Boat Handling, How To Handle a Boat in a Marina or Other Tight Situation

Handling a boat under motor in a tight situation == usually in a marina or when undergoing a test for a qualification == can be a daunting and embarrassing experience, especially for the novice.

When you see somebody try to leave a crowded marina or anchorage you will soon be able to tell whether they have mastered the art.

The novice backs and fills, blocking the fairway, and more often than not has to make a crewman scamper forward to push off from a pylon or, worse still, another boat. The trained sailor will back out, then swing to the heading wanted in one swift movement, the boat looking as though it is pivoting on its stern.

It is not only at close quarters that this skill is useful to have. When towing a boat by the alongside method, the ability to move through crowded moorings or alongside a jetty is paramount. There is no difficulty in the open sea as you have all the space in the world to play with.

The technique I have mentioned above is called prop walk or the paddle wheel effect.

Determine whether your boat has a right-handed or left-handed propeller

Before utilising prop walk you need to know whether your boat has a right-handed or left-handed propeller. The former, viewed from astern, would rotate clockwise and is more common.

Tie your boat alongside a wharf or jetty. Make sure it is secure with bow and stern lines and fore and aft springs. Keep the helm amidships, change gear to reverse and give it a sharp burst on the accelerator. If the stern is kicked to port, you have a right-handed propeller. You can check this by looking at the churned up water under the boat.

If your boat's stern should kick to starboard when in reverse you will know that you're one of a very small group of people who must make your turn to port to take advantage of prop walk.

Practise using prop walk

Let's practise this feature of boat handling in a good clear space. These instructions are for the more common propeller.

  1. Bring the boat to a stop head to wind.
  2. Start turning to starboard by giving the boat a short burst in forward gear with the helm hard over, but not so hard that the rudder stalls. Keep the helm there throughout the rest of the turn.
  3. As the boat starts to swing to starboard, put the engine into neutral.
  4. Now give the engine a burst in reverse gear. The boat will start to swing harder.
  5. As it starts to move astern, go to neutral again until the propeller stops.
  6. Give another burst of power forward, keeping the helm over. The rate of turn will accelerate because the last manoeuvre deflects water over the rudder.
  7. Keep up these alternating bursts until the vessel is pointing in the direction you need.

You will soon learn to counteract the swing just before you come on to the required heading. When you first do this in a crowded anchorage or marina you will be immediately noticed as a competent skipper. In fact, one of the many tests a would-be yachtmaster has to undergo is to turn a yacht heading directly into the wind 180° so that it is stern to the wind, in its own length. This manoeuvre is known as a pivot turn.

One final word of warning. Even if your own boat has a right-handed propeller, you should be aware that some others don't. You may find yourself asked to helm one and wonder why the boat doesn't turn 'properly' despite your years of practice and experience. Now you will know what to do.

Copyright © 2008 Bevanda Pty Ltd

Learn more about entering and leaving a marina in The Boating Bible Manual of Seamanship,

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jim Murrant
Boat Handling
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