Reefing a sail is employed when a ship’s exposure to heavy winds needs to be controlled. Reefing a mainsail allows for improved performance and stability in rough weather. The sail’s reef points are the sturdy ties that secure the unused portion of the sail material to the boom. These reef points increase helm visibility and prevent the foot of the sail from flopping about uncontrollably. Skilled sailors rely on a ship’s reefing system to ensure a controlled and safe sail no matter the conditions.
Appropriately named, Reef Points is also the title given to the official midshipmen handbook of the United States Naval Academy (USNA). Along with uniforms and other gear issued to every midshipman on Induction Day, plebes are also given their year’s copy of Reef Points. Within the small text’s blue cover is a comprehensive introduction to everything a plebe needs to know for smooth sailing during their entry into military life and their Plebe Year.
Reading, learning, and, yes, even memorizing the contents of 225 pages isn’t a simple task, but it is one every Plebe must accomplish. In thorough detail, Reef Points documents thousands of facts concerning both USNA and Navy missions, histories, and traditions. The handbook is so vital to academy life and training that it must be on a Plebe’s person anytime they are outside of their room.
Plebes will use what precious little free time they have to spare in the constructive pursuit of committing Reef Points to memory. Easy facts, such as the date of the Army-Navy game, to the key differences between guided-missile cruisers and destroyers, must be quickly recalled when the question is posed. And when asked how long they have been in the Navy, every Midshipman shall reply with an identical and timely response beginning with, “All me bloomin’ life, Ma’am/Sir. My mother was a mermaid, my father was King Neptune.”
The saying about “drinking from a firehose” is an apt analogy. Many plebes have little exposure to military life prior to Plebe Summer and an incredible volume of information must be absorbed quickly prior to the start of the academic year. The monumental exercise of learning Reef Points inside and out, backward and forward, provides plebes with not just the skill of rote memorization but that lessons learned throughout the process are subtle yet important.
Training for proficient time management is a must. Downtime from class or drilling is time that can be spent learning. When the limits of what can be accomplished in the time allowed are tested, progression occurs. In a similar vein, midshipmen must hone their ability to recall information while under pressure. This skill becomes especially critical once midshipmen move on to serve in the Fleet. Naval Officers will be called upon to have a thorough knowledge of many interrelated details to issue appropriate and reasoned commands, particularly when the stakes are high.
And finally, Reef Points provides midshipmen with a sense of community and teamwork. Reef Points illustrates that they are a part of the same proud Naval history described within the pages of the handbook. Plebes enter this grand institution learning and growing together in the same tradition as the generations who preceded them and as those who will follow.
Parents of midshipmen interested in understanding more about what their midshipmen are learning, Naval vocabulary, or who would like to learn more about USNA day-to-day life, history, and traditions may purchase their own copy of Reef Points from Navyonline.com. 100% of the proceeds from these purchases go back to support the Brigade of Midshipmen.