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post #16 of Old 07-28-2003
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single-handed docking


You say you need to maintain 1 kt. of speed in order to maintain steering control. Thatís just not true, unless youíre operating a 65 ft. houseboat or a barge, or unless your rudder is thickly coated with slime. A sailboat rudder will control the direction of the boat until the boat almost comes to a stop. After I lower my sails, I frequently let my boat drift downwind for a few hundred yards before I start the motor and go into my slip. While my boat is drifting under bare poles at much less than a knot in light to moderate winds, I can easily steer the boat with the rudder. If it is moving at a fraction of a knot, thatís enough to provide steerageway. A sailor at my lake often docks without using his motor, and if the boat stops, he sculls it in, using his rudder. Iíve done the same thing. Another local sailor always sails in and out of the docks, because he doesnít have a motor.

You say ďAll I want is reverse,Ē as if that is the solution to all your docking problems. As you can see, you donít need a reverse. In fact, you donít even need a motor. And you donít need sissy lines or any other cushioning or catching device. You need to slow the boat down, coast, and use the motor sparingly to nudge the boat gently into the slip. You also need to be aware of the strength and direction of the wind, and, if the wind strength and direction are favorable, use them to help you move the boat where you want it. If they are unfavorable, then use the motor sparingly to just barely overcome the effects of the wind, and to put the boat in the slip.

Hereís what you said. ďI was coming in a bit faster than usual at 4.5 knotsÖ I cut engine speed way down more than 500 feet away from the slip. Then again to an idle 200! I just couldn''t slow dawn fast enough.Ē The reason why you couldnít slow down fast enough is because, when you cut engine speed only partially at 500 ft. from your slip, you barely reduced your speed. Remember that a displacemernt sailboat is a very easily driven hull. It doesnít take much power to drive the boat, especially when it already has forward momentum, and it can coast a long distance. If your throttle was about two-thirds open, and you only reduced it to about one-third or one-fourth, the motor would still be providing enough drive so that the boat would actually slow down very little. If you were going too fast at 200 feet from your slip, then reducing your engine speed to an idle would not slow the boat enough. Even at idle, your prop is still driving the boat.

To significantly slow your boat, you need to at least shift your motor into neutral. If I find that I am still coming in a little too fast, I shift the motor into reverse and let it idle in reverse. If Iím coming in way too fast, I open the throttle about one-fourth in reverse, so that, when I am ready to make the turn into my slip, the boat has just enough momentum to coast into the slip and come to a stop by itself, without anyone having to catch it. I donít always get it that perfect, but that is the result that I am always striving for, so that, when someone does have to catch the boat, it doesnít take much force to stop it.

Whenever boats are anywhere near docks, they should always reduce speed to near idle speed. At some docks there are children swimming around the docks, and people scrubbing their bottoms, and boats backing in and out of their slips. Docks are always regarded as idle zones.

If you are going too fast, itís a problem, because boats donít have brakes, and you canít stop them suddenly. If you are going too slow and lose steerageway, itís usually not a problem, because a little application of engine power in forward gear will easily increase your forward momentum and steerageway. Therefore, itís generally preferable to err on the side of slower speed, rather than higher speed.
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