Home Join ABA About As Advertise with us! Search Site Map
Shape boat

Safe Boat Operations – New Boat Handling and Maneuvering Skills

Source: Mariners Learning System, By Capt. Bob Figular

To learn the basic handling and maneuvering characteristics of a vessel, a new boat owner should work with a licensed Captain or experienced boat operator.

When stepping up to the controls of any vessel for the first time, you should immediately become familiar with any physical constraints or limitations of the helm and engine controls. In the best-case scenario the controls should be designed and mounted to allow for a wide range of operators.

After checking all controls while moored with engines secured, you should recheck their operation with engines running while securely moored. It may not be safe to apply full ahead to astern throttle, however, you should be aware if at anytime there is a lag between throttle shift and propulsion, from neutral to ahead, neutral to astern, ahead to astern, and astern to ahead. When going from the ahead position to the astern position, and when going from the astern position to the ahead position, pause briefly at the neutral position.

When moving forward in a straight line you should advance your throttle gradually and firmly. If the vessel is single-screw, outboard, or outdrive, propeller side force will tend to move the stern slightly to starboard. You can offset this side force by applying a small amount of starboard helm. If your vessel has twin-engines, the throttles should be advanced together. The vessel should not yaw in either direction if power is applied evenly. Engine RPMs should be checked so both engines turn at the same speed. Some vessels have a separate indicator to show if engine RPMs match, but also compare tachometer readings. It is best not to ram throttles forward when starting up. As the engines try to transfer the excessive power, the stern will squat; raising the bow and decreasing visibility, and propellers or impellers may cavitate.

Small amounts of helm should be used to offset any propeller side force or the effects of winds and seas. Compass course should always be noted and corrected frequently to stay on course. It is important to develop a practiced eye and steer on a visible object or range such as a point between buoys. Small, early helm corrections should be applied to stay on course, rather than large corrections after becoming well off course. Oversteering, leaving a snake-like path, should be avoided. At low speeds, helm correction will be more frequent and require more rudder than at higher speeds.

For planing or semi-displacement hulls, the boat will gradually gain speed until planing. If your boat is fitted with trim control, slight, bow-down trim may lessen the amount of time needed to get on plane or “on step.”

Running at full speed all of the time should be avoided. This wastes fuel and can cause excessive wear on the boat and your crew. Many vessels will not exceed or will only marginally exceed a given speed, regardless of the power applied. At some point, the only effect of applying additional throttle is increased fuel consumption with no speed increase. Finding a speed that offers a comfortable ride as well as allows mission completion is advised.

A margin of power should always be left available for emergencies. The best speed for the vessel should be determined. A good normal operating limit for semi-displacement vessels is usually 80 percent maximum power, allowing the remaining 20 percent for emergency use.

The American Boating Association
PO Box 882196
Port St. Lucie, FL 34988
Tel: 614-497-4088

Office hours M - F, 8:30am - 5:00pm EST
Our Privacy Policy
©American Boating Association 2023