Berthing do’s and don’ts
Unlike, say, navigation, which you can get to grips with in your own time and in the privacy of your own cockpit, helming is very much a public affair. No matter how proficient you happen to be at handling your boat in open waters, in the eyes of passengers - and certainly bystanders, your skills are measured on the basis of a mishap-free coming alongside.
In terms of precise manoeuvres and procedures, there’s no universal rule book. The list of things to take into account when berthing a twin-engine powerboat, for instance, is rather different to the considerations for a single-outboard powered planing hull.
But more generally, there are certain ways of doing things that are worth sticking to no matter what type of boat you have. Pay special attention to the following…
DO make sure you’re familiar with your boat
In terms of their handling characteristics, no two models of boat are the same. If your plan for docking consists of standing back, watching how someone else goes about manoeuvring into a marina space and copying their technique verbatim, you could come unstuck. The extent of superstructure above water, the shape and size of the keel, the steering capabilities of your particular craft: all of this means that the correct approach for another boater may not be right for you.
So to build up that all-important level of confidence in berthing situations, work on getting thoroughly familiar with how your boat handles.
DON’T be oblivious to other traffic
Find out as much as you can about your destination. Are you likely to be returning at a particularly busy time of day? Will getting into your desired spot prove especially difficult? Will other boats be looking to enter and leave at the same time that you’ll be arriving? Will you be expected to back into a very narrow slip – or will you have a certain degree of leeway?
All of this needs to be taken into account when working out your approach.
DO read your tide tables
In other words, don’t assume that marinas and harbours are somehow immune to the effects of current. If you’re new to that particular marina, as well as looking at tide tables, it’s also advisable to ask those who are familiar with it whether there’s anything you should be aware of.
DO take into account wind speed and direction
Key to this is getting familiar with how wind strength affects the handling of your particular boat. For instance, if you’ve got the wind against you at slow speed, how much extra momentum are you likely to need to complete your manoeuvre?
Consider the prevailing conditions and predict how this will affect your berthing plan.
DON’T assume helpful passers-by know what they’re doing
If someone offers to assist by taking a line from you, be directive about what you’d like them to do. Remember, you remain the skipper and are responsible for the safety of the boat and those on board.
DON’T leap onto the pontoon
Doing everything yourself can increase the risk of injury. One example is where, instead of handing dock lines to someone on the pontoon, you take a jump over open water to do it yourself. This highlights why it’s worth enlisting help where you can.
DO keep limbs and digits safely inside the boat
Here’s another important health and safety point that’s as relevant to passengers as it is to you. As you approach the dock, remind everyone to keep hands, elbows, legs and everything else inside the boat. Also make sure all of your passengers are seated – or at least have something to hold onto as you approach.
Do your homework, take it slow and don’t take any risks. With practice and patience, helming should eventually become second nature.