Coming Alongside a Jetty

The Drop Zone

Bob Couper shares his pearls of wisdom for coming alongside a jetty.

Before coming alongside a jetty or other marine structure, do a dry run to check out the conditions of the approach to the berth. In particular, check the water depth and the strength and direction of any wind and/or tidal flow. Work out how these are going to affect the required manoeuvres using both the rudder and the motor to steer the boat along the desired path.

Although it is normally best to make an approach up-tide, look at what alternative approaches are possible. Then clear the decks and position crew, lines and fenders accordingly. Keep the boat speed slow but fast enough to maintain steerage. Use bursts of power from the motor rather than continuous drive. If the approach starts to look wrong, never be too proud to immediately abort the approach and start all over again after a rethink.


Stern first or bow first?

Check whether it would be easier to approach stern first rather than bow first. New skippers commonly make the mistake of thinking that the boat will steer like a car (eg the “bow” will follow the line being steered). This is not so. Overall, the shape of a particular boat’s underwater surfaces will determine how it turns. But in general, with the keel down, the location of the pivot point about which most trailable yachts will turn is approximately one-third of the waterline length back from the bow (eg near the mast step). With the keel up, the pivot point moves further aft, resulting in the boat “skidding” further sideways in a turn. This effect is amplified on yachts with little or no skeg.


In each case, steer to place the pivot point where you want it to go. The bow will swing less than the pivot point and the stern further as the boat pivots. Course alterations are therefore carried out in somewhat of a controlled slide to keep the pivot point online and the bow and stern clear of obstructions.


Final approach

During the final approach, a crew member should be allocated the task of taking the first line ashore to secure the boat. The midships breast line at the boat’s point of maximum beam is a very powerful tool and should be used as the first line ashore whenever possible. A back mooring hitch can be used to quickly tie the line to a bollard. With the breast line secured, the bow and stern will remain in position, allowing time to secure the other dock lines.


A “snotter” can make the task of landing the first line ashore easier. This is a line that is around 1½ times the length of the boat with a large soft eye in either end. Place the eyes over the bow and stern cleats respectively to allow the shore crew member to manoeuvre both the bow and stern using the one line. If the boat is being single-handed, the loop can be merely dropped over a jetty cleat or bollard to hold it temporarily in place as the skipper arranges the final dock lines.


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This story first appeared in Cruising Helmsman February 2010

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