Tag Archives: boat docking

Elements of Close Quarters Maneuvers for all boats part 4 of 7

Well, here we are again. Welcome to part 4 of 7 in the series Elements of Close Quarters Maneuvering.

So far, we have discussed analyzing wind and current prior to approaching the slip, the transmission position and why neutral is our friend, as well as the throttle and its horrible ability to take us to the insurance claim. Today, we will look at our general direction and why we need to determine our immediate goal of direction.

Remind me, what is Advance and Transfer?

If you recall, I introduced the notion of advance and transfer in our last conversation about close quarters maneuvering. As a review, advance is the boat continued forward progress in it’s original direction as it progresses through a turn, and transfer is the distance the boat travels laterally until it is established on it’s new course.

Generally, when we are executing a back and fill turn (standing turn to sailors) we want to minimize both advance and transfer. In other words, we would like to pivot the boat in place without making any forward, reverse, or lateral progress. In a no current no wind scenario we would progress down the fairway, center the pivot point of our boat, rotate, and then pull into the slip. Yeah, that happens in Disneyland, but rarely in our world.

In the event that there is wind or current impacting us as we are trying to get into our slip, and when isn’t there, we can use advance and transfer to our advantage. There are times when it is advantageous to proceed in a relatively straight line as the boat is rotating to its position to maneuver into the slip. This is particularly true if we want to enter the slip stern first.

Step-by-step Application Example

Let’s take a look at an example. With the boat proceeding forward, the wind on its stern, and the slip to port the best option may be to start rotating the bow to starboard about a half boat length prior to arriving at the first outboard piling of the slip. This piling will ultimately be the starboard bow piling.

As the boat proceeds forward put the transmission into reverse at idle speed and move the helm to full starboard. By rotating the helm to full starboard we can accomplish two things. First, if we need to create additional rotation we are ready; simply move into the second step of a back and fill turn (see part three of this series to learn more about back and fill turns). Second, if we need to “squirt” the stern to port a little to clear the piling, that can be accomplished by applying forward throttle for a very short duration (AND I DO MEAN VERY SHORT, like a quarter of a second) and returning to reverse idle; the boat’s stern will lunge to port six inches to a foot, and move forward just a few inches.

With the transmission in reverse and the throttle at or near idle forward progress, advance, will continue and prop walk will start to drag the stern to port. Add and remove throttle as necessary to increase or decrease the rate of rotation due to prop walk. The goal is to have the stern barely clear the first piling.

As soon as the stern clears the piling, increase power slightly to stop all the boat’s forward motion and start to move in reverse.

With the boat now making way in reverse, turn the helm to port to start steering the boat into the slip. The bow may not swing fully inline with the slip. If this is the case, allow the boat to come to rest on the leeward outside pile. Once gentle contact is made, by shifting back to reverse and adding a little power prop walk will again come into play and the boat will pivot on the pile. This pivoting will cause no damage to the boat and as the pivot is complete by reducing power the pile will push the boat to windward and the boat will be clear of the pivot pile and will travel back into the slip. With proper crew placement and fender patrol (crew carrying a fender and placing it between the boat and the piling) this maneuver can be performed without using spring lines. If there is no piling present the pivot can be accomplished on the corner of the dock. Care should be taken to assure a fender is lowered into place if the dock corner is not padded.

In the example above we utilized advance to our advantage and minimized transfer, but what if we had the slip on our starboard side. What then? Well, now we have a problem. We do not have the ability to utilize prop walk in this case. And, if we try to back down the fairway, the wind now on the bow, so that we can use prop walk, the bow will be blown around by the wind.

Furthermore, if the finger pier is on the upwind side of the slip we have an even more complicated entry. This entry; starboard side with wind blowing down the fairway, off the finger pier; is the most difficult slip entry there is. Our choices here are very limited. You know, some times all of the options suck and this may be one of those times.

Probably our best option, if we have good knowledgeable crew, would be to warp the boat into the slip, but we haven’t talked about warping yet so let’s forget that option.

Option # 1

Bow first. I like this choice because it allows us to make progress into the wind, stern first. Here’s how I would do it. Proceed down the fairway as in example one except favor the starboard side. As the boat reaches the windward outer pile, shift into reverse with a little throttle. Doing this will stop forward motion (advance) and start prop-walk.

As the stern of the boat starts to rotate to port the boat will start to move backward. This backward motion will hold the boat on station against the wind while it is rotating. When the maximum rotation has been achieved rotate the rudder to full starboard as you shift into neutral, pause briefly, and finally shift to forward with significant throttle. It is critical that the significant throttle be maintain only for a brief period of time. We want to lunge the bow to starboard, not move the boat forward (maximize transfer and minimize advance.)

