How to drive a boat: Turning an outboard-engined boat in a tight space

Turning in a tight space is best broken down into a series of pre-planned steps. Even experienced skippers take a deep breath when presented with a very small space, especially if it’s windy. Our resident boating instructor Jon Mendez explains all...

It’s best to practise when the conditions are not too challenging so that each step of the process becomes as smooth and controlled as possible.

First, as ever, carefully assess the turning area. Work out where the prevailing wind and tide are coming from and which way you are going to turn (it’s always easier to turn towards those elements).

Look for any craft that present an extra hazard by sticking out further than the rest and any empty spaces that might give you extra room.

Remember the pivot points on your vessel – about a 1/3 from the bow in ahead and 1/3 from the stern in astern – because that means the remaining 2/3 of the boat will be prescribing a wider arc than you might imagine.

On approach, try to get your boat stationary and balanced against the elements. This will allow you to keep your speed as slow as possible.

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As you move into the area, keep monitoring the conditions as the wind will usually decrease when you pick up shelter from other craft, while any current will become slacker the closer you get to the shore.

Allow for this with your approach angle and keep looking well ahead for any changes. Use clicks of ahead gear to keep your speed down. When ready to turn, allow the boat to slow then use full lock towards the up-element side of the area and engage ahead.

Use the space ahead of you to full advantage – it’s usually easier to see the bow than the stern – so go as close as you feel comfortable with. I find that using a couple of small clicks ahead is better than opting for one large one as it allows me to keep the speed slow.

Before the space in front of you gets too tight, go into neutral, reverse the wheel to full opposite lock and engage astern. Again, small clicks of astern are generally better than one larger one, allowing you to use all the space and keep the speed low.

Be careful, though, as this is the down elements side of the area so you will be pushed this way quicker than the up-element side.

Before you run out of space, go back into neutral, reverse the wheel, engage ahead and drive out. If the boat has not completed the turn and there is not enough space to leave, then repeat the last two steps until you have enough room to drive out, taking into account the stern’s wider turning arc.

As you leave, keep the boat angled slightly towards the elements so that you don’t get pushed into danger again.

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