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Manoeuvring and docking

A ship’s manoeuvring characteristics are determined by a number of factors, as described below.

Factors of ship maneuverability


Of course, the weight of the vessel and possibly the cargo is of great influence. A heavy vessel (e.g. fully loaded) will need much more distance than a lighter vessel to stop. A lighter vessel oon the other hand will have more leeway due to e.g. crosswinds, because it is relatively higher above the water and is less deep, thus catching more wind.


Secondly, the shape of the underwatership is important. Sailing boats have a keel that will form a pivot point and prevent leeway. Sometimes that keel runs all the way from the bow to the stern. These are steady on course, something you want if you cross the ocean. Sometimes the keel is narrow and deep, like in a bulb keel and fin keel that gives good manoeuvrability, something you want if you’re going to sail regattas. Further an s-frame cleaves through waves much better but is difficult to build. A hard chine hull can be built more easily, which is cheaper, but that shape behaves less pleasantly in waves.

Engine and propeller

The influence of engine power is obvious. Of great importance is also whether the vessel has a fixed (built-in engine) or (e.g. outboard engine) or even twin propellers and possibly a bow or stern thruster. A single fixed propeller may have a propeller shaft or a saildrive. With a saildrive, the propeller is right under the engine compared to a propeller shaft that is much closer to the rudder blade.

The helm

If the tiller is to port and the rudder blade to starboard, that is called giving starboard rudder. Note that the boat always turns around a pivot point that is approximately amidships. So if you sail ahead and use port rudder to steer the bow to port, the stern will automatically turn to starboard.


The propwalk effect is the effect that the propeller not only propels forward and backward, but also pulls to the side. This is because the lower propeller blade rotates through water where the pressure is higher. The deeper you dive the higher the pressure. The higher the pressure the greater the resistance. So you can imagine the propeller pulling the stern sideways like a wheel travelling along the ground.

To find out which way the propeller is turning, we first need to find out whether it is a left- or right-turning propeller. If we look at the stern of the ship and the propeller turns to the left in forward, it is a left-handed propeller. In reverse, that left-handed propeller will turn clockwise, but it is still a left-handed propeller. So a propeller turning clockwise going forward will, like a wheel rolling over the ground, pull the stern to the right, making it easier for the bow to steer to the left. In reverse, that propeller will turn counter clockwise, pulling the stern to port. The pitch, that is the twist in the propeller blades, is always made for sailing forward. In reverse, that pitch has actually the wrong shape. This is why the propwalk is much more noticeable in reverse than in forward.

Turning with enough space

If we want to turn 180 degrees and there is enough space to go around in one go, we prefer to go right with a ship with a left-handed propeller.


Ships with a lot of propwalk can often have difficulty reversing, because sometimes the propwalk is even stronger than the rudder effect. Especially when the ship is still stationary, there is no rudder effect. The rudder only takes effect when we have speed through the water. So you better take that into account. Sometimes, when going astern, you may have to give a blow forward with the rudder blade all the way on one side to get the stern back in the right direction.

Turning with limited space

In the situation that we want to turn and it is not possible to turn around in 1 turn, but you have to go forward and backwards a few times, we proceed as follows.

First we turn forward in the direction that is a bit more difficult to turn, so that you benefit from the propwalk in reverse, which is much stronger. So with a left-turning propeller, you first go left in forward and then in reverse so that you benefit from the propwalk that will pull the stern strongly to the right.

Turning in narrow waters with crosswinds

If there is wind and you are sailing in a narrow waterway, it is always important to steer the bow through the wind when you want to turn. This is because you will have to slow the boat down on the turn, so that your turning circle becomes smaller (because there is little space), and when you do that, the wind will immediately get hold of the bow and blow sideways. So at that point, you need to make sure that the wind blows the bow in the right direction. In this way, the wind helps turn the boat 180 degrees. The bow is much more susceptible to crosswinds because the rudder blade at the stern and the heavy engine also form a pivot point in the stern.

