Boat handling begins with getting to know your boat. Learn its characteristics and give yourself time to practice. This will make performing manoeuvres easier to learn and you will be able to predict how your boat will react when going forward, astern or turning.
Boat handling principles are the same on all boats, it’s just about learning the individual characteristics.
Boat Handling Basics: Steering
A propeller rotates and pushes the boat through the water. To go astern, the propeller rotates in the opposite direction and pulls the boat. A propeller that turns clockwise to produce forward thrust, when viewed from aft, is called right-handed. Left-handed is the opposite.
The rudder needs water to flow over it to enable you to steer the boat. This can be achieved in three main ways:
a) The boat needs to be in motion
b) Tidal water is running across the rudder, or
c) Prop wash from the propeller flows over it.
The rudders on yachts are large which means you can steer and turn at slow speeds. If you turn the rudder hard to one side and motor ahead, the prop wash will flow over one side of the rudder and turn the boat. Prop wash cannot be used when motoring astern as it will not flow across the rudder – you rely on the motion of the boat.
Moving the rudder before applying power, means you can turn in a smaller circle. Motoring forward before moving the rudder makes the boat turn in a larger curve.
Propwalk or propeller walk is used to describe the tendency that a propeller has to rotate the boat as well as moving it forwards or astern.
When you understand how propwalk affects maneuvering, it can be used to your advantage in small spaces when mooring or docking. It can also complicate matters if it goes against what you are trying to accomplish!
To learn about your boats propwalk, run the engine astern. The prop wash will be seen clearly on one side. If your prop wash goes to starboard, it means the stern will walk to port when going astern. You always need to take this into consideration when reversing.
For example, a left-handed propeller walks the stern of the boat to port and push the bow to starboard. This turns the boat clockwise which you may need to correct. Going astern, the effect is greater and the boat will turn counter-clockwise.