Leaving the Dock
When you are ready to leave a parallel parking spot in your car, you turn the front wheels away for the curb and move forward. Now think of your boat in this scenario: as a car on which the back wheels turn and not the front. If you were to turn the wheel away from the curb and ease forward, the back wheels will bump into the curb. Now, to get away from the curb without hitting it, you must back away from it.
The same is true in your boat. Turn the wheel away from the dock and shift into forward - you will do is push the stern into the dock. Just shove off from the dock to give you some maneuvering room. If shoving off isn't possible, try backing away or, use spring lines and fenders.
Steering in Tight Areas
Generally, at slow speeds a boat's pivot point is one third of the way aft from the bow. At forward idle, if you turn the wheel hard over to starboard, you'll notice that the stern kicks out to port as a result. Then the bow will move to starboard as the boat rotates around that spot approximately a third of the way back from the bow. The movement of the stern happens first and is quite pronounced.
Taking that into account, you will need to start turns sooner than you would in your car. Also, remember that a car tracks precisely while your boat will slide sideways while turning, which requires you to start turning sooner. The same lag time will also apply when you straighten up at the end of a turn - bring the wheel back straight well before you feel like you should.
Take Advantage of Prop-Walk
Turning propellers (props) have a tendency, to some degree, to pull the stern of a boat to the side, which is another important difference between steering a boat and steering a car. The prop-walk can actually help you maneuver your boat if you understand how this works.
A right rotating prop, one that turns clockwise when pushing forward, pulls the stern of your boat to starboard when going ahead and to port when going astern. This is more evident with straight-shaft inboard because their propeller shafts are not exactly horizontal and in outboards or sterndrives that are trimmed all the way down. In reverse, the effect is far more prominent.
Having the ability to pull your stern to port by shifting into reverse is very handy when docking. As you approach the dock at an angle, sliding slowly ahead, turn the helm straight and shift into reverse. This will slow your headway and, at the same time, pull the stern toward the dock. Give it a shot of reverse power at the right moment, and you can stop your forward motion and drift right up to the dock.
This article is courtesy of the National Boat Owners Association. At NBOA we know there's no "perfect boater". Even the most seasoned operator does occasionally make mistakes. When the unexpected does occur, NBOA Marine Insurance can help get you back on the water quickly. Whether it's a mishandled docking, or a more serious accident, NBOA will be there for you. To learn more about how NBOA can help you find the right boat insurance policy, visit www.nboat.com or call 1-800-248-3512 to speak to a representative directly.