Definitions on docking

  • Windward shore: Where the wind blows from in the direction of the sea
  • Lee shore: Where the wind blows against from sea.
Trussing and jumping
  1. Bow line: Line from the foreship to a bollard on the quay in front of the ship
  2. Bow spring: Line from the foreship to a bollard on the quay next to the ship.
  3. Stern spring: Line from the stern to a bollard on the quay next to the ship.
  4. Stern line: Line from the stern to a bollard on the quay behind the ship.

Docking on a Windward shore

When docking on a Windward shore, we sail at an angle of about 45 degrees to the quay. To protect the ship, we hang the fenders ready at the right height. We then tie up a bow spring first. The helmsman carefully accelerates forward and steers the ship in the bow spring which is thus under tension and steers the stern towards the quay. Of course, the mate has to keep a close eye on whether the bow is well protected by the fenders. This method works especially well on large vessels.

arriving higher up on the motorbike

Un-Docking on a Windward shore

The wind blows the boat into the right direction as you cast off. However, it does make sense to cast off the stern line last, so that the bow blows in the right direction.

Descending from the upper shore

Docking on a Lee shore

We moor to the lee shore by allowing the vessel to drift sideways towards the lee shore. Using the engine, we ensure that there is no forward or backward speed at the moment we make contact. Of course, the ship must be protected beforehand by fenders on the right height.

Arriving at lower shore

Un-Docking on a Lee shore

We can sail away from the lower shore in two ways. If we want to sail away ahead, we first turn the ship into the wind with the bow by reversing on engine into the stern spring. When the foreship is sufficiently turned away from the quay, we go ahead and while sailing away, we pull the stern spring in.

Sailing away backwards against the wind is a good option. We first sail the ship forward into the bow spring. When the stern is sufficiently turned away, we sail away backwards against the wind, pulling in the bow spring.

Sailing ahead from lower shore
Sailing backwards from lower shore

shore parallel to the wind

Mooring at a shore parallel to the wind can be done in two ways. With the bow into the wind or with the stern into the wind. If we stop the boat along the quay with the bow into the wind, the bow line is the most important, as it will be tensioned by the wind. If we moor with the stern into the wind, then the stern line will be most important.

arriving longshore in the wind
arriving alongshore before the wind

Un-docking parallel to the wind

If we are lying with the bow into the wind, we can bring in the stern spring last. The wind will blow between the shore and the ship and make the bow turn away. If we are lying with the stern in the wind, we will pull in the bow string last while sailing away. The wind will also blow between the shore and the ship and make the stern turn away.

Docking with current

If we want to moor on tidal current or river, it is actually easy because we first sail against the current with exactly the same speed until we have no ground speed. For example, you have 3 knots of current against, you also sail 3 knots against it. Then you let the current move the boat towards the quay by turning the boat slightly. You keep sailing forward untill at least 2 mooring lines are secured to the quay. Mooring ahead against the current is always preferable.

mooring forward with current

Un-Docking with current

We first remove the lines that have no function anyway. So with current against us, we first take off the bow spring and stern line, which are not under tension anyway. Then we slowly sail against the current and take away the bow line and stern spring.

sailing forward with current

Manoeuvring with Twin engines

Some sailing or motor vessels have two engines and therefore two propellers. Larger motor vessels and catamarans, for example. Then engine manoeuvring is quite different. Twin-engines offer a number of additional possibilities.

Rotating around the axis with twin engines

With two engines you can turn around the axis, without using the rudder at all. We do this by putting one propeller in forward and one in reverse. Sometimes the torque is so powerful that a bow thruster and the steering wheel are actually not even needed. For example, if the engines and therefore the propellers are far apart, as is the case with a catamaran. A torque consists of two forces in opposite directions with a certain distance between them (the arm) and the larger the arm, the more powerful the torque. That distance, or arm, is even greater on a catamaran than on a motor vessel.

