Test - Junior Practical

What to Expect During Your On-the-water Practical Junior Test

Lots of prospective Juniors ask what to expect for their practical test.

This test is performed on the water.  It typically takes me approximately 1.5 hours to perform the test with a prospective Junior.

This test is only performed when the wind goes above 10 knots.  If you are accustomed to sailing only on low wind days, this will be quite a shock to you.  Sailing in a 10+ knot wind is not twice as hard as sailing in a light 5 knot breeze, it's *multiple* times harder.  So make sure you are comfortable sailing in higher winds before the test.

You can monitor the winds from home using the Current Sailing Conditions page.  This is taking data from a sensor at the mouth of the Berkeley Marina, which is behind the water break.  So if it shows 7+ knots of wind, generally speaking we can easily find 10+ knots needed for the test by simply going out a little farther into the Bay.

The test consists of 11 Maneuvers during which you'll also be asked verbal questions about your general knowledge of subjects such as:
  • right-of-way rules
  • reefing
  • hypothetical scenarios
  • rigging
  • knots 
A large part of the test is more subjective - its general displays of:
  • good judgment
  • reasoning
  • safe communication
  • ability to coordinate crew
  • knowledge of right of way rules
  • in tune with the wind direction
When a Senior takes you out for a Junior test, the fundamental question that they are trying to answer is:  "Am I willing to put my name, reputation and signature on the fact that I feel comfortable with this prospective Junior taking out 2-3 newbies on their own in 10+ knots of wind and being able to safely & effectively command a boat with this crew?"  If the answer is yes, they pass.  If there is doubt, I typically will set up 1-on-1 lessons to go over portions of the test and get them up to speed.  Then will try again as soon as that is complete.

11 Maneuvers You Will be Asked to do During the Test

During the test, you'll be asked to do the following maneuvers:
  • capsize recovery (dry, wet or scoop method - all okay)
  • slow sailing
  • tacking
  • jibing
  • sailing in tight circles (within 1.5 boat-lengths which on the Bahias or JYs is 22.5ft)
  • anchoring (with tie-off or run-through on the nose; knowledge of proper scope)
  • heaving-to
  • hiking out
  • docking
  • man-over-board (pick up man in <2 mins, final resting point for boat within 10ft of man)
  • maintaining stable course on all points of sail:
    • close haul
    • close reach
    • beam reach
    • broad reach
    • dead run

3 Simple Things You Can do to Make the Test Easier
  • Use the 1-on-1 program to have one of the many instructors do a dry-run of the test with you.
  • If there is a maneuver that you are a little fuzzy on, ask your instructor if you guys can practice it 1x before the test together.  This is advantageous not only for practice, but also because the instructor will hint to you as to what they feel is most important.
  • Don't get cold - dress in layers with a water resistant outer layer.  If you need to add or remove layers, ask the tester if you can heave to do so.

What Maneuver is the Most Common to Have Problems with and How to Make These Problems Disappear!

Man Over-Board: If someone falls overboard, a certain procedure is necessary to get him back onboard. You should be familiar with this recovery technique so you will know what to do when someone needs your help. 

