Close quarters manoeuvring (March issue)

We asked for your tips on close quarters manoeuvring and coming alongside, as well as the best advice on the subject you've ever had.

We asked for your tips on close quarters manoeuvring and coming alongside, as well as the best advice on the subject you’ve ever had.

Here’s what you said…

Brian Eason writes:

Use The Force Lad!

Best bit of maneuvering advice I’ve ever had!? Yoda, or dad as I know him, explained the strange forces which move a boat where you don’t want it to go.

“You steer a boat by moving the back about”, he continued in his wisdom. At this point the cat yawned and walked slowly towards the river.

“So if you can get the bow where you want it, the only thing that can shift it is the wind and the tide – and you can even use them to help you!”

“Get a line ashore upwind or up tide and the “force” will bring you alongside; you can also use your engines to help”.

He then went on to explain some useful tips to gauge strength and direction of tide and wind. He pointed to a Mallard paddling like a fiddlers elbow and getting nowhere, and the strange little flag that the previous owner had put on the pointy bit of our new boat. I soon got the point.

Most power boats are the opposite of an iceberg having, very little in the water and comparatively lots of air draft out of it. They are more like a sailboat at slow speeds than we would like to admit and are liable to be blown about by the wind. Usually our speedy vessels also have aft cockpits with narrow deck spaces, making bow warps real difficult to get at.

Mooring is a doddle if you have a large crew with heels fitted with huge tensile steel springs, capable of leaping tall buildings… Well, you get the picture.

Unfortunately I have a Princess 33 and my single crew is prone to singing to herself and make a beeline for the heads when the going gets tricky.

Therefore I try to observe the following;

Yoda’s Tips

* Look where the wind is blowing from and where the tide is flowing from. You will be trying to keep the bow pointing into the flow or wind, whichever is stronger, until the last minute(ie let it help you).

* Plan your manoeuvre and prepare your plan when you have lots of space. Give yourself enough time and brief your crew if you have any.

* If single handed, bring the bow warp back to the cockpit on the side you plan to moor to.

* Approach the mooring bow into the tide (or wind if no tide).

* Have a boathook to hand.

* Don’t be too proud to throw the line to a helper on shore.

* Make fast the uptide warp first, take a spring to the centre cleat, which helps with handling. Hold the stern in with your boathook or allow the crew to, if they have surfaced. (Remember you can work the motor against the bow line if the wind is offshore and beating the effects of the tide to bring the stern in).

* Use the throttle sparingly and manoeuvre slowly (less damage all-round).

* Check you are in neutral when you think you are!

* No lines over the stern.

* Don’t turn the engines off until you are sure you won’t need them.


* Most important, have a beer to celebrate another successful manoeuvre.

May the force be with you…

Chris Wood writes:

We used to berth at RK Marine on the Hamble. We put up with the “close encounters” syndrome and strong tides for 18 months. In these conditions, the only berthing method that we felt safe with was to use the boat hook. I know it’s not how we were taught, but if it is safe and it works, our motto is do it!

We don’t go anywhere without our trusted boat hook. It’s like an insurance policy. When we are in a tight squeeze, as soon as we approach the pontoon I reach out for a cleat (preferably the centre one), grab it and hold us midships until Dave steps off the stern to secure us.

It’s our trade mark! Why make things difficult?

The Eades family writes:

On close quarters work, we tried several “sea schools” until we found the “grand master”!!

He is Mike Banbury of Top Deck in Hythe. He saved our boating from humiliating disaster, with some slightly counter-intuitive skills. We can now berth in Hythe (which is tighter than a tight thing) with no dents nor dings and get through the lock with just one crew on deck, no panic, no bluster!

Ivan Fomin writes:

Tips for beginners…

You don’t need to have twin engines or bow thruster to be able to carry out close manoeuvres. Most people will be most concerned when coming alongside a mooring or another boat, or when entering a lock.

Too high speed can be a problem, so take your time. So long as you are moving through the water you have some control. You don’t need to be moving relative to the land!

Remember a boat steers from the stern (back) unlike a car.

Check which way the current is flowing. Always approach a manoeuvre heading into the stream.

Check the wind direction (have a look out for someone else’s ensign or burgee, or look for flags or trees). The effect of wind at slow speed can be quite disconcerting particularly in a small boat.

When approaching a lock, watch out for odd currents from the lock emptying or from a related weir stream. You may need to steer a very strange course for a short distance to head towards your target.

Practice both holding the boat still and ‘crabbing’ sideways using the current when you have some room in the water on your own. These are nice little exercises when you are bimbling about with no particular place to go, and will improve your skills without an audience!

What’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given on the subject? Like all good things, take your time and practice!

Keith Hope-Lang writes:

Best advice I was given was to fit and use a midships cleat. Hang several fenders from midships. Deckhand stands at midship cleat with warp already attached. Helmsman’s task is to spot bollard on jetty and bring midships cleat to right opposite the bollard. Deckhand concentrates on securing to the one bollard, probably by just swinging loop around bollard and making fast aboard. Boat is going nowhere when secured amidships. Not enough slack for bow or stern to swing in and hit jetty. Time enough for helmsman and deckhand to secure bow, stern and springs in their own time.

Tim Bristow writes:

‘Don’t panic and let the wind make you ‘Go with the flow’!

Ian Simmonds writes:

I was always taught to slow right down well before reaching the mooring and then manoeuvre at minimum speed. Slow is best!

Michael Knight writes:

We have been running out Sealine 290 since 1990. Two things three things that come to mind are:

1 Get on an RYA course. We were very lucky to have had Roger Seymore as our instructor.

2 Approach against the tide. If going to a marina finger berth such as at Woolverstone on the Orwell refuse a ‘down tide’ berth. It is rarely possible to use a line to an adjacent pontoon and drop down on it as recommended by the experts.