Steering with twin screw

You can also keep a straight course with two engines without using the rudder, because with 1 engine forward and the other neutral, the boat turns 1 way. This is because the resisting force of the water against the boat is in the middle and the props a bit more to the sides and push the boat forward. So the starboard engine forward means the boat automatically turns to port. Backwards, a boat has even more resistance from the water. This is because the shape of the stern is not as hydrodynamic as the bow. So the drag force backwards is stronger and so this torque makes the boat turn even faster. So the rotation due to this torque is stronger astern than when sailing forward.

Propwalk twin screw

Another advantage of two propellers is that you can benefit from the propwalk to both port and starboard. Ships with two engines usually have a right-handed propeller on starboard (sailing forward) and a left-handed propeller on port (sailing forward). The propwalk and the turning torque in reverse then reinforce each other. See the illustration below. The reason is that this makes it possible to precisely use the reinforced propeller effect when manoeuvring, sometimes almost similar to a stern thruster.

screw-down torque

Note that on some ships it is the other way around. It is sometimes more economical in terms of fuel consumption and therefore more economical to run the propellers in the other way.

If we put the starboard engine in reverse, that engine will naturally turn to the left and pull the stern to port. The propeller effect in reverse is always considerably stronger than in forward. This is because the shape of the propeller is made for forward sailing. So we can choose to have propeller effect to port or to starboard. We do this simply by putting one engine in reverse and the other in neutral. We thereby get the same effect as a stern thruster. By putting the other engine even in forward and using the propeller water on the rudder blade, we can move the stern almost at right angles to the side. Just like having a stern thruster.

Double-screw docking

Propwalk to port or starboard and the fact that the propellers are next to the centre line gives additional possibilities. Docking and sailing away is different compared to ships with a single propeller.

Docking backwards

Mooring at higher and longer sides can be done by sailing the ship with the stern into the wind towards the quay and stopping. This is very controlled because the bow blows away with the wind but that doesn’t matter because you focus purely on the stern. Then someone first fixes the stern line. Then you can slowly move the propeller on the outside (i.e. not on the shore side) in the forward direction so that the bow also turns against the quay. If you are afraid that the forces on the stern line will become too great, you can slightly reverse the other engine (on the shore side). The turn can still be accelerated by turning the rudder blade / steering wheel towards the shore.

Docking forwards

You can also sail at a 45-degree angle to the windward shore. You then first throw the bow line from the foredeck around the bollard. Then put the propeller in reverse on the outside (i.e. not on the shore side, but on the open water side). The propeller effect then also pulls the stern towards the quay. On the shore side, put the engine slightly into forward to reduce the tension on the line. To speed up the turn, you can turn the rudder / steering wheel away from the shore.

Arriving with double screw


lock chamber
Lock chamber full

Obviously do not tie lines but hold them on your hand because sometimes the water in the lock falls or rises quickly. From sea to inland water, we go from salt to fresh water. If the lock is filled with salt water and the doors open on the freshwater side, the salt water will flow out of the lock as an undercurrent. This is because salt water is heavier than fresh water. But of course, the lock will not empty, so the water will be replaced by an upper current into the lock. If we just cast off, we will soon find ourselves transverse in the lock. So keep that mooring line tight. Air bubbles mix the fresh and salt water, reducing that upper and lower current.

bubble course lock


First, we check the anchor ground and depth, or we look it up, in the chart. We check that the anchor chain and anchor line are secure so that we do not lose the anchor. When we anchor, we take into account the current and wind (always with the bow against the current and wind) and the anchor ground. Then we sail into the wind or current and call Let Go!, which means the anchor can be lowered. While lowering the chain, the skipper sails backwards, as otherwise anchor chain might drop onto the anchor and tangle. Do not sail backwards too fast, as the chain will come under tension every time the anchor digs in, which could cause people to fall aboard. We put anchor chain at least 3 to 5 times the water depth, otherwise the anchor cannot dig in properly into the bottom. When we are at anchor, we hoist an anchor ball, which is a black ball.

