Small Cruise Ship, Shallow-Water Ops

Most Boat Trader readers, whether they run on rivers and lakes or along coasts, can probably relate to boats that are purpose-built for their areas of operation. So it is with Grande Mariner, the Blount Small Ship Adventure vessel I’ve been aboard as chief mate this winter. A few weeks ago I wrote about safety operations aboard Grande Mariner. This time I thought I’d tell you about the ship’s shallow-water capabilities. As the brochure says. “Go where the big ships cannot”. That means shallows — rivers, the Intracoastal Waterway, the Bahamas, and even Belize.

In a keel-cooler system, coolant circulates through a closed loop. part of which is exposed to cool seawater outside the hull. Keel coolers eliminate the need for a raw-water cooling circuit, which can suck up mud and sand in shallow-water operations. Diagram courtesy of Fernstrum.
In a keel-cooler system, coolant circulates through a closed loop. part of which is exposed to cool seawater outside the hull. Keel coolers eliminate the need for a raw-water cooling circuit, which can suck up mud and sand in shallow-water operations. Diagram courtesy of Fernstrum.

So what are the design features we’re talking about? Well, all powerboats need engine cooling. In this case, a keel coolers keep two 3412 Caterpillar diesels purring. No raw-water intake sucking up silt for these Cats. Then there’s a reinforced bow, built to ice-cutter specs, along with a bow ramp for driving right up to the beach and hopping off. And there’s a pilothouse that hydraulically lowers to get under bridges. And the draft of this 180-foot boat of 450 deadweight tons? Seven feet. Even the running gear (props, shafts, and rudders) needs special protection.

None of these things is unique by itself, but when you combine all these features with how you have to operate in shallow water, you get a better picture. For instance, we have the capacity to carry about 6,000 gallons of fuel and 6,000 gallons of potable water. We also have holding tanks for treated sewage, fire sprinklers, and gray water. Throw in 90 or so passengers, a crew of 18, and all the comforts of home, and you have a lot going on in a small package.

Grande Mariner draws only seven feet, and can nose into a lot of places where larger vessels can't venture.
Grande Mariner draws only seven feet, and can nose into a lot of places where larger vessels can’t venture.

The sanitation system treats the sewage to something we are told is drinkable (no thanks) but by international law can only be pumped at least three miles offshore. So you have all these tanks carrying all this weight, and you have to plan carefully how much to have on board at any time in order be at the right draft. We have reverse-osmosis watermakers on board, but we have to be careful where and when we operate them. Probably not a good idea to pump the holding tanks at the same time you’re making water. And the intakes for the watermakers are up forward by the anchors. Anchoring happens almost everyday, but we don’t want to pull up the anchor and a cloud of mud for the watermakers to ingest, so every time we handle the anchor or even cross a shallow entrance bar, we temporarily shut down the watermakers. Same goes for the raw-water pumps used for our air-conditioning systems–if we’re kicking up a cloud of dust we cut these off too.

The final consideration when running in shallow water is how fast can you go. Many times we’ve had less than two feet under us, and it’s not unusual to “polish the bottom” on occasion, as we did crossing the Rio Dulce entrance bar. You need to apply power to do this, this but too much power and the boat can “squat” towards the bottom and make matters worse.

So, lessons from a big boat that can be applied to smaller ones: Running in very shallow water takes careful consideration of tankage and overall displacement, what equipment is running and when, tide levels and currents, and how fast to go. Don’t forget a pair of polarized sunglasses to see the shallows better, and a well-calibrated depthsounder.

Rafting Up: Tips and Tricks

Rafting up with friends is one of the big pleasures of boating, but there are procedures and protocols that make it safe and enjoyable.
Rafting up with friends is one of the big pleasures of boating, but there are procedures and protocols that make it safe and enjoyable.

Rafting up with other boats can serve two purposes – it can either provide you a docking place when the boat slips are already full, or it can be strictly a social activity. Regardless of your purposes, keep in mind that there are unwritten rules of rafting up etiquette that every boater should know and follow. Adequate and proper preparation is key for successfully rafting up your boat to another’s boat. Be sure to do the following:

  • Have an anchor and plenty of properly sized fenders and lines.
  • Tie your fenders on properly with a clove hitch locked by a half hitch.
  • Put your fenders into position ahead of time.
  • Lines should only be made fast to the cleats in case the raft-up has to break up quickly.
  • Tie up to a boat that is similar in size both for ease in jumping from one boat to another and for matching up fender heights to help prevent squeezing.
  • Go slowly into position from behind, being careful to watch for other boaters and water sports enthusiasts.
  • Move up past the line, drop anchor, reverse, and back into position, ensuring tension on the anchor line.
  • Tie bow, stern, and spring lines onto the adjacent boat.
  • Consider dropping a stern anchor as well for more stability and security for the raft-up.
  • If you’re approaching the raft-up, watch out for stern anchors!
  • Check the height of the fenders both fore and aft.
  • Lines and fenders should be checked regularly during the raft-up to ensure tension and position.
  • As any good boater should, always keep an eye on the weather.
  • When you’re leaving the raft-up, conduct one last visual check before turning over the engine; as you move to retrieve your anchor, again, watch for swimmers and other boaters.

