Author: Micha Adams
Boating Article by Modern Boating
We’ve all seen it and maybe even helped cause it-boat pandemonium! A story of chaos, tragedy, inexperience and even, at times, ramp rage. So how can you prevent disaster while trying to put your boat back on the trailer? Well, it’s not as difficult as some make it look. There are key factors to consider that will make the task a cinch.
The first crucial principal to consider is the propeller’s direction of travel. This affects the steering of the boat. Here’s how it works:
An outboard propeller spins clockwise, or to the starboard side of the boat, when engaged in forward. If the boat is in neutral and you slip the throttle into forward, the stern of the boat will shift slightly to starboard and conversely the bow will shift to port. The axis of the boat is at the hull’s deepest point-usually one third in from the bow-so as a result, the movement shift of the stern is often twice as much as that of the bow.
Also, consider that with the boat in forward gear, it will always be easier turning in a tight circle to the port side because the stern will naturally be swinging in the opposite direction.
This same logic applies to reverse thrust, only the opposite result is achieved.
It’s important to understand this when approaching a mooring, jetty or trying to drive a boat onto a trailer. You want to avoid the common problem of approaching a target and having to abort due to wayward steering.
It’s a cardinal sin to botch a launch during peak hour at the busiest ramp. Sliding your boat off the trailer with a rope attached and then dragging the boat on the ramp while the car is being put away prevents queued boats from launching. This is inconsiderate. If you don’t trust your outboard to start, then use the rope if you must, but pull the boat out of the way so others can launch.
The best method is to have the skipper waiting in the boat, submerge the trailer to around mudguard height, then unhook the boat and either push it off or use the outboard to reverse off the trailer. Then the car and trailer can be parked, while the boat is driven to the jetty to pick up the driver and/or crew. If there is no jetty or other safe pick-up point, motor back into the ramp when the car parker is ready to board, waiting until there is room to do so.
This one causes most of the problems. Bear in mind, basically every boat can be driven onto a trailer. The task is made easier by the many new trailers that feature skids and rollers at the rear that are positioned to direct the keel to the centre of the trailer. The first step to a successful drive-on is setting the trailer correctly in the water. This can vary depending on the trailer style and depth of the boat, but as a rule, the water should be up to just below the mudguards of the trailer. It’s important also to keep the trailer straight and not have one wheel off the side of the ramp, because this will make it difficult to achieve even placement of the stern on the trailer.
To drive your boat on, give yourself plenty of space to approach on a straight line, but do so as slowly as possible. When you’re about 5m away, drop the motor ‘out’ of gear, focusing on maintaining a straight line up the centre of the trailer.
Just before you hit the trailer, slip the motor back into gear. Now, with the nose up against or on the trailer, and the motor in gear, you’re safe. If your nose is not straight towards the winch, simply steer the outboard to correct the angle with the motor engaged in idle. When you’re happy with the line, slowly increase the power until the boat is driving onto the trailer, and up against the winch.
By keeping the motor at those revs in forward, you have time to move up to the bow yourself, and hook up the winch and safety chain by yourself, if need be. Then come back and turn the motor off-it’s that easy!
You can avoid making it difficult by approaching the trailer slowly. Some people get their line right, but as they get nervous on approach they jam the throttle into reverse to slow up. This alters that perfect line and they have to back off and start again, some people several times.
Don’t rush it. Come in slowly and take the prop out of the equation by using neutral. If you feel you need reverse power, allow for it on the approach and set a line slightly to port-left of the centre of the trailer-to allow for the swing to starboard.
The other problem is boaties who hit the trailer, causing the nose to swing off line, thinking that they have to begin the process again. Far from it-all that’s required is to just correct the line by steering the outboard while in gear.
The most difficult situation is driving a boat onto a trailer when there’s a strong wind or tidal movement directly across the trailer. This really causes some tears at the ramp! However, it’s not nearly as hard to cope with as you might think.
Where it often goes wrong is in the approach: you can’t come at the trailer on that same straight line as you would in ideal conditions. The boat’s line will veer with the direction of the wind or tide, going off course, requiring another attempt.
The best tactic in this situation is to approach the trailer on a 45° angle, into the wind (if the boat ramp location and design allow this). By doing this, you have much more control of the boat because you’re pushing it ‘into’ the wind, rather than getting ‘pushed’ by it. Coming in at a 45° angle allows you to resist the wind and just nudge into the trailer.
By keeping the motor engaged in forward, and now steering the stern around until straight, the bow is safely pinned against the trailer’s skids or rollers and should slide to centre. You can now increase the throttle enough to drive up and on.
Approach a jetty much as you would your trailer, remembering effects of prop direction: in reverse, the stern of the boat is going to shift to port. Only this time, the effect will be exaggerated.
More reverse thrust is required since the motion of the boat has to be stopped altogether. With this in mind, the port side of the boat is the correct side from which to approach a jetty.
Ideally, you should set a path to the jetty at about 30°. Come in straight if you have no choice, but you should allow yourself to turn and swing the boat around to that angle on approach. Again, you should slow down to idle speed and take the throttle to neutral around 5m out. At 1m away and positioned about 30° off the jetty, you should shift to reverse, and slowly increase the throttle until the momentum has stopped. By doing this, you’ll have stopped the boat alongside, but the reverse thrust will have swung the stern of the boat towards the jetty, facilitating a perfect parallel park alongside.
If you need to load a person on or off a jetty, or there is little space to use, you might want to come in nose-first. The same rules apply here-idle speed in, neutral at 5m out, but this time engage reverse at least 2m out. Don’t use too many revs in reverse. You’ll be surprised how well the boat will slow and stop over 2m with reverse thrust, but you might need a short, ‘slightly’ harder burst just before you hit the jetty. Ideally, you want to have used enough reverse to stop, and ‘hold’ the boat at the jetty, rather than be now travelling back away from it. Keep in mind, your bow will shift slightly to the starboard side, so allow space for this.
The worst thing you can do in any of these situations is use drastic or excessive amounts of throttle. These dramatically change the position and direction of the boat and can send your crew in for an unwanted swim.
As a rule of thumb, the length of anchor rode deployed should be approximately three times the water depth. For small craft, a length of 3m of chain is required between anchor and rope. This amount should be increased relative to the length of larger boats. The chain is necessary for a variety of reasons. It prevents the rope chafing in the reef, but more importantly, its weight helps keep the anchor firmly placed into the bottom. One trick is to tie stainless steel wire on the two shackle nuts on each end of the chain, as these can work themselves undone with wave movement.
The best way to set an anchor is to approach the area with little or no speed; ideally, the boat should be stationary when you deploy the anchor. When you feel the anchor is nearly or on the bottom, slip the boat’s motor into reverse and idle in the direction the wind or current is travelling until the desired length is released. You may slip the boat into neutral before the length of anchor line is out and rely on the boat’s movement to come tight.
This is heaven for boat manoeuvring and control and the wider the two motors are set apart (as they are on catamarans) the better they are. You can use one motor in forward and the other in reverse to turn the boat. You can use equal amounts of power in opposite directions to turn literally on the spot, or more for one than another if you need to steer slightly to a side while spinning around. Small adjustments of the bow’s direction can be made with a short forward engage on one side only.
Good boat control is not something that comes naturally, it takes practice, but give consideration to the effect that the outboards’ thrust will have, as well as the water and weather conditions.
Review supplied by Modern Boating
NOTE FROM YACHT AND BOAT:
Since this article was written NSW Maritime have released more information on best practice for vessel retrieval. You can download the PDF via the following link…