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Helmsmanship, Docking, Vessel Stability


Smooth and positive operation of the helm and engine controls are necessary for safe boat operation. When stepping up to the controls of any vessel, the vessel operator should become familiar with the helm, engine controls, gauges and electronics. Modern boats are designed to allow for a wide range of operators who should be certain they make proper adjustments so that seating is comfortable with clear visibility of the sea and instruments. At the same time make certain operating the controls is comfortable.


Before approaching a dock have your crew tasked and positioned, mooring lines ready, and fenders set. Come into the dock against the wind and current whenever possible. There is no need to rush, choose a speed that gives enough headway/sternway to maintain steerage and control while counteracting wind and current. 


Line handling while docking is extremely important. Operators should provide loud and clear directions to the crew. If possible assign one person to be ready with a hand-held (walking) fender secured to a short line. This is used to fend off other vessels or objects when in close quarters.


When you are ready to leave a dock sound one prolonged blast (4 to 6 seconds) on the boat’s whistle (horn) before making way. If backing out sound three short blasts (1 second each) on the whistle once your engines are in stern propulsion mode.

  1. Bow Line

  2. After Bow Spring

  3. Forward Quarter

  4. Stern Line

  5. Breast Lines (optional lines)



The stability of your vessel is something you depend on for the safety of all passengers.  Stability is the tendency of the boat to remain upright. Gravity and buoyancy are the two primary forces acting upon a floating vessel that affect stability. Gravity pushes the vessel down into the water, while buoyancy is the force that pushes up from the water to keep the vessel afloat. The interaction of these two forces determines the vessel’s stability. Not keeping these forces in balance can cause a vessel to capsize, especially in rough seas. When boarding and loading a boat keeping weight as low as possible in the hull increases stability. Do not overload; and, on smaller boats avoid having everyone up on the flying bridge at the same time.

Restricted Visibility

Any condition other than night that reduces visibility, including fog and heavy rain, is restricted visibility. Care should be taken when boating in these and night conditions. By law you are required to proceed at a safe speed for the prevailing circumstances and visibility conditions. While in these conditions it is important to be on the lookout, and to be familiar with Light and Sound Signals.

Hull Types

The hull is the main body of a boat. There are three types of hull forms: displacement hulls, planning hulls and semi-displacement hulls. Multi-hull vessels such as catamarans fall into these three categories of performance.

Displacement hulls stay within the water and push the water aside as they move. This characteristic restricts the speed of the hull through the water.

Planning hulls are designed to skim across the water’s surface so that very high speeds are possible.

Semi-displacement hulls split the difference. Up to a certain speed the hull remains in the water like a displacement hull. As speed increases the hull raises into to a partial plane.

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