When at anchor, the ship can start yawing. That means it will swing behind its anchor because each time a different freeboard catches wind. In that case, we could drop a second anchor in a V-shape. The ship will then stay neatly in the middle behind the 2 anchors. What also can happen is that the anchor starts dragging along the ground and does not dig in, for example, if the ground is hard, it may take a while for the anchor to dig in.

When anchoring on tidal currents, every 6 hours the current will change direction. In that case, the ship may well pull the anchor over, causing it to break out of the ground. If the crew is then asleep or off board and the anchor does not immediately dig itself back in, dangerous situations can arise. Therefore, on tidal waters, 2 anchors can be laid out in line with each other. If the current turns 180 degrees, the ship will be immediately behind the second anchor.

How can we check whether the anchor is holding properly? We can do that by setting the anchor alarm on the GPS. If the vessel moves further than e.g. 100 m from the set position, the GPS will sound an alarm because the anchor is not holding properly then. We can also use a cross bearing to determine whether we are staying at the same point.

Anchor up

We motor up to the anchor and pull in the anchor chain at the same time. So don’t sail too fast, or the chain will damage the bow. And don’t sail too slowly either, because then the anchor winch (or the anchor mate) will suffer too much taking it in. Good communication between the anchor mate and the helmsman is therefore essential here. It is useful to put an extra person amidships to relay commands between skipper and anchor mate.


Scream “Man-overboard”: Everyone needs to know what’s going on. Maybe not everyone saw it.
Shout “Swim!” or “Float” to the drowning person. The shock and cold can cause the drowning person to become frozen in the water, forget to swim and therefore drown.
Point: Have one crew member continuously point to the drowning person. This is very important, because you can quickly lose sight of the drowning person in the waves.
Throw in a life buoy a few meters upwind of the drowning person
Activate the MOB function on the GPS
Steer the stern away from the drowning person. The stern wave can cause a drowning person to hit their head against the stern. Try to prevent that.

The MOB manoeuvre that generally applies well to many ships is by steering the ship directly into the wind. Then the ship comes to a stop faster. On a sailing vessel, pull the mainsail tightly into the middle and furl in the jib. Then you turn and on engine sail the ship exactly upwind of the drowning person and stop the ship there with the wind at a right angle to its direction (on its beam). The vessel will then drift sideways through the water towards the drowning person.

With the engine, you ensure that the ship does not go forward or backward. The advantage is that the drowning person on the lee side of the ship can be brought in more easily, as the freeboard is lower. You make a line connection with the drowning person. The moment the drowning person is next to the boat, you switch off the engine completely to prevent, for example, the drowning person’s foot from getting into the propeller. Hoisting a drowning person on board can be done for example with a swim ladder, climbing net or with a line that you put on a winch to hoist the drowning person up.

Running aground

The danger of running aground is often underestimated. Those who have ever been bouncing on a sandbank by the waves know that it is very frightening. The vessel is put on the sandbank with its keel each time, which can cause huge structural damage that can make the boat total loss. The boat can also leak and sink.

If we run aground it depends on whether we leave the engine on or off, whether it is a motor or a sailing vessel. This is because on a motor vessel, we risk the propeller hitting the ground and sand being sucked up and entering the cooling water system. With a sailing yacht, the keel will hit the ground first, so there is less of that danger for the engine and prop.

If the propeller on a motor vessel does not touch the ground, it is advisable to temporarily close the cooling water valves. Usually this is no problem for a few minutes.

We can then immediately motor in the same direction we came from. After all, the water was deep enough there. That sounds logical, but in practice other decisions are often made in the panic.

If the ship does not float again, it depends on whether we are stuck on windward or lee shore. If it happens close to a windward shore we can make the ship heel, for example, by pulling the sails tight or putting all crew on 1 side. If we are stuck close to a lee shore, this would not be a solution. The ship will then immediately get more and more stuck.

There is no other option but to ask for a tow. Be aware that you will need to pay towing fees if a commercial vessel tows you.

