Sea­man­ship

The se­cret to dock­ing in tricky con­di­tions isn’t a se­cret at all.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Bob Ar­ring­ton For more ex­pert in­sight into close-quar­ters ma­neu­ver­ing, check out the AIM ma­rine group’s Boat Han­dling course at boater­suni­ver­sity.com.

The ex­per­tise you em­ploy ma­neu­ver­ing in close quar­ters has as much to do with skill as it does with proper plan­ning.

The abil­ity to han­dle a ves­sel at sea is a skill many boaters are proud to have, but noth­ing com­pares to the con­fi­dence one gains with the abil­ity to ma­neu­ver in close quar­ters. Then again, few things com­pare with the fear that comes when that con­fi­dence is lack­ing. Concerns about ma­neu­ver­ing within the con­fines of a ma­rina are very com­mon among new and even some ex­pe­ri­enced boaters.

The fear may be well founded. Ac­cord­ing to yacht insurers, boat­ing ac­ci­dents in mari­nas are a lead­ing cause of in­sur­ance claims. Yes, there are cour­ses and books avail­able to help a boater learn close-quar­ters han­dling, in­clud­ing skills like how to pivot with dual en­gines, ac­com­mo­date prop walk with a sin­gle engine, use spring lines and plan an­gles of ap­proach and de­par­ture. How­ever, learn­ing the sub­tleties of ma­neu­ver­ing the boat is only part of the so­lu­tion.

On the dock the other day, my friend Matt was ex­plain­ing the pres­ence of the deep scratch in his boat’s beau­ti­ful flag blue hull. He told me the wind and cur­rent took him side­ways right into a sailboat’s an­chor and there was noth­ing he could do. I hated to break the news to him that nei­ther the wind nor the cur­rent was his prob­lem. Like many boaters, Matt wasn’t aware of what the wind and the cur­rent were about to do to his boat when he turned down that fair­way, and with no ad­vance plan­ning for those con­di­tions things quickly went south for him. No one would say boaters plan to dam­age their boats by los­ing con­trol in a ma­rina, but you can cer­tainly say the sit­u­a­tion is in­vited by a lack of plan­ning.

To dock suc­cess­fully, es­pe­cially in an un­fa­mil­iar ma­rina, gather in­for­ma­tion and pre­pare your­self, the crew and the boat. That work is just as im­por­tant as boat han­dling skills. I’ve watched many boats en­ter the con­fines of a ma­rina with no lines or fend- ers ready, with the driver talk­ing with the ma­rina on the ra­dio try­ing to fig­ure out where they’re go­ing. Those crews waited too long to get set up. It’s best to call a ma­rina by phone 30 min­utes to an hour be­fore ar­riv­ing. This way, when you ar­rive, the ma­rina should have as­signed your boat a slip. It’s also a good idea to call up a view of the ma­rina on a phone or tablet. Tell the ma­rina op­er­a­tor you are look­ing at the lo­ca­tion and ask them to de­scribe in de­tail where you will be. This will give you and your crew a clear vis­ual im­pres­sion of the sit­u­a­tion ahead of ar­rival.

Take note if cur­rents are present in the ma­rina. Look at the ori­en­ta­tion of the ma­rina to the di­rec­tion of the wind. Now, in your mind and with your crew, go through what the wind and cur­rent will do to the boat when it en­ters the ma­rina and ma­neu­vers into po­si­tion. You will now be more pre­pared upon en­ter­ing the ma­rina to keep clear of other boats and struc­tures. Also ask whether your dock is float­ing or fixed, and if you will be in a slip or at side tie along a T-head or sea­wall; this in­for­ma­tion will en­able you to have lines and fend­ers pre­pared in ad­vance. The crew should now dis­cuss the ap­proach in de­tail, the turns and the ex­act steps of the dock­ing process. By know­ing the lo­ca­tion and style of berth, along with wind and cur­rent, the crew will know which line to se­cure first to safely stop or hold the boat.

Know­ing how to pivot and ma­neu­ver your boat at slow speeds is im­por­tant for suc­cess­ful dock­ing, but it’s also crit­i­cal to gather nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion about the lo­ca­tion, share it with the crew and then pre­pare the boat ac­cord­ingly. That process shows true sea­man­ship.

Don’t let a fear of dock­ing and boat han­dling keep you chained to the slip.

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