Maneuvering Your Boat

On-the-water training is required to learn the boating skills listed below. However, before your training, it is extremely helpful to know the basic steps in each maneuver. The skills are illustrated by on-the-water video footage, computer animated videos and by the use of animated GIFs. To view the animated GIFs, click on the far right illustrations. To view the videos, click on the respective link buttons.

Leaving a Dock
Minimum Control Speed

Pivot Turn
Person in Water Rescue
Holding Position
Approaching a Mooring Buoy


High-Speed Stop
Towing Alongside
Rescuing a Capsized Sailboat



Leaving a Dock     Go To Top

Backing away from a dock usually offers the best maneuvering control. It also avoids a problem inherent to forward departures when the boat starts to turn and its stern swings into the dock, preventing the boat from departing cleanly. Start by turning the wheel away from the dock, which rotates the propeller away from the dock. Shift into reverse, the stern swings away from the dock as the boat backs away. To avoid scraping the bow against the dock, make your turning angle slight. When clear of the dock, turn the wheel in the opposite direction to bring the boat parallel to the dock. Center the wheel, pause briefly in neutral while counting 1-2-3, then shift to forward.

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 Minimum Control Speed    Go To Top


A capability that is a "must" for anyone operating a powerboat in close quarters or around other boats or persons in the water. Minimum control speed is the slowest speed at which you can operate and still maintain steering control. Typically, this is less than the speed produced when the engine is in gear and the throttle is set at idle RPM, and is accomplished by the use of intermittent power. With the throttle at idle RPM, shift from neutral to forward and back to neutral. This produces a short, gentle pulse of power to maintain steering control. Repeat this technique to keep the boat under control and moving slowly.

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Pivot Turn    Go To Top


A method for turning a boat in a restricted area. Its success depends on positioning the helm first and then applying power in very short applications. It is seldom necessary to use more than idle RPM. Starting at rest, turn the wheel hard over and shift into gear at idle RPM to initiate the pivot turn.  Shift into neutral and turn the wheel hard over in the opposite direction, while counting 1-2-3. Shift into reverse at idle RPM to continue the turn, and repeat the steps until the boat has completed the turn.

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Person In the Water (PIW) Rescue    Go To Top

If a person falls overboard, immediately swing the stern and propeller away from the person in the water. Shout "Crew Overboard!" and throw buoyant objects such as cushions and life rings toward the person. Assign a spotter. Designate someone to point to the person. Maneuver the boat into a position downwind. Approach slowly using intermittent power, bow first pointing into the wind and waves with the person in the water on the driver's side. Shift into neutral and coast to the person. When contact is made, shut off the engine. Attach the person to the boat using a looped line. Assist the person to get back into the boat.

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Holding Position    Go To Top


The key to holding position is to anticipate boat drift and make small, gentle corrections early rather than large powerful corrections late. There are two methods for holding position: Bow into Waves, and Stern into Waves. Since the bow will usually have a tendency to turn away from the wind, you will have to compensate for this by periodically shifting into forward gear and making slight steering corrections to bring the bow back into the wind. Because the bow wants to turn downwind, it is usually easier to hold position with the stern into the wind, provided the waves don't come over the transom.

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Boat motion is exaggerated
in the GIF for demonstration purposes.

Approaching a Mooring Buoy    Go To Top


Moorings typically have a large buoy that is attached to an anchor on the bottom with chain. The driver should approach the mooring with it on his side of the boat to keep it in sight throughout the maneuver. Approach at minimum control speed from a position downwind of the buoy, or down current if stronger. Shift into neutral. Use reverse if needed to stop boat. Pick up and secure mooring pennant.

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High-Speed Stop    Go To Top

To avoid a possible collision with a submerged object or another boat it may be necessary to stop your boat quickly. To be able to respond promptly, keep one hand on the throttle and the other on the steering wheel at all times. All occupants should be in their seats and have a secure grip on the boat. As a boat rolls in a tight turn, it always slides sideways. There is a risk in some boats of the boat's wake coming over the transom. To avoid this flooding problem, reduce throttle to idle RPM. Make a 90-degree turn. Shift into neutral.

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Docking    Go To Top

To master this important maneuver you need to be aware of how your powerboat steers and reacts to changes in throttle and gearshift in different wind and current conditions. Place fenders at dock level and prepare dock lines before making the final approach. Be sure everyone knows what to do with the dock lines. Come alongside the dock with the bow pointing into the wind or current, whichever is stronger. Approach the dock slowly at a 25 to 45 degree angle and use intermittent power to maintain minimum control speed. When the bow is 1/2 to one boat length from the dock, make a smooth turn to bring the boat almost parallel to the dock by turning the wheel and briefly shifting into forward. Then shift to neutral. Turn the wheel toward the dock and briefly shift to reverse to bring the stern in as the boat stops.

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Anchoring    Go To Top

After checking an area, approach the anchoring spot slowly, heading into the wind or current, whichever is stronger. Stop the boat and lower the anchor over bow- do not throw it. The end of the rode should be attached to the boat before releasing the anchor. Let out the anchor line as the boat drifts downwind. If the wind has too little effect, back the boat very slowly while letting the line run out freely. Avoid backing too fast, which could cause the anchor to bounce along the bottom. When a scope of 5:1 has been let out, wrap the line around the bow cleat and reverse slowly against it until it becomes taut.

  GIF animation not available

Backing    Go To Top

When backing up into the wind or downwind, use minimum control speed. When backing towards the wind the combination of windage and pivot point will help you hold course. It may be more difficult to maintain your course when backing downwind. If the bow falls off too much you will lose steering control. Before this happens, shift to forward gear and bring the boat back on course. Then back up again with perhaps a slight steering correction to compensate for the wind's effect.

  GIF animation not available

Towing Alongside    Go To Top

Towing another boat alongside is often used when bringing a disabled boat into a dock. The towboat should be positioned so that its propeller is far enough aft of the other boat's stern to turn the tow in either direction.

Fenders should be rigged between the boats to prevent damage. Tie the boats together tightly using bow, stern and spring lines, so there is no movement between them. If a line is slack, it will reduce the maneuverability of the tow.

When coming alongside a dock, approach it at minimum control speed with the other boat on the dockside.

  GIF animation not available

Rescuing a Capsized Sailboat    Go To Top

Approach the sailboat perpendicular to the mast on the forestay side to keep the powerboat away from the sailor on the cockpit side of the boat, or from running over the submerged mainsail. Make contact with the top of the mast, or with the forestay if the mast is submerged too much to grab. Once contact is made with the sailboat, turn off the engine. Then lift the mast tip and move hand over hand down the mast and shroud to bring the boat upright.

In this video, the sailor has positioned himself to be scooped into the cockpit as the boat comes upright. Another method frequently used to get the sailor back on the boat has the sailor standing on the centerboard. As the boat comes upright, he swings his leg over the side of the boat, like swinging a leg over a saddle, and slides into the cockpit.

  GIF animation not available

*  Safety of the sailor comes first.

*  Check for signs of injury, fatigue or hypothermia and that no one is trapped under the sails.

*  Always keep the propeller away from persons in the water.