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Basic powerboat handling

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A guide to some basic boat handling techniques.

It doesn’t matter how confident you are in your own ability to handle a boat, there is always a point where you find yourself struggling to pull off some manoeuvre or other.

Generally it will be in the marina which will suddenly fill with 'well-wishers' all looking to enjoy your big moment!

So let's take a step back and revisit some basic boat handling techniques.

Leaving a pontoon or berth

Coming away from a pontoon is a relatively simple manoeuvre. If the route ahead is clear and there is no wind or stream, then for small boats a good push off the pontoon and driving away forward can do the trick.

With larger craft, however, you need to drive it off. Coming away in reverse is often the best way to leave a berth.

  • Steer away from the pontoon.
  • Engage reverse.
  • As the stern comes away, straighten up the wheel.
  • Once well clear, move off ahead.


As boats are more curved at the bow than the stern it is possible to fender the bow area well and motor gently towards the pontoon for a second to push the stern away from the pontoon.

This creates space for the stern to reverse clear. This is especially true for single shaft drive craft.

Twin outdrives

Here is a case for not using opposite helm and engine. Turn the helm to the left and put the left engine in astern. This tends to lift the boat from the dock.

Twin shafts

Protect the bow with fenders and go astern on the inside prop. If there is an onshore wind you might need to turn the helm towards the dock and use a touch of ahead from the outside prop or use a bow line to pull against.

Using a line to assist leaving a berth

If the wind is pushing the boat onto the pontoon, or if the berth is restricted, motoring against a line can allow the stern to get into clear water and allow an easy exit.

Reversing on a bow line

  • Rig up a bow slip line.
  • Fender the bow well.
  • Steer away from the dock.
  • Engage astern.
  • The stern starts to pivot away from the pontoon into clear water.
  • Engage neutral.
  • Slip the bow line and reverse away.

This works well for all craft with the exception of single shaft drive. On twin engine vessels use the engine nearest the pontoon.


Bow spring line

  • Rig a bow spring line and fender the bow area.
  • Motor forwards to bring the bow in and the stern away from the pontoon.
  • Engage Neutral.
  • Slip the spring and reverse away.


This works well for single shaft drive craft.

It's also worth bearing in mind that moving away forward on any vessel will kick the stern into the pontoon.

For more information on boat handling techniques check out the RYA Powerboat Handbook. You can pick up a copy by going to the RYA Web Shop, or order your copy by calling 0844 5569518.

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