Mumbles Motor Boat & Fishing Club 
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Boat Handling

Boat Launching
What to do before setting off
  • Check the weather forecast
  • Check on the local conditions e.g. tide times, underwater obstructions, by-laws
  • Ensure your engine and equipment is well maintained
  • Always use fresh fuel
  • Wear a life jacket
  • Park your vehicle and trailer with care and consideration. Do not obstruct access for other users, particularly the Emergency Services
  • Carry flares or other devices for raising the alarm  

Be safe afloat

  • DO NOT drink and drive! It is as dangerous on the sea as it is on land
  • Leave details of where you intend to go and estimated time of return
  • Stay at least 100m from shore at the popular bathing beaches. No launching/recovery of craft at Langland or Caswell unless in emergency
  • Observe speed limits
  • Connect the engine shut-off lanyard if applicable
  • Do not allow young children to be in control of powered water craft or speed boats

Boat Handling
It is inevitable that when conditions are at their worst, the skipper will have an audience, other than the anglers on board.  Prior planning and practice is required to keep the anglers safe and protect the boat.  It will also help avoid serious humiliation.

Single engine and propeller.


Prior to getting underway, the skipper should implement a planned undocking procedure with the help of the crew member and passengers, if required.  The skipper should consider the traffic in the area, the direction ofthe wind, movement and depth of the water. ( The skipper should not assume the crew member or anglers have the same experience as the skipper or can read the skipper's mind.  Be specific and give direction if their help is asked for).

  • When the wind or current is pushing the boat away from the dock the procedure is simple:

  • Cast off the lines and pull in the fenders as the wind blows the boat away.

  • When clear and safely away from the dock and other boats, engage forward and depart at idle speed.

  • Be careful to make sure the boat has been pushed safely away and that the stern will not hit the dock as it motors forward and turns. (Rember: a boat does not steer like a car, it pivots on its axis).

If the wind or current/water movement is pushing the boat toward the dock extra planning will be required:
    • Cast off all lines except an after bow line.  This line will keep the boat from moving forward and allow the stern to pivot away from the dock.  (see illustration).
    • You could use the a fender forword to cushion the bow of the boat against the dock.

    • Turn the rudder to the direction necessary to push the stern away from the dock.

    • Engage forward at idle speed and slowly, very slowly move away.

    • The stern will swing away from the dock.  When all is clear of all obstacles and traffic, cast of the aft bow line and back away from the dock.

    • When the boat is safely away, engage forward and idle away from the dock.

    • Once clear of the dock, stow lines and fenders so they are not in the way or pose a tripping hazard.  Be sure to control speed when leaving the dock and check for other boats or other obstacles.

    Before approaching the dock, one end of the docking lines should be secured on board; fenders readied and speed reduced.  If the wind is blowing toward the dock, the boat can be brought to a position parallel to the dock and about two feet off.  The wind will blow  the boat in.  It can then be secured by bow, stern and spring lines.
    If the wind is blowing away from the dock, the boat should approach the dock at a 20 to 30 degree angle.  A bow line passed to the dock and secured.  In boats with an outboard engine, the engine is turned towards the dock and put in reverse.  This will bring the stern into the dock.  The boat can then be secured with the stern line.  For boats with an inboard engine the rudder is used to bring the stern in.  To push the stern in using the rudder, attach an after bow spring line to keep the boat from moving forward. With the engine idling forward, turn the wheel away from the dock as shown below. 

    Since the boat cannot move forward and the rudder is pushing the stern in, the boat will pin itself against the dock while the other lines can be secured.

    All these manoeuvres are more easily done when the boat has twin engines and propellers.

    With twin engines and propellers you can stop using just the steering wheel to dock the boat.  This takes time and practice and experience comes by trial and error.  All idle speed handling is done with the gear levers and throttles, never the steering wheel.  The rudders are of no help at slow speed and will not steer the boat into the dock if you are inexperienced.  Practice relying on the throttle and gear lever to control the boat.  Play around with throttle speed and see how the boat behaves at differing engine speeds.  Use the rudders to push the stern where you want it, use the shifters to move the bow.

    For example, if backing the boat in, dock port side and wind is coming from port side then turn the wheel 1/2 to full starboard (with experience you would probably wait to turn the wheel.  Start to back the boat in and you will find the stern is 2 feet away and the bow 3 feet away and still moving.  Put the gears into neutral because the boat is in but still moving backwards.  Put the starboard engine in forward gear and it will stop the boat and push the stern and bow to the dock.

