Most dangerous destination

Feb 28, 2011
Ironically, one of the most dangerous locations, with an elevated risk of collision, is close to a boat's own dock. Boats backing, turning and emerging from between docks require the helmsman to pay attention.

Ironically, one of the most dangerous locations, with an elevated risk of collision, is close to a boat's own dock. Boats backing, turning and emerging from between docks require the helmsman to pay attention.

To the editor: It is said that accidents are most likely to happen close to home. A few years back, Progressive Insurance took a poll of more than 11,000 policy holders involved in an auto accident and found that 52 percent of them were within five miles of home. This makes sense as it’s only natural to feel more relaxed in the familiar trappings of your own neighborhood. The guard goes down, your mind wanders, and kapow! You’re in a crash.

Which is why my guard is highest when I’m coming or going from my slip: There is no other place on the water that a collision is more likely to occur than a place full of boats and docks.

The helmsman has so much on his mind when departing or approaching a marina that it borders on what jet pilots call “task saturation.” A careful eye must be kept on boat speed, tidal set and drift, wind speed and direction, fender position, lines, crew, water depth, aiming at the correct dock. Whew! You get the idea. So it comes as no surprise that mariners often overlook what can be the most dangerous part of traveling in a marina: another boat going in a crossing direction, or one that’s backing out from its slip.

I’ve had a couple of close and embarrassing calls, including one with a stalled boat that blocked the entire lane, and another just last week where a boater in the opposite slip began backing at the precise moment I did. I have trained myself to be on the ready when approaching home. Binoculars and VHF at my fingertips, I slow down and search the forest of masts ahead. Is there one that’s moving? If yes, abort the approach and wait.

If all are stationary, I approach at a very steep angle (see illustration) and obtain a full visual of the lane to my slip before turning into it — there are power boats in there too, that wouldn’t reveal themselves in my initial search.

Once committed to the lane, my eyes dart back and forth on the boats in their slips. Is exhaust coming out of any of them? I don’t assume that the skipper has seen me coming in. Proceeding under bare steerage allows me to stop in little more than a boat length and avoid the t-bone special.

Originally a Great Lakes and Chesapeake sailor, Robert Beringer is now from the St. Johns River in NE Florida with his two little coxwains Chessie and Rona. He holds a USCG 50-ton license and works as a college administrator.

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