A few weeks ago I wrote about how to dock a boat. I received an email from a resident wanting to know how to undock a boat safely. The person had been trying to undock with the wind pounding against the side of the boat that was opposite the dock and she had a hard time getting away from the dock.
When I asked her how strong the wind was she said about 10-15 knots. I reassured her ego when I told her that many boaters would have had difficulty in similar conditions. Small boats with lower engine power are also the most vulnerable.
Prior to getting under way, you should think about wind conditions and communicate an undocking strategy with your passengers and/or dock attendants.
You should consider the boat traffic in the area, the direction of wind, current, and water depth. But, do not forget to check your thoughts with others who are around.
A common mistake that skippers make is assuming that their guests or dock attendants have the same experience as they do or that they know exactly what you are going to do. Skippers must be specific and give clear instructions if you ask for their help. This not only will help avoid dangerous situations but will also help boating be a better experience for everyone. If instructions are given appropriately to your crew and guests, this will add to their enjoyment of boating.
The ideal situation is when the wind or current is pushing your boat away from the dock the course of action is simple. You would cast off all lines and pull in fenders as the wind blows you away from the dock. When the boat is a safe distance away from the dock and other boats, you can then shift to forward and depart at a slow speed. As you start to pull away be aware of your surroundings and make sure you have moved safely away from the dock and that the stern will not hit the dock as you motor forward and continue to turn away from the dock. Please note that a boat does not maneuver like a car, it pivots on its axis. The best way to get a feel for this is through practice, but moving slowly will help make things easier to manage.
The more difficult circumstances my friend experienced are actually quite common to undocking. The trick is that if the wind or current is pushing your boat toward the dock you will have to do some extra planning. It might appear redundant in this column but extra planning really is fundamental to a safe and relaxing boating experience.
If the weather conditions are rough, then you should consider approaching undocking by casting off all lines except an after bow spring line. This line will help keep the boat from moving forward and allow the stern to turn away from the dock. It is not necessary, but you could also place a fender on the forward area of the boat against the dock to cushion the bow if it touches the dock. Next, you should turn the rudder or engine in the direction to move the stern away from the dock and shift into forward at an idle speed. The stern will move slowly away from the dock. When the boat is free of all obstructions you can remove the spring line from the dock and slowly back away. When you are safely away, shift to forward and continue to head onto the appropriate course while looking out for obstacles, including other boats and swimmers. Also, stow the lines and fenders so they will not be in the way or pose a safety hazard.
These guidelines are good to follow. Please note that if you are maneuvering in a narrow area then weather conditions can particularly add to the difficulty of docking and undocking. Once again, the key is to plan, make small maneuvers, and move slowly.
For more information about local boating, environmental issues, and other water-related activities throughout the Oyster Bay area you can email the author at Jaime.VanDyke@gmail.com or reach her at 946-9464.