Constantly strive to improve your Boat Handling Skills

Find some open water to practice your boat handling skills

Whether a first-time boat owner or a hardened veteran, constantly improving your knowledge and understanding of how your boat reacts to your every move and action, can only but benefit you as a skipper. By constantly practicing both basic and advanced techniques you will get more attuned to your vessel and develop greater boat driving skills. Make sure that you practice these procedures in open water that offers plenty of depth and manoeuvering space, and above all that you’re wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and that the Kill Switch is attached to your body at all times.

There are 3 main factors that will affect your control over your boat once on the water, namely the Pivot Points of your boat, the influence of the wind and the current and the role played by slide, therefore an understanding of them will improve your boat driving skills.

Always be watchful when leaving your mooring

Pivot Points – When you turn, the bow goes one way and the stern the other. This is because your Honda outboard engine (supplying both the power and the steering to your boat) is positioned aft, therefore it’s steering the stern of the boat which as a result turns the bow via a Pivot Point.

When powering ahead your boat pivots around a point roughly a third from the bow, when powering astern, the pivot point moves to a point roughly a third from the stern. Subject to the direction in which you’re going, always keep an eye out for the longer 2/3rds section (eg. the opposite end to the direction in which you’re travelling) as this will be swinging more. Taking this into account when mooring or unmooring will help you.

Influence of Wind and Current – The wind and current can have a major effect on your boat’s handling. If not under power the bow will always drift downwind/ downcurrent first, as the bow is lighter (no engine) and has less grip in the water offering more windage/slide than the stern. The easiest way to maintain control is to be under sufficient power to either move forwards into the wind/ current, or at least to be able to hold position.

Steering a boat is like driving a car on an icy road, if you turn one way, the car slides the other. When turning a boat, the boats momentum tries to keep it going forward, the hull stalls in the water and the boat skids sideways. The amount of slide depends on how much speed was carried into the turn, the type of boat and the underwater configuration. When docking you can use it to your advantage by approaching your mooring so that the slide drifts the boat alongside.

A small application of power will prevent your boat from sliding

To get a feel for all these factors, find some open water and drop a life ring in the water, and then practice approaching it. Initially you should do this at a slow speed, increasing your pace as you become more confident. See how close you can get to the life ring without touching it, trying out this manoeuvre on both the starboard and port sides.

Always engage NEUTRAL when there are people in the water near your boat

Next you should try to stop your boat completely next to the life ring at a predetermined point on the side of your boat and hold it steady. Skills learned here will be of great benefit when it comes to mooring your boat or at that critical time when you find yourself in a man overboard retrieval situation. (***Ensure that when an object or person is near the stern of your boat and the propeller(s), that the boat’s engine(s) must be in neutral for safety reasons). 

Constantly practice these manoeuvres in both sheltered waters and at sea in different weather conditions, as over time they will greatly develop your boat-handling skills and make you a better skipper.