Displaying Your Boat’s Name

For most boat owners the name of their boat is important. Many sailors choose names of loved ones or names based on their own names, clever sounding names taken from their situation at the time or romantic sounding names. But many sailors do not consider how they display that name on their boat.

Whereas some pleasure boats have AIS – the Automatic Identification System by which they can be identified and their position noted, many more carry very little identification at all. Numerous boats don’t have sail numbers and even if they do, the sails may be reefed. Boat names are often displayed using very small lettering, fancy lettering which cannot be read from a distance, or displayed on the stern and sometimes covered by a tender.

Power boatBy Isles Yacht Club [CC BY 2.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons​

Why does it matter?

In an ideal world you will cruise along on your boat with no worries at all. But the day could come when something unforeseen happens:-

Imagine this scenario. Your yacht is a Bermudan Sloop with a white hull. There are no distinguishing features on either side and you are carrying a tender strapped to the stern. Your sails display no numbers or you are motoring along under bare poles. You have informed your family that you intend to arrive in Brixham at a certain time having left Plymouth that morning. The wind is getting stronger, the tide has turned against you and you are well overdue. Your family decide to contact Falmouth Coastguard, 44 nautical miles away. There happen to be two NCI lookouts (National Coastwatch Institution) between Plymouth and Brixham with watch keepers on duty during the hours of daylight 365 days a year. The Coastguard contacts both lookout stations to enquire whether they have seen this yacht and if so at what time. From this information they can work out a rough position of where the boat might be if it has run into difficulties. The watch keepers have each logged about 80 yachts that day, around 20 of which carried AIS or clear name identity, so their details could be logged accurately. This leaves 60 unidentifiable yachts, 50 of which are Bermudan Sloops and 40 of these are white hulled, carrying white sails and with no distinguishing features. Which is the missing boat? It would be impossible for the watch keepers to give any useful information to the coastguard.

Now imagine that the boat’s name was clearly displayed in large lettering on both sides. The most westerly watch keepers logged this boat, noting the name, bearing and time, but the easterly station had no record of seeing this boat go past. This information would be crucial, considerably narrowing the area in which the yacht might be and giving a rough estimation of the time they ran into difficulties. Not only this, but the watch keepers may have logged other boats in the close vicinity and a message could be sent out by the coastguard asking for information or actual physical help, such as a tow. If the life boat was deployed their search area would be much smaller with this sort of information at their disposal.

Sail boatBy Isles Yacht Club [CC BY 2.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Lives could be saved or lost by something as simple as how your boat’s name is displayed.

Is this an exaggeration? No!

As an NCI watch keeper I am amazed by the number of unidentifiable craft, both yachts and motorised vessels, passing our lookout every day. It’s so frustrating to realise that if they ran into trouble out of our range, we would be unable to positively identify whether they had passed our lookout, whereas a clearly displayed name might just give us the information the rescue services need to come to their aid.

For more information, or to find out how you can support NCI, please visit the National Coastwatch Institution’s website. If you would like to make a donation to NCI, please click the button below:

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