Fairway Turns – Plan Ahead

If you didn’t think about it 10 minutes ago you waited too long!

When it comes to fairway turns, you never get to select the timing, therefore, always be ready.  I had this reinforced in a Basic Coastal Cruising class yesterday.  We were exploring the limits of the BCC practice area including “destinations.”  While checking out the docks at Sam’s, a boat backed out of a slip in front of us.  In this case, we were able to just put it in reverse and back out, however, in another case a fairway turn might have been required.  Knowing ahead of time what to do “if” something happened prevented the need to make a snap, and possibly incorrect, judgement.  This time, We knew ahead of time we were in the middle of the fairway, with little wind, on a boat with minimal prop walk.  Just the right conditions to back out.  If any of these three factors had been different, a fairway turn probably would have been in order.  Always think about the situation when pulling into a fairway or for that matter, any close quarters situation.  It’s all part of the Location, Orientation, Transition process.  Plan out ahead of time what maneuver(s) you are need to do, and what options are available in the event of a problem.

Let’s say you are in the fairway approaching the slip you plan to dock in.  There are a number of things you should know before you need to.

  • Port prop walk vs. starboard prop walk?  Which direction will you most likely turn while executing a fairway turn?  Turning away from prop walk allows the prop walk to assist in the turn.  Turning the other way is possible if other conditions are there to assist.
  • Is the intended slip to port or starboard.  Turning into a slip located to port means you are most likely set up on the starboard side of the fairway.  If so, you may not have room to make a normal fairway turn to starboard.  Will the boat you are on and the conditions execute a fairway turn the opposite direction?
  • Where is the wind.  Wind from ahead generally helps a fairway turn.  Wind from astern hinders it.   With the wind coming from the side, turning towards the wind is generally easier than turning away from the wind.  When you start the turn, the momentum of the bow will help get the bow through the wind.  Once the bow is through the wind, the wind finishes the turn for you.  All you need to do is keep from blowing backwards.  Turning away from the wind pits several forces against you.  The momentum of the boat is downwind.  The wind blows the boat downwind.  When you think you are “almost done,” and shift into forward throttling up, the boat surges downwind!  As you make the turn trying to get back to the middle of the fairway from the lee side, the stern slides downwind.  There is only a certain about of room downwind before something hard is encountered!  The same problem happens when you back out of a downwind slip, and don’t get the bow oriented a bit to windward.  I personally have seen more collisions at that point of a slip departure or a fairway turn than all other reasons combined!
  • Are you looking for telltales a boat is about to move?  Coolant exhaust, crew at the ready handling dock lines, and a helms-person standing behind the wheel are all clues that something is about to change.

The moral of the story … “stuff” happens, plan ahead to avoid anxiety and possibly expensive damages.

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