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Close Quarter Maneuvering in Big Boats

Photo by Maria Karlsson
Photo by Maria Karlsson

Big boats, close quarter maneuvering and small spaces can be tough, especially for inexperienced owners, or motor boaters who’ve just converted from sail. A sailboat and a powerboat, particularly twin-engine big boats, are vastly differently creatures. Sailors comfortable handling a long-keeled, single engine sailing yacht will find the twin engines and considerable power of a big motor yacht decidedly pleasant.

Around the dock, learn to use the boats’ twin engines to your advantage. Small if any input of the rudder is necessary. With limited visibility, have a crewmember stationed at the bow and stern calling distances to objects (and NOT telling the captain which way to go).

Imagine this scenario – you’re entering a narrow channel, with a bulkhead pier off your starboard side. There is space enough to tie up, but only just. And, you’ve got to spin the boat round to tie up on the portside. Start by easing just past the stern of the yacht that will be in front of you. Now, turn the rudder nearly full to starboard and leave it there. Use only the throttles now to maneuver into the space. Port engine forward, starboard engine reverse will kick the stern around, while the full right rudder will help it. Use the throttles gently and use the boats natural momentum. Try and keep the bow of the boat just off the stern of the boat in front of you and pivot around this point – you should not be making any way fore or aft, just pivoting. If you don’t get close enough to the dock, keep the rudders hard to starboard and use the starboard throttle to ‘crab’ the boat sideways into the space.

Getting out of the space described above, with a boat tight against your stern and another in front, requires a similar technique. Untie all but the bow line, and turn the rudders hard to port. Use gentle forward throttle on starboard and reverse throttle on port to kick the stern out, using a piling to pivot the bow off of. The boat should not move fore or aft, just pivot on the piling. Once the stern is clear, center the rudders and use both throttles to back gently straight out. Use the throttles – a touch of forward either side when needed – and not the rudder to adjust your course as you go astern, as it is much easier to control the boat this way.

In fact, around the dock you can get by pretty easily by driving the boat like a bulldozer and ignoring the wheel altogether. The key is to go slow and easy – remember, approach the dock at the speed at which you’d like to hit it!

Dennis Schell is a yacht captain and sailor who has spent most of his life cruising the US East Coast and Bahamas, as well as delivering sailing yachts further afield in the Atlantic. Contact him at fathersonsailing.com.

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