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Ever had to make a mad grab at a jetty or mooring as your boat slipped by too fast or too far to make that perfect mooring? I suspect that all of us, no matter how experienced can make that embarrassing claim.
Firstly let’s look at what we are trying to achieve when making that perfect mooring and looking cool while doing it. To me a perfect mooring is when you are alone on the boat you can stop it next to a jetty with minimal to no bumping, reach over and attach a mooring line fore and aft without having to hang over the side to fend off or stop your boat.
Four of the factors that affect our vessels while trying to make that perfect mooring while making it look easy and well planned.
- Windage: the size of our vessel, amount of cabin and gunnel exposed to the wind and the hull design are all hugely impacted by the wind.
- Currents: in some area currents can affect us more than the wind,
- Manoeuvrability and turning capabilities: of our vessels will dictate how easy it is to correct minor errors in judgement or changes in wind and current .
- Directional stability and speed in our approach.
Lets look at how a boat is steered through the water: the only reason that a boat has steerage is that the motor is propelling her through the water and the motor is acting as a rudder. (We are assuming outboard engines are being used) If the motor, (rudder) is moving at the same speed as the water we will have no steering; such as when travelling with and at the same or similar speed to the current.
How do we overcome these common factors that can make mooring surprisingly easy or very difficult?
First and foremost we need to remember that boats aren’t like cars that go where we point them, boat are floating on a liquid environment which allows our vessels to move sideways as well as the normal forward and backwards that we are accustomed to. It is crucial to know our vessels characteristics, we need to know how quickly she will slow and stop when we take power off, we need to know how much space she needs to turn at various speeds, we need to know if she will continue in a straight line when a crewman moves to attach a mooring line and very important we need to know how she will react in varying strengths and directions of wind and current, remember boats have sideways movement (let’s call it crabbing for now). Every vessel will differ slightly so it is important for us to get to know our vessel so that we can better predict how she will behave in varying conditions.
Points to take into account
- If you are mooring with the wind pushing you, you may want to go into neutral to slow your approach to the jetty, the wind is often propelling you more than fast enough.
- Boats are heavier at the back so they are inclined to pivot around the motor when you are going too slowly for the conditions and the wind is able to push on the lighter bow where there is less boat in the water.
- That being said, the slower you are able to approach a mooring the easier it is to fix a mistake and the easier it is to avoid damage to your and other vessels if things go wrong.
- Currents also make mooring much easier if you are able to travel into current as you can travel super slowly but the vessel will have 100% steering because of the water moving past the motor caused by the current not your forward speed.
- Never try to drive straight onto a jetty as slight deviations in the travel of your vessel can cause your boat to crab and put you in line for a nice hole in your bow. This can be caused by a crewman moving to catch the boat, you leaning towards the jetty or a stray gust of wind gently pushing you vessel sideways. Always come in at a slight angle to allow room to compensate for these factors and straighten your vessel as you are about the come along side, often this is done in reverse.
Mooring our boats
When we are going to moor our boats it is important to know how our boat is going to be affected by the wind and current before we approach the jetty or mooring. I recommend stopping well in advance and seeing how your boat reacts to these varying conditions, also look at the water itself which gives us many clues as to what is happening, Eg. You might be going from a windy channel into a wind sheltered mooring; winds could be swirling and coming from a different direction and currents could be ripping around corners. It is amazing how much we can “see” when we remember to look.
- No wind and little to no current: where there is lots of space to line up on the mooring or jetty. This is where we want to start practicing as it is easy to fix a mistake and more importantly we can move very slowly and get to know how our boats will react to our input from the helm and crewmen moving around. Remember that boats like to come in with an angle which you can straighten as you come along side the mooring with small adjustments on the helm or a quick kicking into and out of gear to push your stern onto the mooring, the vessel can also be straightened when you go astern to stop the forwards momentum of your vessel. Practice this from all sorts of angles to become comfortable with pushing or pulling your stern into the jetty to stop parallel and going astern to stop your forward momentum.
- Wind blowing you off and onto the jetty: Next we still want to be on this easy mooring but we want to add wind to the equation to teach you to compensate for the wind, remember to practice with a wind blowing you off and onto the jetty. Wind blowing you onto the jetty you can probably be in neutral a lot of the time because the wind is acting as your motor and propelling you through the water, a wind blowing you off the jetty you will need a bit more power to maintain steerage as the wind tries to blow your bow away from the jetty.
- Wind or current against you: In the ideal world your next step will be the wind and current moving in the same direction, sadly that is seldom the case so when you moor in a current, stop your vessel far away from the mooring and see what will affect your vessel more, the wind or the current. Whichever is greatest will dictate your direction of approach and always try and moore against the greater of the two.
- Mooring with a wind pushing you is a more difficult skill to master as the wind is acting as your engine and will keep pushing you (no brakes I’m afraid). Just before you have reached the point where you would like to stop your vessel you will need to go astern, BUT you will need to steer in the opposite direction to keep your vessel next to the mooring and not pull the stern off the jetty. You need to have as little speed as possible to allow a small amount of reversing to stop your vessel, try and use the wind for propulsion and your engine for small directional changes.
- Mooring with a current pushing you isn’t ideal as you need to approach your mooring with speed to travel faster than the current in order to maintain steerage. Your reversing techniques will need to be well rehearsed and done well in advance to have time to stop your vessel. Practice this exercise with lots of space for correction of errors.
- Mooring in close confines: now comes the real test of our skills, pick a wind still day to practice mooring between other vessels. “Slow as possible but as fast as necessary” is the mantra, too slow and the wind will blow you onto other vessels, too fast and you minimise the amount of time available to react and fix the problem and speed will cause a lot of damage if things go wrong as you are less likely to be able to fend off on other vessels.