Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip

Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip, Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip

Before backing your sailboat out of a slip, there are at least five specific aspects for which to look. They are: Wind, Wheel, People, Lines, and Traffic. Here’s an explanation of these elements and their importance in docking.

Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip, Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip

Wind

The very first thing to look for is the direction of the wind. Is the wind going to blow you to port or starboard in your slip as you back out? Also, is the wind going to blow you back out of your slip or deeper into your slip?

I always joke that the wind is always pushing us towards the more expensive vessel. The downwind vessel is always more expensive!

Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip, Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip

Wheel

Based on your boat’s propensity to crab to port in reverse, if you are bow-in at the slip, you’re going to need to decide which way to throw your wheel.

If the boat is bow in, and you are going to be backing to port, your vessel probably pulls in that direction. Plan accordingly.

If you are bow in and backing out to starboard, you’re going to need to preset your wheel all the way to starboard before you ever engage reverse.

With your wheel is centered, but you need to back straight out, you will still crab to port. In order to back straight up with the starboard turning prop, preset the wheel. Turn the wheel a bit to starboard to compensate with tendency for the stern to crab to port.

Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip, Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip

People

Have a plan for all of the people; make sure that they all end up on the boat as it leaves the dock.

Have one or two people who are tall, flexible, and strong enough to walk along with the boat as you are backing out of the slip. They can help guide the boat toward or away from the dock as needed. When their next step would be into the water; it’s time to step on the boat.

If the dock is very low, or your freeboard is very high, practice looping a line around a cleat and retrieving it from on deck. You can practice this before you are actually leaving. This is to make sure that you are able to retrieve the line fluidly when the time comes to perform this maneuver.

Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip, Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip

Lines

Like people, you want to have a plan for all of the lines, and start removing lines with the one under the least load first.

Choose to remove difficult lines first. This could be a solitary line tied to a stand-alone piling, or a bowline away from the helm person’s view.

Pay close attention to the need for setting up spring lines. These are good to use to swing your bow or stern away from the dock. At this point, it is very good time to pay close attention to which springline can serve as your “brakes.” This is the one that, when dropped on a cleat as you back in or forward on it, will be the one that stops you and keeps you from riding the dock.

Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip, Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip

Traffic

Before you release the last couple lines, and before your crew steps on board, make yet another check for traffic.

Very often, in a busy marina, I have seen the helm person caught up in lines, and concentrating hard on their crew, dock, and boat. They are so concerned about the fenders and making a clean break away from the dock, that they neglect to look behind. Then they discover they are backing out right in front of someone already committed and underway.

When you look for traffic, look for masts moving. Sailboats move slower and need more time to clear. Take a quick scan of the water behind you to check if there are any divers cleaning the bottom of the boat next to you. Also very important, look to see if there are any manatees hanging out around your stern.

Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip, Five Elements to Check Before Backing Your Sailboat Out of a Slip

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