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Marina Berthing Hints


A. Discover where the berth is: Check the marina layout from the pilot book, chart or other info (Google earth is useful) or from the marina office on vhf. Find the visitors berths and try and identify your berth without committing yourself too far.

B. Assess the strength and direction of the wind and any tidal stream particularly if the marina is in a river or tidal estuary. The strength and direction may be different in different parts of the marina. Decide whether the wind or the stream will have most effect in your strategy.

C. Plan your berthing strategy, if possible with a bail out option if things do not go smoothly.

D. Brief the crew so they understand your plan and what you expect of each of them and check they have understood correctly. Prepare the mooring lines and fenders.

E. Lots of fenders. Make sure the boat is well fendered, both sides. Better to have too many fenders than damage an irate neighbour. Low fenders against the pontoon, higher fenders if you may be against a neighbouring yacht.

F. Final approach.

  1. Stay aware of the effect of the wind and stream during your approach and adjust accordingly.
  2. Approach the intended berth at about 45 degrees. Aim for the middle of the berth as when you have straightened up you will be in the correct position alongside.
  3. Use only as much throttle as is needed to maintain control. This may be a significant amount in strong winds or stream.
  4. If berthing with the wind or stream pushing you onto the pontoon aim to berth about 1-2 meters away from the pontoon and the wind or stream will carry you into the berth.
  5. Crew should step down onto the pontoon under control, ideally from close to the shrouds. (Women crew only ever step elegantly ashore). NEVER jump, the crew may turn an ankle or wobble off a finger pontoon into the water.

G. Manoeuvring hints

  1. A fin keeler will turn more sharply if out of gear.
  2. Know the effect of your yacht's prop walk when going astern and if possible use it to your advantage.
  3. If turning between pontoons always turn into any wind or stream, it will help, never down wind or stream.
  4. If the wind or stream is across the berth try and make the final approach into the wind or stream even if you have to make a turn beyond the berth.
  5. Be aware of sideways slide when turning.

H. Use of lines.

  1. A short line from amidships is very useful, particularly if shorthanded and there is a convenient cleat on the pontoon. This can be secured first and control the situation while other lines are made fast.
  2. The bow spring should be the first line made fast if the wind or stream is taking you away from the pontoon. The yacht can then be motored against it and with use of the throttle and rudder held against the pontoon while the other lines are secured.
  3. A bow spring will stop forward movement and control the entry into the berth, particularly if the wind or stream is from astern. Beware the stern swinging into any yacht alongside. Have a big fender here!
  4. Use the right knot. Doubled lines with both ends aboard are best. If not and if you have to share a cleat then remember a bowline knot cannot be made or undone under load but a round turn and two half hitches can and is as secure.

I. Leaving the berth.

  1. This needs as much thought, planning and preparation as berthing.
  2. If the wind or stream are favourable this should be simple.
  3. If the wind or stream is holding you on the pontoon then consider springing off which is similar to springing on as in H.2 above but using the throttle and rudder to drive the stern away from the pontoon. Worth practicing.
  4. If the wind or stream is from astern then hold the bow spring, doubled aboard, until you have steerage way astern.

J. Finally.

  1. Loose warps going over the side can foul propellers and lead to major damage. Keep loose lines out of the water.
  2. If things are going wrong, and they do, show good seamanship, abort the manoeuvre early, bail out and go round again.
  3. Collisions at speed are dangerous and usually expensive. Collisions when nearly or completely stopped are, at worst, only embarrasing and soon forgotten. If in doubt, Stop.
  4. Practice gives confidence which increases enjoyment which is why we go sailing!
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