Skipper’s Tips #2 – Close-quarters manoeuvring

The mainstay of my job as an instructor, if you can actually call it work, has always been practical boat handling.  This has to be the most daunting part of boat ownership, especially if you are stood at the controls of your new boat for the first time or indeed, if you haven’t even got the boat yet and you’re sat in front of a salesman signing on the dotted line thinking, ‘Am I going to be able to drive this boat…?’

Rest easily.  All you have to do is imagine that you are pushing a full shopping trolley around the aisles of a supermarket, and the floor is constructed of ice!

Actually, for sailing yachts this really doesn’t apply, as your keel will enable you to point your bow exactly where you want it to go. For a sailing yacht the biggest problem is going backwards.   As you pick up speed the rudder will come under huge pressure and if you turn it, even slightly, the force of the water passing across it can snatch it out of your hand and send it hard to one side or the other. Beware of going backwards too quickly!  The other problem area for sailing yachts is prop-walk or prop-wash as it’s sometimes called.  We’ll look at this in another one of my tips ‘Turning on the spot’ when we consider turning in close proximity to other boats.

Now, let’s get back to considering motor yachts.  Apart from the caveats listed below, the best piece of advice I can give to you is to proceed as slowly as possible, without losing steerage; give yourself plenty of time to work things out and go in straight lines.  In other words, if you have to go around bends or corners STOP, turn on the spot and then continue in a straight line.

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Close-quarters manoeuvring

  • Before you untie the lines work out what the wind and tide are doing; you really don’t need to be caught off guard at this point
  • Every channel has a safe side and a danger side.  Keep to the safe side; you will need to establish which of the two forces is having the most effect on you and then move towards the side of the channel that force is coming from
  • Before entering a narrow channel, plan how you will turn around and get back out
  • Keep your speed down when manoeuvring in tight spaces but don’t spend too much time in neutral as the elements will start to drift you towards your danger side
  • If you feel it is impossible to avoid hitting another boat, STOP and then come gently alongside the other vessel
  • Remember, your boat has a bow and a stern; if your bow goes to starboard, your stern will go to port (every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction)

The key to successful close-quarters manoeuvring, is to be aware of what the tide and wind are doing so that you can utilise the effect of the wind and tide rather than trying to fight it.  By manoeuvring into wind or into tide, either bow first or stern first, you will be able to turn your boat without having to go any great distance forwards or backwards.  This will keep the speed of the manoeuvre to a minimum and allow you to stay in control.  Importantly, if you turn your stern to the wind it will make it easier to maintain a stationary position whilst your crew prepare fenders and lines than it would if you turn your bow into the wind.  This also applies to yachts but to a lesser extent.

However, if your best efforts suddenly go to pot and coming into contact with another boat is unavoidable, STOP!  Use both engines, either ahead or astern, whichever is appropriate, to stop yourself dead in the water and in a straight line.  Touching another boat with your fenders deployed is only the same as rafting up and should do minimal, if any damage.

Whereas, trying to drive out of a sticky situation can often lead to a glancing blow which can potentially do a lot of damage!

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

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