Here is the process of Man Overboard (MOB) Recovery: 
  1. Call out "Man Overboard!".  Never lose sight of the Man Overboard.  If another person is still present in the boat, instruct them to watch the person in the water and continuously point at them with their finger.
  2. Sail off on a beam reach and, optionally, let the jib fly.
  3. Sail until you have enough room to maneuver.  Weather conditions can affect the distance that you need, but in general, give yourself enough room to perform the rest of the recovery.
  4. When you are at a suitable distance away from the MOB, tack back onto a reciprocal course.
  5. While still keeping the MOB in sight, sail onto a broad reach.
  6. As you get closer, sail upwind.  Slow sailing is ideal on this leg.  Control your speed and luff up.
  7. Announce to the crew that the MOB will be taken on the windward side.  Verbalize a reassurance to them that you will counterweight them by moving to the opposite side of the boat.
  8. Ease the mainsail out and stall out into the wind with the MOB at the windward shrouds.
If the MOB is an actual human:
  • Move forward and take hold of the MOB from their life preserver.
  • Pull or help them get to the stern.  Help them enter the boat by pulling on the straps of their life jacket.
  • Observe the person and check for any warning signs of hypothermia (shivering, slurred speech, confusion, apathy, shallow breathing, etc.)
Here are additional guidelines in MOB Recovery:
  • Never lose sight of the MOB throughout the recovery procedure.
  • On the final approach, it is important to know the right boat speed.  Have complete control when approaching the MOB.  Slow sailing is very handy here.
  • Practice this recovery technique until you are confident enough that you can do it properly.
  • Act with a sense of urgency to stay close to the MOB - the farther you go away from the MOB, the more difficult it is to keep it in visibility.  If you are ever more than 150' feet away from the MOB, you've probably gone too far.  The Junior test expectations are generally that you pick up the MOB within 2 minutes.  The mortality rate explodes exponentially the farther you allow the vessel to get from the MOB.
Take note that this process requires skill in controlling your speed.  Thus, performing the MOB procedure will not only rescue the person, but the process will also teach you a skill that is very important and helpful to any trip - maneuvering slowly under full control.

3 Most Common Reasons Why Prospective Juniors Don't Pass Their Practical Test the First Time They Take It

What are the most common areas that prospective Juniors have difficulty with:
  • Insufficient academic knowledge of how to perform a man-overboard
  • Insufficient communication, command and risk reduction during docking
  • Failing to verbalize what they are doing, what they intend to do shortly, and what they would like the crew to do
I've seen people capsize many times during their test, but pass with flying colors because they communicated well throughout the entire test, had solid book knowledge of how to do all the maneuvers, showed impeccable judgment, and did an excellent job coordinating the crew (ie. me).

I've also seen people who have quite a bit of sailing experience not pass the test the first time because they failed to communicate well or took risks that showed a deficit of prudent judgment.

Notice, rather interesting, that none of these most common failure areas have to do anything with their practical physical sailing ability.  The most common deficiencies predominately surround communication, judgment and book knowledge.  Students spend hours-on-hours practicing their jibe - but really they should be using every opportunity to practice things such as their verbalization skills.

