Everyone loves a day out on the water, however, you can often end up facing the daunting challenge of having to berth in an unfamiliar marina. In fact, you can be the best darn sailor out there and things can still go horribly wrong when it comes to marina berthing.
There are a number of things that you should bear in mind when it comes to berthing that can make life a lot easier for you. Berthing tends to be an issue with newer boat owners, but no matter how experienced you are, there are still a number of snippets of advice that can come in handy to you.
So, here are some pieces of advice that you can take on board to hopefully make your berthing experience that little bit easier.
Check in advance
If you’re visiting a new marina for the first time, then it is worth bearing in mind that the layout of the pontoons, as well as the berth numbering system, might not be too clear. Therefore, it is worth you look in advance to see if you have access to this information before you set off. This information can be available to you in an almanac or pilot book, or in detailed charts of the area, whether these be in paper or electronic format.
If you have access to this information, then when you arrive at the marina, you can tell exactly where to go once you are directed to a certain berth or pontoon. This might not make the actual act of berthing any easier, but what it does do, is take away all of the initial stress of finding the location where you are set to berth.
Also, if you arrive at the marina and you are not convinced in your own ability to manoeuvre your boat into the allocated berth, then don’t be afraid to ask for a different one. If the marina has plenty of space in it, the marina operator will tend to be very understanding if you ask for a change of berth. They most certainly won’t want to have a boat flying around all over the place whilst attempting to berth in a tricky spot.
If you want some added insurance to relieve our stress when berthing, it is always worth considering attaching some fenders to your boat. Whilst they might not actually improve your ability to handle the vessel, they will allow you to relax a little bit more, knowing that you have a first line of defence between your boat and others in the marina.
If you do have your fenders to fall back on, this allows you to focus your full attention on handling your boat. They do this by preventing you from worrying too much about a worst case scenario.
Be prepared to bail
If you are attempting a berth then it is always worth allocating, in advance, the point at which you are fully committed to the manoeuvre. You are advised to do this, in order to be able to know when you are able to safely abort your berthing if it isn’t going to plan. Obviously, once you have passed the point at which you are fully committed, you will no longer be able to bail.
This is a good idea as it allows you to evaluate how difficult a berth can be, and leaves you with an alternative or a plan B, if things don’t go to plan. Don’t ever be embarrassed if you do require a plan B. You should always remember that marina berthing can be a challenge even for the most experienced sailors.
Use the tides
Your manoeuvring ability is likely to be influenced more by the tides than anything else, if you are attempting to berth your boat in a marina that is situated in a river or an estuary. One thing that you should bear in mind, is the way in which the tide is flowing, when attempting to berth in a confined space.
As well as knowing which way the tide is flowing, you should also take into account how strong it is. The strength will change in both the outer part of the marina and in the inner parts where the pontoons are located. The tide tends to be stronger and faster in the outer part of the marina and weaker on the inner.
If you’re required to turn your vessel around in a marina such as this, then you should always turn in the direction that will keep the bow pointing into the stream. This will allow you to increase the room you have available by tending to stem the tide mid turn. You should never attempt to turn the bow downstream, if you do, then you can run out of space, which may just end up being a little bit embarrassing.
Most marinas are designed with the tidal streams parallel to the pontoons or fingers that you moor alongside. However, if the marina is situated near the bend of a river, then this isn’t always possible. This means that the stream could be at an angle to the berths, which can make berting more complicated. Cross tides are also able to vary in their angle during different times of day, which means if you head to a marina once, you shouldn’t assume the tides will be the same next time.
Is it windy?
Just as you have to take the tides into account, you should also make sure that you know just what the wind is up to. This is another important factor that can make mooring that little bit more tricky. If the marina is in a non tidal area, then the wind will be the main factor to take into consideration when it comes to berthing.
If you are moving at a slow speed, as you may do when maneuvering in a marina, you should always remember that a large gust of wind can have a disproportionately large effect. If you are mooring in windy weather, you should put the engine in gear with a few revs on, just before the gust hits, returning it to neutral once the wind has passed. This allows you to counteract the wind and hopefully will help you keep your position as well as your steerage.