A pilotage plan should be started by reading any publications such as pilot books or nautical almanacs that cover the region in question.
In simpler areas an almanac such as Reed's is adequate but if you are travelling to areas with big tides and lots of hazards such as the Channel Islands (Channel Islands Pilot) or Brittany (Brittany Pilot), a good local pilot book will give you lots of information that will save a considerable amount of time in preparation.
Specifically you should be looking out for the following information:
Can you enter or exit at any state of tide?
Can the port be entered in any weather conditions?
Can the port be entered at night?
What navigation aids are there?
Are there any leading lines or lights?
Are there any special hazards?
What are the options for mooring?
Do you need to book a berth in advance?
What services are available?
Are fuel, water, gas and food available?
Early closing for shops or national holidays.
Are there any local rules such as small boat channels?
Are there any traffic signals in use? (Click here to see some examples)
Are there any port VHF channels?
Phone numbers for the Harbour Master or services.
Are there any public transport links?
A good pilot book will talk you through entering the harbour; the author will have worked out the best lines of approach and the clearing lines to use. This information is normally backed up with large scale harbour plans and even photographs. Well chosen photographs can make an unfamiliar harbour much easier to deal with when you are tired and nothing looks quite like you expected from looking at the chart.
This is where pilot books beat using the basic information in the almanac. Pilot books have far more space for the detail you need in unfamiliar harbours, but they do go out of date, so it is a good idea to compare any harbour plans with the latest almanac or chart.
If you are visiting an unfamiliar area, it is a good idea to start reading up about it some time before you arrive. This ensures that you will have a good feel for the background of the area, and will help you to plan the overall cruise. This is especially important if you are chartering a yacht abroad.
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