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The Hardest Questions on the ASA 103 Exam

· sailing,ASA103

The 103 ASA exam is considerably harder than the 101, but focusing on the right topics will increase the likelihood of you passing. Read on to find out what are some of the hardest questions and topics on the exam (according to our readers).


When do you display nav lights?

Nav lights should be used in low visibility conditions and at night while underway.

Should you have your stern light on while under way?

 Yes, your stern light (the white light at the stern of your boat) should be on whether you are sailing or motoring. If your boat is under 65 feet, then the your stern light can be on the mast.


Should you have a masthead light  (a white light in the front of the boat) while underway? 

Your masthead light should be on only if you are motoring.  This allows other boats around you to differentiate between under sail vs. under power boats.


What sound signals should you use when navigating in low visibility?

While under sail in low visibility conditions, you should use your air horn to signal your position at least once every 2 minutes by doing one long blast followed by two short ones. Think blaassssst- blast - blast.

If motoring, you should sound one prolonged blast every two minutes or less. Think blassssst. 


Which VHF channel would you use to call for help?

Channel 16 is the channel used to signal distress and or to communicate any safety related broadcast. Channel 16 is also used to "call" other vessels, however once contact has been established you must switch to a different channel to continue on your conversation.


What are the different high-priority calls and when should you use them?

Urgent radio transmissions, in order of severity, include "Mayday", "Pan Pan", and "Securité". Use Mayday and Pan Pan if you are in trouble and need help. Mayday shoud only be used if there is an imminent life threat, such as your ship taking water. Use Securité to broadcast safety warnings, such a hazard to navigation.


How do you treat a person with hypothermia?

The way the test is written will try to trick you into believing that giving alcohol is a good idea, however this is incorrect. If someone onboard is hypothermic, DO NOT give them alcohol and DO NOT rub their limbs to warm them up. If the person is conscious, you should offer them some hot liquid. Other steps you should take is to remove wet clothing, wrap them in something warm like a blanket, and keep their head covered if you can. Read our post How To Avoid & Treat Hypothermia to learn more.


What should you do with oily bilge water?

Do not pump oily bilge water overboard. Instead, use oil absorbent sheets (or absorbent socks / pillows for bigger spills) to soak up the oily water. Dispose of these sheets / pads legally, as some states consider these to be hazardous waa


What kind of flag is this?

broken image

Answer: a diving flag


What kind of line should you use for towing, and where do you attach it?

It is recommended that you use a bridle when towing, which is two lines that form a Y.  You'll want to use long and strong lines — the anchor rode is well suited for this. A good place to attach the line if you are the boat doing the towing are your primary winches. You could also tie the line to the base of the mast, which is also strong. Avoid towing the disable boat backwards (stern first) as that can damage the rudder.  Stay away from the line while under tension. The force of a line under tow that snaps is strong enough to break your legs.


Studying for the 103 exam? Get access to our ASA 103 Study Guide to learn the answers to all these questions and more! Our online review platform will quiz you on different topics at the optimal interval to make sure you won't forget everything you need to know to pass your 103 exam.


What questions did you find difficult? Shoot us an email at to let us know, or leave a comment below!