    If the wind is bad, have the starboard engine in forward the whole time, the port in reverse and add throttle to port only.  Beginners should never use the throttle around the dock.

    Twin Engine – Twin Prop handling

    The first thing to understand about docking situations is the need to stay calm and never engage in hasty control actions. That happens because basically boat 'skippers' don't know what to do, but just feel they have to do something. Many skippers are too cautious, and try to manoeuvre the boat so slowly that the wind or tide catches the boat and they loose control anyway. Others move too fast, applying one over-reaction against another. Be aware that the ONLY way skippers can learn to maintain precise control, without over or under-reacting, is by learning to develop absolute control of the boat.  And the only way to do that is by taking the time to learn and practice. Far too many would be skippers just won't bother, and that's why marinas on Saturday afternoon can be very entertaining just watching then inexpertly trying to dock their boats.

    Like flying an aeroplane, expert boat handling takes both knowledge and some practice. Problem is, most newcomers to boating (that means someone who's been driving boats for '5' years or less) don't even use their boats often enough to even get the practice that they need. If they don't like being embarrassed with a crowd looking on, the best way to resolve this is to just take one day, maybe about 3-4 hours, for a dedicated practice session. Be aware that no one learns much in panic situations; we all learn the most when the pressure is off. Most people have never done this, and its amazing  how much their boat handling will improve by doing this. And after they done this once, chances are that they'll be motivated to keep on practising.

    Most likely people will occasionally loose control of a boat because they don't know how to handle it under all circumstances and conditions. Like close quarters maneuvering as in docking, waiting for bridges in narrow waterways, using locks and things like that. So let's start with two important facts: (1) any twin engine boat is capable of very precise control and, (2) all adverse conditions, like wind and  tides, can be turned to an advantage. But first, they should make sure that they understand the basic principles of twin engine boat control.

    The drive-in approach is most useful when there is have plenty of space. Instead of trying to steer the boat into a docked position, ease the bow into the position as shown in the diagram. Then use the engine controls to swing the stern in flush to the dock. 

    Getting Started  
    All idle speed handling is accomplished with the gears and throttles, never the steering wheel. If you are attempting to use the wheel while docking STOP! The rudders are of little or no help at slow speeds. Why? Like an aircraft wing, if there is no air flowing over the wing, the plane won't fly. If there is no water flowing around the rudder, the boat won't steer, so there's no point in trying to steer the boat into a dock. It won't work.

    The first step in learning precision control is to become skilled at the use of throttles and gears. This is done by finding the time and right place to practice. A good time is on a weekday when there is little traffic; a good place is something like a dock , at the end of a T dock, where there is lots of manoeuvring room.  The objective here is to have a place near a large bulkhead dock where it is possible to use the dock as a point of reference.  All the while here the boat is going to be well away something like fuel dock, but close enough to use the dock as a gauge to see how the boat is moving.  Just make sure the dock isn't going to get in the way.

    Hereafter P means port and S means starboard.

    Practice using the controls, throttle and gear only, to control the boat. Understand, that if one engine is put in forward, and the other in reverse, the boat is going to pivot on its axis. Some boats will pivot precisely on it's axis, others will not. Now, if the throttle is increased  on one engine, and not the other, something different is going to happen. With the boat standing dead still in the water, put  S in forward and P  in reverse with both engines at the same speed, say 800 RPM. Just let it stay that way for a minute and take note of how the boat pivots. Is it turning precisely on its axis or not? Now increase the throttle evenly on both to 1200 RPM. Again, take note of how the boat turns, what kind of circle it is making. Play around with throttle speed and see how it behaves at differing engine speeds. The objective here is to learn how the boat behaves with these control inputs.

    Next, bring both throttles back to idle (still in gear) and let the motion stabilize. Increase throttle on S, the engine in forward, to 1000 RPM but not on port. Now how does this affect the turning? Probably its going to turn faster, but in a wider radius.  Okay, now increase the P throttle to the same speed. Unless you have a big keel on your hull, the boat should now be turning on its axis more rapidly.

    Now, with the gears in the same position (one in F, the other R), advance throttle on the one in reverse, while reducing throttle in forward. Pay very close attention to how this control combination affects the way the boat turns. The point here is to learn the control differences between putting more power on the engine in reverse, than the one in forward. Next spend some time playing around with throttle and shifters, increasing and decreasing engine speed on one or the other, to get the feel of how these actions control the boat. Don't worry about looking silly; its a lot more silly crashing into a dock.