8 Tips for Ensuring You Ace Your Junior Practical
  1. If instructed to go to a particular destination (ie. the dock, a buoy) head upwind of it a bit and verbally explain to your tester why you are heading say 10 degrees upwind of it.  Say something to the effect, "Heading toward the dock.  I am going to keep my course about 10 degrees up wind of it.  I'm doing this because we will have some leeway, but also because we want some spare potential energy to maneuver.  When you drive somewhere in your car, you don't completely deplete the tank during the course of the drive.  You have lots of gasoline left over.  In sailing, wind energy is your gasoline.  I'm going to stay well upwind of it because I want lots of extra gas in my tank.  That gives me more options when we approach the dock, and also provides me with spare potential momentum to use for an abort if necessary".
  2. Your tester is trying to envision whether you are ready to safely command a crew.   During the test, don't try to do everything on the boat yourself.   Don't be shy about asking your crew and/or your tester to do tasks for you.  You win points for effectively communicating and coordinating your crew during the different maneuvers.  For example, in the tight circles clearly communicate what you want the crew to be doing with the jib.  If you're coming in too fast in a docking, utilize the crew to push the boom out for you.  When you're doing the man overboard, don't pick up the man over board yourself - instead explain early that the crew is to pick up the man overboard on the windward side, and verbally reassure them that you will counterweight to the opposite side.  Essentially, bend over backwards (and be unusually vigilant at employing everyone in the boat) to 'over-demonstrate' that you have the ability and confidence to manage your crew. 
  3. Beat your tester to verbally calling out all obstacles.  If you are getting close to the rocks, don't let your tester be the first one to vocalize that.  Say really early, "We are approaching the rocks - 50 yards.  We'll be tacking in about 30 seconds".   Call out all windsurfers and other boats you see around you, "Windsurfer in the water at 1 o'clock, 200 feet.  Heading down."  Imagine you are being paid $1 for every obstacle you call out.  Imagine you are being paid $2 for every change in course that you call out.  It should be a continual spewing of information.  A lot of it will be repetitive and redundant - when that happens, your doing it right.  This alone will dazzle you're tester by displaying above-average situational awareness.
  4. Cut the small talk when it counts.  In flying it's called a "sterile cockpit".   Re-read #3 again.  If you are chatting away about your last vacation, and while going into a story about some amazing creme brulee' you had, you fail to call out nearby obstacles - that looks really bad.  Don't let the small talk over step your verbalization, or get in the way of other crew members' verbalizations.  In commercial airplanes, during certain activities such as taking off or landing, the FAA has a regulation called the sterile cockpit that mandates that the cockpit crew only speak of matters pertinent to the operation of the plane.  This is especially true when doing sailing maneuvers.  If you are doing a man-over-board, don't ask a question unrelated to the maneuver at hand while the man-over-board slips farther and farther away off your stern.  And if you're heading into dock, don't talk about where you're going to eat dinner - be speaking, but only about what's about to happen.  Impress your tester by maintaining a sterile cockpit during maneuvers and keeping the boat's verbalizations pertinent.
  5. Make your life easier.  On the dock before the test, impress your tester by suggesting you reef.  A lot of the test is about judgment - if you suggest the reef - you haven't even gotten in the boat and you are already impressing your tester by showing conservative reasoning. This test is not about performance.  At no time do we gauge your velocity.  Remove power from your sail and make your life easier - reef. 
  6. When docking, start your prep checklist early.  Docking has a bunch of prep work: you need to brief your crew on your intended approach, you need to request your crew furl the jib, you let the mainsheet out all the way in a controlled fashion, ask someone to go forward to stand at the fore deck, they need to free the bow-line, then have the bow-line coiled neatly in hand, and since we frequently have newbies they should have some time to acclimate to being on the fore deck.  Do not do this prep work in a rushed fashion.  Impress your instructor with how far away you are when you begin this process.  If you are already too close, suggest tacking away and heading upwind to do these prep tasks.  Be the first one to say its time to do these prep tasks.  If your instructor is the first one to mention furling the jib, then you lose major points.  To make sure you're first to say it, start this process farther off than you think you need to. 
  7. When sailing on any given course, focus like a laser on something on land and keep that heading.  Stay on the same exact course until you or your tester verbalize otherwise (ie. "heading down", "ready to tack", etc).  A good trick is to find an object on land and keep your bow directly underneath it.  Hone in on that perfectly straight course dynamically compensating for waves, wind shifts, gusts, weight shifts in the boat, and so forth.  Regardless of what's happening around you, impress your tester by maintaining that straight course until its communicated otherwise.
  8. If a maneuver is not working, don't try and force it.  Announce before your tester does that you are canceling the maneuver.  Cite which aspect of it you believe you did incorrectly, and then ask permission to start over and do the entire maneuver over from scratch.
In football, I hear there's a move called a head-fake.  You send your head in one direction to throw off the opposing lineman, while your body goes the other.

Notice that items #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6 and #8 all involve communication and judgment.  Only #7 is strictly related to the technical aspects of sailing.  

The big head-fake with the Junior practical is that its more about communication and judgment, than sailing skill.  Virginia Luchetti, who is one of our highly respected club leaders, once told me that 90% of the Junior practical is communication and judgment.

If someone doesn't know how to do a man-over-board, I can teach them how to do it in about a half an hour.  But if the communication skills which the above items would demonstrate are not present, that's a much longer process to instill in someone.  

Its ironic that communication actually counts for more than the execution of some simple maneuvers.  Once again, I've seen people capsize numerous times and still pass the test because they were excellent at the communication and judgment items listed above.  I've also seen people fail who executed the maneuvers fine, but didn't exhibit fluid communication or conservative judgment.

MORAL OF THE STORY:  Work on your communication and fish out ways to show exemplary conservative judgment.