Dead angle barges

Inland vessels also have a blind spot. This is the angle in front of the bow that the skipper cannot see because of cargo on deck, for example. Always assume that if you cannot see the skipper, he will not see you either. So always stay out of the blind spots of barges.

Towing and being towed

When towing, it is important to use a long and stretchy rope. Otherwise, the forces on the bollards become too great. The attachment point is very important. On sailing ships, it is sometimes the mast (for a keel-stepped mast) or the winches (for a deck-stepped mast). Make sure the tow line runs through the bow. The towed boat should always steer into the outside when turning. This is because if you shift your course at the same time as the tug boat, the line comes off tension and then back on tension with a jolt. Try to make the lines so long that both boats are simultaneously on a wave crest to avoid large shocks to the tow line.

If the tow has a small rudder or no rudder at all, it is best to tow crosswise, with 2 tow lines. 1 tow line runs from the port side of the tug to the starboard side of the tow. The other tow line runs from the starboard side of the tug to the port side of the tow. As the tug turns, the tow is automatically pulled outwards.

Towing alongside can only be done in ports or locks when there are no waves.


Med style mooring with the anchor


  • Study Navily and pilot book.
  • Measure, with the measuring tool on the chart plotter, the distance to see if there is enough space to drop enough anchor chain.

Prepare manoeuvre

  • Check if the anchor chain is fixed to the boat with a small line to prevent that you lose the chain and the anchor.
  • Call harbour master to ask where you can moor the boat, if he can help with the stern lines in case of a strong crosswind with a dinghy.
  • Measure with the measuring tool on the chart plotter where to drop the anchor. Use as much chain as possible, so: length chain + length boat – 5 meter margin from quay.
  • Never drop the anchor upwind, always with a straight angle with the quay because the wind can change.
  • Fenders on both sides on the right height and 2 big ball-fenders on the stern.
  • Prepare stern lines on the cleats.
  • Flyby to check chains, quay, tenders of neighbour boats, etc. and ask help from a person on the shore if no harbour master.
  • If nobody is onshore to help and there are rocks in front of the quay prepare the gangway to go onshore
  • Switch on the windlass and remove devil’s claw chain stopper.
  • If you are towing a tender bring it to the bow or with a crew ask someone to drive the tender to assist if necessary or hoist it on deck.
  • Activate track on the chart plotter, so that you later can see where you have dropped the anchor.
  • Have the boat-hook ready.
  • Take away the flagpole as it can be in the way.

Start to manouevre

  • Activate bow truster
  • Manoeuvre the boat to the location where to drop the anchor, with the stern to the quay.
    With a crosswind, point the bow slightly into the wind, to anticipate on that it will be blown away first by the wind.
    Also keep in mind prop walk. Try not to cross chains with other boats.
  • Carefully let the anchor down (first 1 meter of chain) and make sure it doesn’t hit or damage the hull.
  • When the boat is still stopped, drop the anchor until is reaches the seabed and start reversing
  • If there is no plotter, make bearing when you drop the anchor, so you know where you dropped it in case you need to do it again.
  • Use hand signals for up, down or stop dropping the chain.
  • The deckhand will hand signal to the skipper how many meters of chain is out.
  • When you are close to the quay stop dropping the anchor and fix the windward stern line.
  • Keep the stern free of the quay, with the engine in forward if needed.
  • Also fix the leeward stern line.
  • Slowly pick up chain and make sure the anchor is not dragging. Feel the tension on the chain for that.
  • If there is swell or crosswind, sometimes it can be good to add cross lines / spring lines.


  • Apply the devil’s claw chain stopper to hold the load of the anchor and chain when at anchor, taking the load off the windlass.
  • Ask what time the neighbours will leave and be present when they go. They could lift your anchor.
  • Watch out that the gangway doesn’t get stuck between the boat and the quay or something on the quay because it can damage the boat. Sometimes ferries can enter the port and create a strong swell.
  • Leave the keys in the engine, so that you or someone else can move the boat when the anchor starts dragging or when the neighbour boat lifts your anchor because chains were crossed.