When the lunge is complete return the throttle to idle or near idle. This allows the boat to progress forward into the slip. At the same time bring the helm to a slightly starboard position to allow the boat to make progress toward the finger pier where crew can step off making fast an aft spring-line from mid-ship.

As the crew step off, turn the helm away from the dock. With the aft spring-line made, continue to steer away from the dock in forward idle. Prop-wash will bring the entire boat along side the finger pier where crew can properly secure her.

Option # 2:

Stern first: This maneuver requires that the boat enter the slip in reverse utilizing significant power. It goes against everything we have spoken about so far in this series. You should only do this if you are on a first name basis with your insurance adjuster.

In this method the boat is brought down the fairway bow first favoring the starboard side. Continue past the slip two or three boat lengths. Shift to reverse with a little throttle. The goal here is to get water flowing past the rudder as soon as possible to overcome the prop-walk. With this slight throttle the boat will start making reverse way into the wind. While maintaining the reverse way steer into the slip.

The hazard with this method is obviously the considerable amount of way the boat is making. There is a lot of momentum driving us into the slip and toward the finger pier. There has to be to push against the wind. You MUST be ready at any moment to shift to neutral, set the helm to whatever position you deem necessary, and then shift to forward to stop all of the unwanted momentum the boat has developed.

This is really risky and should only be considered as a last resort. You know, there’s always another option, it just may be inconvenient. Be inconvenienced, this method is just not worth the risk.   It will turn you from a hero to a zero in about three seconds. In fact, forget you read about it.

Option # 3:

Call the dock-master and ask for another slip assignment: Keep in mind that you only look like an a#%hole when you hit the dock. Your insurance company, and marina neighbors are counting on you to know your limits. If you’re not sure of them, now is not the time to find them. Simply call the dock-master and explain the situation and ask for another slip with a less challenging entry. He will be happy to help.

Option # 4:

Ask the dock-master for multiple hands to receive lines: With the land-side help in place proceed down the fairway favoring the port side. Pass the slip and execute a back and fill turn (standing turn to you sailors). Have crew ready on the port side of the boat with dock-lines; stern, mid-ship, and bow; in hand, coiled and ready to throw. Execute prop walk to bring the stern into the slip. The bow will blow downwind. The dock-hand handling the bow-line will wrap the it around the outermost pile or cleat and be able to control the bow with that line as the boat reverses into the slip.

Me, I like option #1, 3, and 4. Option #2 sucks, period. Practice makes perfect and if you never push against your limits they never will expand. Just remember, it’s one thing to push, and quite another to steamroll. Don’t steamroll!

I always look for the hard way to enter a slip. I do that so that when it really is a tough entry it won’t seem that bad to me. In other words, I practice all the time. So should you. Till next time, I’ll see you On the Water…With Captain Frank

Elements of Close Quarters Maneuvering, Part two

In this, the second article in the series on close quarters maneuvering, we will look at the shifter and its role in maneuvering the boat.

Neutral is the preferred gear

As mentioned in article one, 99 percent of the time our primary transmission position is always neutral. How we use the transmission depends on what kind of propulsion system our boat has and the adequacy of the rudder’s size, if there is a rudder at all.

There are two primary propulsion systems used in boats today, fixed and directed. Fixed thrust systems have the propeller in a fixed position. That is, the propeller is rotated on a shaft that is in a fixed position parallel to the centerline of the boat.

The boat relies on a rudder, usually mounted directly behind the propeller, which is turned via the helm. As the rudder passes through the water the water is deflected in the direction of the trailing edge of the rudder. If the rudder is straight (parallel to the boat’s centerline) the boat goes straight. If the rudder is turned to port then the water is deflected to port moving the stern of the boat to starboard.

When the stern pushes to starboard it rotates the bow to port and the boat turns in that direction. Rudder size is critical to how effective the rudder turns the boat. The boat only turns when water flows past the rudder. More water flow…more turn. Single or twin inboard boats including sailboats use this system.

In the other propulsion system, directed thrust, the propeller is rotated from the center-line toward one side or the other. Using this system, the boat is turned by the thrust of the water being directed in a certain direction. That thrust pushes the stern in the opposite direction from which the thrust is directed and that force rotates the bow opposite and the boat turns in the direction of the bow. Single and twin outboard, single or twin stern-drive, and jet drive boats use this type of propulsion system.

The practical difference between these two systems can be summed up as follows:

Directed thrust: The boat can only be turned when the transmission is in forward or reverse. With this system the turn is accomplished by water being trust in the direction the prop is facing. If the transmission is in neutral there is no steerage. Some outboards will have a slight amount of steerage from the water flowing past the lower-unit (the part of the motor that is submerged) but this steerage is minimal. In close quarters the helm must be turn in the desired direction BEFORE the transmission is engaged.

