How to: Turn a single-engined boat in a tight space

Executing a tight turn in a small space in a boat with a single engine is one of those challenges that makes even experienced skippers take a deep breath, admits Jon Mendez.

But with a bit of practice and by making full use of the available space while accounting for any wind or tide and keeping your speed as slow as possible, it soon becomes second nature. When the opportunity presents itself to test your technique, choose an area roughly twice the length of your boat in which to practise – you can always try a smaller space once you’ve nailed it.

Now identify what the wind and any tide or stream are doing, as these can have a big influence on the turning ability of your boat, especially if it has lots of windage and a planing hull (displacement craft tend to have deeper keels and larger rudders giving them more grip on the water).

You need to judge how much these factors will influence your boat in order to decide which is the safe side of the turning space. If you’re still unsure of this, bring the boat to a halt before entering the confined area, using a transit to ensure that you have come to a complete stop, and see which way the elements push you – this then becomes the danger side.

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Once you’ve determined this, your approach will always be easiest with your bow moving towards the safe side, so position your boat to enter the tight space with your bow pointing in that direction. This angle will change the further in you get as any stream and wind generally starts to weaken due to the shelter from other craft.

Next choose your turning spot and, keeping the speed as slow as you can while still retaining full steering control, turn the wheel towards the safe side while using a click of ahead to push your bow up into that space. If you have judged it correctly the boat should be almost stationary and facing into the elements.

Next, by turning the wheel the other way and engaging astern, bring the boat back towards the danger side of the space with the elements. When you have used as much space as you feel safe to, turn the wheel back the other way again and go ahead to push the bow back towards the safe side. If there’s sufficient room you may be able to complete the turn. If not, repeat the manoeuvre until you can.

Having now practised judging which end is the safe side, the approach, the manoeuvre and becoming comfortable with when to swap helm direction and gear, you can build on your new skill by choosing progressively smaller spaces until you can cope with a space that is only slightly larger than the boat itself.

How to turn a single-engined boat in a tight space – step-by-step


1. Work out the “safe side”

Take stock of where the wind and current is pushing the boat. In this case a reasonably strong current and a light wind make the top of the board the ‘safe side’. Your approach into the space is a combination of angle versus speed.


2. Choose a start point

This is the most crucial part of the whole manoeuvre; get the start point correct with the boat balanced and the bow facing into the safe side, and you stand the best chance of success.


3. Push the bow to the “safe side”

Use gentle clicks of ahead to push the bow up towards the safe side of the space. Your ferry glide angle will become shallower the further in you go as the stream will reduce in strength.


4. Use all the space

Keep the wheel pointing towards the top of that space (in this case to starboard) and move as far into it as you feel comfortable with, using the elements to slow you down and keep the boat balanced and almost stationary.


5. Move astern

Turn the wheel the other way (to port) and use a click of astern to back away and give yourself room to complete the turn and exit safely. Don’t be afraid to go astern further if you need more room to get the bow round.


6. Complete the turn

Put the wheel hard over to starboard again and back into ahead to bring the bow round and allow a safe exit. Keep the bow on the safe side as you exit because the stream will become stronger as you leave the shelter of the boats.

Our How To video series is brought to you in association with GJW Direct.


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