  • Take away gangway, electricity cable, flagpole, devil’s claw chain stopper
  • Take away leeward shoreline first
  • Take in windward shoreline as you leave and pick up the anchor chain
  • Make sure that the anchor chain is not piling up, so it gets stuck under the windlass, so divide it inside the chain locker.

Med style stern-to mooring with Lazy-Lines

Prepare manoeuvre

  • Fenders on both sides on the right height and 2 big ball-fenders on the stern
  • Prepare stern lines on cleats
  • Flyby to check quay, tenders, etc. and ask help from a person onshore.
  • The person who will have to pick up the lazy lines and mooring lines will need to use gloves as the lines are dirty and have shells on it that are sharp.
  • If you are towing a tender bring it to the bow or with a crew ask someone to drive the tender to assist if necessary or hoist it on deck.
  • Have the boat-hook ready.
  • Take away the flagpole as it can be in the way.

Start manouevre

  • Activate bow truster (but be extremely careful to use it because the lazy lines can come into the bow truster)
  • Manoeuvre the boat to the location, with the stern to the quay. With crosswind, point the bow slightly into the wind, to anticipate on that when stopped the bow will be blown away first. Also keep in mind prop walk and start reversing.
  • Fix the windward stern line
  • Keep the stern free of the quay with the engine forward if needed. Watch out that the lazy lines do not come into the prop.
  • Pick up the windward lazy line with the boat hook and fix the mooring line on the cleat.
  • Fix the leeward lazy and mooring line.
  • Fix the leeward stern line.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to adjust the right distance between the boat and the quay. To do that, give some slack on the stern lines and take in the mooring lines on the bow and pull the stern lines as last. As much as possible, but enough to go ashore with the gangway.
  • If there is swell or crosswind, sometimes it can be good to add cross lines / spring lines.


  • Watch out that the gangway doesn’t get stuck between the boat and the quay or something on the quay because it can damage the boat.


  • Take away gangway, electricity cable, flagpole
  • Take in the leeward shoreline and drop the mooring line into the water
  • Drop the windward shoreline into the water, wait until it is sunk to the seabed so it doesn’t get into the prop and go forward.
  • Take in the windward shoreline in as you are leaving. Skipper needs to check if that line does’t get stuck while taking it in.

Questions & Answers

Question 1: If the tiller is on the starboard side, this is called:

a: Rudder to starboard
b: Rudder to port
c: Rudder amidships

Question 2: With the rudder blade on the port side, in forward the stern goes to…

a: Unknown
b: Port side
c: Starboard

Question 3: A ship with a left-hand propeller turns more easily when sailing forward…

a: Clockwise
b: Counterclockwise
c: To port

Question 4: If we want to turn in narrow waters with a left-hand propeller and we can’t turn around in 1 go, we first turn…

a: Clockwise
b: Counterclockwise
c: It doesn’t matter

Question 5: If we have to turn in narrow waters and there is a strong crosswind, we turn…

a: With the bow through the wind
b: Counterclockwise
c: Clockwise

Question 6: Mooring on the lee shore is done…

a: Sail backwards towards the quay
b: with the bow first
c: Perpendicular to the wind

Question 7: We sail off the lee shore with engine forward into the bow spring and then…

a: Sail away forward
b: Sail away backwards against the wind
c: Take in the spring and sail away forward

Question 8: If we are moored on a longitudinal shore with the bow in the wind, we cast off at last line…

a: the stern spring
b: the spring
c: the stern line

Question 9: If we want to moor on current…

a: we sail across the current towards the quay
b: we sail at an angle of 45 degrees to the quay
c: we sail against the stream

Question 10: If we want to cast off with the current against, the last line to cast off is…

a: the bow and stern spring
b: the bow line and stern spring
c: the bow spring and stern spring