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The key to boat docking - know your pivot point

by John Jamieson on 23 Jun 2012
Finding the pivot point SW
Even though your boat is primarily a sailing boat, you will need to be able to manoeuvre with skill under power too. You'll be able to dock your boat easily and safely when you know your boat's pivot point.

For example, have you ever dropped something over the side, like a fender, and had to turn your boat around to try and recover it? Or needed to make a sharp turn into a slip? These manoeuvves can be tough unless you know the location of your sailboat's pivot point.

Once you know this magic spot, you will be able to:

* dock your boat in a slip
* turn your boat 180 degrees around in a channel
* pick up an object you dropped overboard
* recover a person in the water
* avoid collision with an object or another boat

Every boat or ship, no matter how small or large, has a magic point along each side of the hull called a 'pivot point'. Your vessel will rotate around this spot if you put your wheel or tiller hard over and hold it in place. To learn where it is and how to utilise it, get underway on a quiet, calm day in an open area. Practice the easy steps below:

Step 1 - Find Your Boat's Pivot Point:

1. Throw a life ring or life jacket (also called a personal flotation device, or pfd) into the water. Bring the object abreast of a point about one-third of the way back from your bow.

2. Put the wheel hard over toward (or hold the tiller hard away from) the object and hold it in place.

3. Shift into idle forward gear and try to make a circle around the object without hitting it. You want to keep it lined up with your pivot point throughout the circle. Make slight adjustments as necessary to find the magic spot.

Step 2 - Practice Backing and Filling:

Master boat handlers in single propeller (called 'single screw') boats use a maneuver called backing and filling to turn in a tight spot. Use the same life ring or pfd as before to practice backing and filling.

1. Line up the boat pivot point close to the object in the water. Keep the boat stopped in this position.

2. Turn the wheel hard over TOWARD the object. Or, push the tiller hard AWAY from the object.

3. Shift into forward gear and give the boat a burst of throttle for one second. Shift back into neutral.

4. Shift into astern gear; give the boat a burst of throttle just long enough to stop forward momentum and keep the object inside your pivot point.

5. Repeat this sequence (steps 3 and 4). Keep your rudder hard over throughout the maneuver. Easy on the throttle! Keep the engine in gear for just one second to practice. Think of this as 1-1-1-1. One second ahead, one second in neutral, one second astern, one second in neutral.

Note that the critical action throughout 'backing and filling' was to keep your wheel or tiller hard over (turned all the way to one side). Keep this in mind at all times. Avoid the temptation to ease off on the wheel or tiller when you need to make a tight pivot and stay in the same spot.

How to Use Your Pivot Point:

If docking in a slip or alongside a pier, you will need to use your pivot point at all times. Remember that this will be critical no matter what wind or current are doing. For example, if you need to make a 90 degree turn into a slip, you could pivot around one of the outer pilings. Make the pivot along with backing and filling (described above).

On the other hand, if a person falls overboard, or you drop an object over the side, you want to keep them clear of your pivot point. As the exercise showed, you will rotate around an object, but will not be able to get close enough to recover it.

In these cases, make your approach with the object just off of the bow. This will enable you to slide alongside and make the recovery with ease.

Learn to sail better than ever before when you know the location of your boat's magic pivot point. You will become a more confident, skilled sailing skipper and be able to take control of your small sailboat--wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

John Jamieson (Captain John) shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need beyond sailing school! www.skippertips.com!Click_here to sign up for his FREE highly popular newsletter 'Captain John's Sailing Tips'. Find out how you can get instant access to over 425+ sailing articles, sailing videos, newsletters and more at SkipperTips.com
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