Jeff Gatcum writes:

On close quarter manoeuvering, the three most important factors to remember/take into account are, know what the tide is doing, know which way the wind is blowing, and (assuming you have plenty of fenders out) do it slowly(!), but not too slow as to lose steerage.

Andrew Fanner writes:

Best advice I have ever been given is “Go slow, look like a pro, go quick and look like a, well you find a rhyming word :-)”

Otherwise, and this relates especially to those on a single shaft, it really matters to know which way your stern kicks in reverse and learning how to use this to advantage. If there is any form of current then put your bows into it.

Chris Barnard writes:

When instructing on this subject (I’m not an official instructor ) the points I highlight are:

Preparation: make sure your crew know what you are trying to do and have warps and fenders rigged in plenty of time.

Elements: check on the wind direction and force, and any flow in the water and try to use such elements to assist you. Whatever you do don’t ignore or try to fight them. You will lose!

Speed: as little as possible. Take your time. Be constantly aware of what your boat is telling you. If you approach the job slowly and patiently any cock-ups need not be serious.

One thing is absolutely positive, if you carry out a tricky manoeuvre with so much skill you even amaze yourself not a single person will be watching, but if you make a complete pig’s ear of it the world and his wife will be your witness!

Ian Dunsire writes:

Best advice is to plan carefully to avoid surprises – look at what the tide is doing and what direction the ensign is pointing and then plan the direction and angle of approach accordingly.

I’ve only ever driven twin-prop boats and was taught to centre the steering and just use throttle inputs to control speed and direction. Very rarely is it necessary to use more than tickover revs to achieve the desired results although you should always be prepared to use a little extra power if required (e.g. in strong crosswinds and/or tides). My latest boat has a bowthruster which helps at close quarters but I try not to rely on it too much. I cringe when I see boaters arriving at marinas too fast, clearly unprepared (e.g. no fenders!) whilst using bags of throttle, bowthruster and steering – it’s not a pretty sight and can be very expensive.

Gary Matthews writes:

I went from a 16ft Fletcher to a single engine 26ft Chaparral cruiser and then to a 30ft twin engine Chaparral cruiser. Each time I had hands on training by the dealer, and my one piece of advice would be to practice manoeuvres when the marina is quiet and do everything slowly. We see most accidents caused by people’s violent use of the throttles. I was taught that if it does go wrong (and it will), don’t panic, use gentle and smooth throttle application and plenty of fenders.

In Pwllheli marina I have always found the fuel pontoon with its rubber edges a good safe place to practice, out of hours.

Brian Lowen writes:

When I was taking my Powerboat Level 2 course I found the most helpful part was trying to turn the boat 360 degrees within its own length, using forward and reverse gears. If you can manage this then coming alongside can be much easier.

John Miller writes:

I can only pass on the best instruction I received in naval training in the 60’s, and it still applies today. If your boat is going where you want it to go, no matter how slow, don’t argue with it. Over and over again I have seen good approaches ruined by impatience. I know from long experience that the hardest thing to do in close quarters manoeuvring is nothing, but not to touch throttles or wheel can often be the best course of action.

Tony Adams writes:

The best piece of advice I’ve been given was during my Powerboat Level 2 carried out on my Mariah 238.

When close quarters manoevering always wait for a few seconds after using the throttle. This gives time to see what impact your last input has had and also helps you to do things more slowly.

Paul Gibbs writes:

I do quite a lot of boating solo on the River Thames in a 29ft motor boat (equipped with an outdrive). This means negotiating numerous crowded locks, often full of hire boats with crews of varying degrees of inexperience. My tips and methods are:

1. I have bow and stern lines of different colours to avoid confusion when tying up under pressure in a lock. I have two pairs, one rigged to port and the other to starboard. These lines are normally both brought to hooks next to the helm position, and coiled ready for action.

2. I always have a plan in my mind before approaching a mooring, so that I know what I intend to do, where to turn, which bollard to tie up to, and so on. Of course, circumstances often change, especially in locks, but the plan gives a calmer state of mind, at least initially!

3. Note the wind direction by observing flags, and the direction of current by looking at the flow around buoys or piles.

4. Approach at about half the speed you first think of, and always against the tide or current to reduce the speed relative to the mooring. A slow approach gives time to correct mistakes.

5. Before setting out, remove as much canvas from the covers as possible to reduce the influence of the wind on the boat.

6. Finally, once alongside my home berth, and being impatient, I have bow, stern lines and springs made up with bowlines at each end and to the correct length to hold the boat in position. This saves time adjusting the lines each time I moor.

Richard Worrall writes:

The best advice I have ever been given:

“In a shaftdrive boat keep your hands off the wheel and let the engines do the work.” I centralise the wheel when approaching the marina and only resort to use of the wheel in extreme conditions.

It is also a good idea to practice berthing without using the bow thruster. When it fails (as it probably will at some point) you will not be taken by surprise.

David Scott-Miller writes:

Departing is the easy bit, coming back can sometimes be exciting. Always have your lines ready for mooring and always accept help from people on your pontoon who are willing to take a line even if things are going well. If you get a reputation for “I can do on my own”, the day you really need help you will find people will have disappeared.

Always remember you have all the time in the world to dock. Even experienced skippers get it wrong sometimes, just back off and go round again. Fighting with a bad situation can get worse and worse still cost you money!

John Graham writes:

Close quarters manoeuvring best advise is to always plan and make sure crew know what you are trying to do even if you don’t achieve it! Also try to take it slowly if you can.


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