standard lifesaving equipment such as flares, a lifebuoy and life jackets. But for offshore cruising, you'll need something more. A good companion for long-range sailing is an EPIRB buoy (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) used to locate vessels and people in distress. In the event of an emergency, the transmitter will activate and begin transmitting a continuous radio signal used by search and rescue teams to quickly locate you. Your boat should also have a life raft — a type of emergency vessel equipped with everything you need to survive for a few hours or even a few days (including food and water) and can hold several people. 

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)

YACHTING.COM TIP: Man Over Board (MOB) is something no sailor wants to experience. But when it happens, you need to know how to react quickly and correctly, because lives are at stake. The moment someone falls into the sea, both the skipper and crew are under enormous stress so it is crucial to know the different steps to take and understand your role. What is the rescue procedure when someone falls in? What do you need to know and how to act? Check out our handbook — Man Over Board (MOB): a step-by-step guide.

8. Minor repairs and maintenance

If something breaks down on your boat near the coast, you usually have the option to disembark somewhere and find a professional to help you out. In the case of charter boats, they'll even occasionally send someone to your rescue. But you can't count on that in the middle of the ocean. There, you'll be on your own. That's why real sailors end up having to master all kinds of work — you'll need to be an electrician, a plumber, a mechanic, and even a seamstress (if you rip the sail).

9. Clothing

It depends on your precise destination but offshore does not necessarily mean bad weather and the cold. In fact, you might just need a T-shirt and a pair of shorts or a windbreaker. But for cold waters, you'll need something more durable. Yachting shops are full of guaranteed offshore clothing from reputable brands and there are certainly hours of development and design work behind it, but there's also a lot of marketing, and individual pieces can set you back a lot of money. If you don't have a generous budget, an alternative is to use ordinary workwear which holds up surprisingly well. After all, it's also designed for extreme conditions.

YACHTING.COM TIP: What should you wear when sailing and do you really need to invest in specialist sailing apparel? What gear do you need inshore versus offshore or in more demanding conditions? Take a look at our guide — How to choose sailing clothing: what to wear.

A sailor in a sports jacket at the helm of a racing sailboat

10. Courage and determination

While you may already know what you need regarding your boat, clothing, and equipment for sailing, it's important to also have the proper skills and knowledge to be a successful offshore sailor. This includes the ability to plan a route, read information from charts such as currents and tides, understand weather forecasts and the skills to fix any potential breakdowns. However, the truth is that some individuals who possess all of these skills may never set sail offshore, whilst others with minimal experience might take to the ocean and simply learn the ropes as they go. While they may turn out to be acting irresponsibly, it's not uncommon for the greatest sailors to have started out this way. 

Ultimately, what's crucial for the success of a sailor is determination and courage. However, don't confuse courage with gambling with your life. True courage is not about plunging headfirst into danger, but rather the ability to correctly assess risks, avoid unnecessary mistakes, and respect the boat and the elements. With these qualities, you can embark on an adventure with confidence.

We'll be happy to help you choose the perfect boat and destination for your holiday.

FAQs: Offshore yachting in a nutshell