Updating The Complete Day Skipper

We have just published the sixth edition of The Complete Day Skipper, the essential guide to everything you need to know to pass your Day Skipper. Tom Cunliffe reflects on 20 years of the book’s development.

When I was teaching sailing, my favourite course was Day Skipper. This was because it cut straight to the chase and delivered the basics of the job – not much in the way of frills, and a solid grounding from which students could move forward at their own pace and in their own way. By the end of the week, folks were in a position to take charge of a modest yacht on daytime passages of a tide or so’s duration. If you can do that, the rest is just a matter of time and application.


Writing The Complete Day Skipper was therefore a pleasure for me. I recalled so many excellent passages with my crews; the fun, the minor dramas and, above all, the deep satisfaction. Adlard Coles and I published the first edition of the book before  electronics came of age to change how we tackle navigation for ever.

In my early days instructing on the water, my colleagues and I even set precedents for how to teach this new world responsibly. I well remember a conversation with Mel Bartlett, who wrote the RYA Manual of Navigation. We were discussing how we were going to deal with waypoints. These were a novel concept, right down to what symbols we should use to indicate them on paper charts. The wheel has turned some more since then and most of us have moved on into electronic chart plotters. It’s all a world away from parallel rulers and sharp 2B pencils, yet these classic stand-bys are by no means redundant. Maintaining the book in line with such earth-moving changes has kept me on my toes.

When The Complete Day Skipper first hit the shelves in 2002, roller headsails were becoming established on some cruising yachts, but they were certainly not ‘standard issue’. Hoisting, stowing and changing jibs and genoas was very much part of a skipper’s armoury of skills. Today, roller genoas are found on almost every boat the world over. They make life a lot simpler, although not always better. Operating them does, however, require a new set of skills, so, once again, the book was brought into line with general practice.

Keeping the engine available when it was needed was, at one time, a sort of optional add-on to a Day Skipper course. Now, we all understand that modern diesels are an integral part of every sailor’s skill library. The days of dodgy auxiliary engines are long gone – or they should be – and today’s units can be almost unbelievably reliable given sensible care and attention. And, if they stop, a minimum of basic training can give them a fighting chance of starting again. All that is covered in recent editions, as well it should be.

The list of changes brought about by natural progress is new with each re-birth, but some things never alter. Wind, sea state, tide rips and questions such as, ‘what do I do when I enter a strange harbour for the first time?’ have not altered since Noah’s day, nor are they likely to any time soon. I love writing about these things, and I particularly appreciate the way Bloomsbury, who are now Adlard Coles’ parent company, have pushed the boat out on quality production for my books. It makes all the difference for a reader to hold something of obvious value. I recall donkey’s years ago having to dig in my toes for colour pictures. With that battle astern, our little team has never looked back.

Enjoy the book, look forward to graduating to The Complete Yachtmaster, The Complete Ocean Skipper and, if you fancy broadening your outlook and discovering some useful  ‘how-to’ snippets, visit my website (www.tomcunliffe.com) and my YouTube channel at Tom Cunliffe Yachts and Yarns.


About Tom

Tom Cunliffe read Law at university before running away to sea. After heading up a sailing school in the South of France, he has served before the mast in small sailing ships, skippered yachts for private owners, raced offshore and worked at sea as mate on a coasting merchant vessel. He is an RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Instructor Examiner and is a consultant for the governing body of sailing in the United States.

He has cruised his own yachts with family and friends to destinations as diverse as Brazil, Greenland, the Caribbean and Communist Russia. His many books include two ‘Best Book of the Sea’ award winners.

In recent years he has presented Discovery Channel’s ever-popular series Boatyard, and BBC TV’s Boats that Built Britain. He sails his 45-foot cutter all summer long with his wife before returning to the New Forest where he keeps a large motorcycle, a 1949 Bentley, and cultivates roses.


You can buy the new edition of The Complete Day Skipper from all good bookshops and chandleries (£25, ISBN 978-1-4729-7323-8). Alternatively you can buy it direct from us and enjoy a 10% discount off RRP: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-complete-day-skipper-9781472973238/