    Hands Off the Wheel!  After this, practice steering the boat without touching the wheel. At idle speed, say about 800 RPM, head off for about 50 yards and then make a sharp, right angle turn, using only the gears to make the turn. How is this being done?  By putting into reverse gear the engine on the side in the direction of turn. Control the radius of the turn by how much throttle is apply to one engine or the other.  Usually the reversed engine will give the sharper turn. After completing the turn, repeat this again and again until it is more or less possible to steer the boat around a square course, going straight, and then making sharp 90 degree turns. At this the throttle on each of the two engines is being used to control the turn rate. Pay attention to whether increasing throttle on the reversed engine works better than increasing throttle on the forward engine.

    Okay, now put one hand on each of the throttles, with both engines in forward and control the boat using ONLY the throttles. Steer the boat by increasing and decreasing throttle speed.  Practice this exercise a bit until familiar with throttle steering. Then practice the full compliment of control techniques by running the boat around the imaginary square again. The various control combinations can become confusing, and this is one of the reason why panic situations occur while docking. Once sufficiently familiar with these combinations and manoeuvers, there will be no problems while docking. People get into trouble when docking because they over- react to a wrong control imput, thereby compounding the error.

    Dancing:  This next exercise is going to resemble dancing.  Its an exercise in precision control, using the control inputs just learned. Move the boat forward and stop, move the boat forward and stop, each time holding the boat steady for a minute or two in that stopped position. 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3. With a bit of rythem. With the boat stopped, pick an imaginary spot on the water, say 100' ahead. Maybe some like floating debris, buoy, channel marker or something for reference. If  feeling comfortable doing this close to the practice dock,  but be sure that there is adequate room. Move forward to that spot and stop. Stop and try to hold the boat in a particular position relative to that spot for a few minutes. Now make an axial 90 degree turn, and again hold it. Repeat that. The boat should now be stern-to your imaginary spot, 100' feet out. Next, back into the original, starting  position and stop. Then rotate the boat in the opposite direction. Use imagination, but practice making the boat do exactly what driver wants it to.

    Next, practice running the boat in reverse. When backing make sure the wheel is centered because in reversing the rudders WILL steer the boat somewhat more than in forward. Try to back along a straight line, using the gears to control direction. Make a sudden stop, then pivot 90 degrees again. The general idea here is to learn to make fast, sharp, precise movements while you learn to bring the boat to a complete stop in exactly the place you want it to stop. Plan ahead by saying to, "I'm going to move ahead 100' feet, stop, turn, move ahead, stop, turn, stop, reverse in the opposite direction, stop. Play around with this for about a half-hour or so and then move on to actual docking practice. Now that it is possible to control the boat precisely on the open water, you will be much better prepared to do the same in close quarters.

    Docking.You should now be feeling confident that you can steer the boat at idle speeds with nothing but the controls. Our next exercise is in basic docking. Approach the T dock head-in or exactly perpendicular. Put the nose of the boat within about 10 feet of the dock. Slowly. If you have a bow pulpit, put the pulpit immediately to the right of a piling so you won't rip it off. You are going to dock port-side-to using the control techniques that you just practiced. At this point you are perpendicular to the dock, 10 feet away, as shown in the illustration below. Now ease the boat in until the bow is touching on the port side of the bow. Next, you put P gear forward and S in reverse.

    Using the pivoting technique, you're going to pivot the boat into the dock by pushing into, and rotating off the piling as illustrated.
    Do this with the engines at dead idle, so your actions and motion of the boat will be nice and slow and easy.  For the most part, you won't need to touch the throttles; you control your turn rate by moving the levers in and out of gear. As you begin to pivot, you'll be working the starboard gear more, allowing   the P to move you forward a bit while working S into neutral and reverse to control the turn. As the boat pivots, it will reach a point where the bow will want to move forward because the angle is no longer pushing against the piling. At this point you forget about the piling and concentrate on bringing the stern into the dock, without allowing the bow to drift away.
    The illustration left shows the path you should be following. This is sort of like parallel parking at a curb side, but not quite. Cars can't rotate. You have probably noticed that making an angular approach to a crowded dock is risky at best.   This nose-in approach will allow you dock your boat easily in any space that's large enough for your boat to fit. With a little practice, you can put your boat into any space its length plus 10 feet easily. In executing this turn, your forward speed is very slow since you are sort of pirouetting into the dock.  If you do this right, you will lay the boat into the dock just as sweet as can be. If you didn't, start over and keep trying until you have it down to a fine art. Stay calm, and if you start to mess up, don't try to recover, begin again.
    Like parallel parking, if you start out wrong, you need to go back and start over.