Fixed thrust: The boat can be turned anytime there is water passing by the rudder. Therefore, the transmission position is irrelevant to steerage; however forward or reverse momentum is necessary for the boat to turn. The propeller, when rotating in forward gear throws a constant stream of water directly at the rudder. So, even when the boat is stopped, if the transmission is engaged in forward, there will be immediate steerage. We will use this to our advantage especially on single engine inboard boats. The faster the water passes by the rudder the more steering control the boat will have.

A special note about inboard sailboats

While it is true with all boats that the primary transmission position is neutral, sailboats may require the use of some throttle when maneuvering in close quarters. Sailboats by design have a lot of lateral resistance (it keeps them from blowing sideways as they move forward). For more on this see my article ‘Blowin in the wind, how the wind impacts your boat’.

They are also equipped with relatively small engines, to reduce the weight and because it takes only a little power to move a sailboat, and small propellers to reduce the drag and because they have small engines. All of these things are admirable and desirable traits of sailboats.

They enhance the sailing performance. But they SUCK for close quarters maneuvering. Therefore, it may be necessary to add a little bit of throttle to get the same results as with other boats.

 States of momentum

Boats are always in one of three states of momentum. They are building momentum, exhausting momentum, or have no momentum. Furthermore, we can exhaust the boat’s momentum in two ways, actively or passively.

When done actively, a manipulation of the boat’s controls is done, such as moving the shifter from forward to reverse, or turning the helm from starboard to port, or a combination of both. Passively exhausting the momentum is accomplished by using natural means.

For example, if the boat is in forward gear and then shifted to neutral, the drag of the hull in the water will dissipate the forward momentum. Like wise, if the boat is yawing (twisting) to starboard in forward, and the transmission is shifted to neutral the twisting momentum will be exhausted by the required force to move the boat through the water. Got it?

In close quarters maneuvering we really like to passively exhaust the boat’s momentum. The best way to assure that is to always keep the boat needing more momentum, never less. When maneuvering in close quarters, we accomplish that by keeping the boat in neutral most of the time and when in gear, at idle speed. Yes I know that’s not what you’ve witnessed when on the docks or observed when on boats, but it should be.

The slower the approach the better

When approaching a slip the boat should be in neutral, only adding forward or reverse to maintain steerage. For directed thrust boats that means shift into gear to steer and then shift back to neutral. At the slip, as the back and fill turn is made, between each step, pause in neutral and let the momentum nearly exhaust itself before shifting to the other gear. Make sure the helm is turned prior to engaging the transmission to minimize unwanted forward or reverse momentum and maximize the yaw (twisting, for the last time.)

When approaching a dock, side-to (like coming along side a fuel dock), the boat should be under steady power only while a considerable distance from the dock. As the boat approaches from either a thirty-degree angle shallow approach or ninety degree angle steep approach the boat should be in neutral. The goal is to be able to add forward as needed to keep control when close to the dock. If the boat is moving at idle speed the whole way we will build far too much forward momentum and have to exhaust it actively, and that can have unpredictable results.

For example, we are approaching the dock on a shallow approach for a port side-to tie up. All is great except that we are moving to fast because we stayed in idle forward on the approach. We are going to overshoot our target spot. So, what do we do? We add reverse as necessary to stop the boat. YEAH! But the prop walk that we forgot about now slams the stern of the boat into the dock pilings and bends the stern pulpit or breaks the rub-rail. BOO! Had we been in the proper mode of always needing to add more momentum we would not have overshot, would not have needed to add reverse with power, and been able to charter from the company again. Golf anyone?

When executing a steep angle approach to the dock minimal momentum is critical. I have two things to say here. One, never approach the dock faster than you are willing to hit it, and two, you don’t look like an a*&hole until you hit the dock. Slow and steady wins the race. When we are about five feet from the dock we want to shift into reverse and start our rotation. How we rotate is fodder for another article and will be coming soon, but for now we need to rotate. This will be accomplished by forward motion nearly stopping and sideways momentum (yaw) starting. Again, neutral is the gear to be in on this approach. Start the rotation by aiming the gun to which ever side you want to be next to the dock and clutching into reverse idle speed, FOR THREE SECONDS. Now, back to neutral and let the boat’s yawing momentum carry the boat to the dock. Drop the lines onto the pilings, hand out business cards, and make some beer money teaching others to do the same.

There are times in life that you want momentum. Close quarter on a boat isn’t one of them. Go practice, or better yet give me a call and we can work on it together. But for now, I’ve got to run; I hear there’s a boat for sale with only some broken rub-rail and scratches. Maybe I can get it cheap.

See you soon, On the Water…With Captain Frank