Other common courtesy considerations when rafting up can go a long way:

  • When initiating a raft-up, know that it’s acceptable to ask, and to be asked, to join.
  • Always ask fellow boaters before turning up your music.
  • Respect the privacy of your neighbors.
  • Be careful when crossing from one boat to another. Tread lightly when crossing to avoid heavy rocking.
  • Keep your boating experience clean by ensuring no trash goes into the water including beverage containers; recycling is the key.
  • If you’ve gone ashore, ensure your feet/deck shoes are sand-free before crossing.
  • Charge up your boat’s batteries and turn the generator off!


How to Tie a Bowline: Remember the Two Loops

A lot of people have tried and failed to learn how to tie a bowline, the most important knot in boating, and one of the most important knots anywhere. It’s too bad, but for some reason people freak out about it, as if it’s harder to tie than, say, a shoelace, which it isn’t.

Let’s stop the madness. And for now let’s skip over discussion of all a bowline can do, and how to tie it right- or left-handed, or how to tie it fast, or behind your back, and all that flashy stuff. But it is important to understand a little bit about what the knot does and how it’s constructed, because without being aware of those two things people tend to get off track when they try to tie it.

Figure out how big you want the Outer Loop to be, and make an Inner Loop where you want the knot. Pass the working end of the line up through the Inner Loop. If you were to keep pulling it all the way through, you would make the simplest of all knots – an overhand knot. But you’re not going to pull it all the way through.

A bowline is used to make a loop. That’s its sole purpose. The loop can go over a piling, or be tied through a ring, or put to a lot of other uses. It’s a very strong knot, and it works because the harder the loop is pulled, the tighter the knot becomes as it locks down on itself. But it can also be untied even after the loop has been under tremendous tension and the knot under tremendous pressure.

Now, here’s the thing. There are two loops involved in a bowline. First there’s the loop already mentioned – the one that goes over the piling and does the job you’re tying the bowline for in the first place. Let’s call that the Outer Loop. It can be as big or as small as you need it to be, depending on where you tie the knot. The second loop is the one you’re going to make in order to tie the knot itself. Let’s call this the Inner Loop. People often forget (or are never taught) to separate these two loops in their minds – again, one loop to tie the knot, and the other loop to do the job.

Pass the working end around the back of the standing part of the line and directly back through the Inner Loop – right through the hole it came out of. There are two ways you can go around the standing part. Go the way that lets the working end lie inside the Outer Loop when the knot is finished – it makes a mechanically stronger knot than if it lies on the outside.

If you look at the photos here and follow the captions, you can see how it all works. When you practice, remember the concept of Inner Loop and Outer Loop (or whatever you want to call them yourself). Tie the bowlines slowly. Tie them with the working end inside the Outer Loop (the correct knot), but also make a few with the working end on the outside of the loop, because it will help familiarize you with the mechanics of the knot.

Adjust the knot in relation to the final Outer Loop you want to make, then tighten it by holding the working end and the nearest side of the Outer Loop in one hand, and the standing part of the line in the other, and pulling opposite.

Here’s a demonstration on YouTube. Just remember, when you watch it, to note the difference between the loop used to make the knot and the loop the knot is making. Let me know in Comments if this Inner Loop / Outer Loop concept helps you with the bowline, and maybe next time we can look at a really fast way to tie it. And after that, we could cover the Carrick Bend, a truly ingenious construction of back-to-back bowlines, used (as the name suggests) to bend two lines of equal diameter together.

Boat Docking 101: Good Articles and Videos

There’s plenty of information available online about how to dock your boat. Some of it’s even pretty good. Trouble is, when you multiply boat types by docking situations by weather and current conditions, you get a lot of variables. A YouTube video showing a single-engine runabout coming up along a nice stretch of open dock, like this one from the U.S. Power Squadrons, is a good place to start if you’re a beginner.

close dockage
Close quarters: The finger piers are close together and the distance between docks is narrow. Boatowners here have to know how to maneuver, especially in a breeze.

But eventually you’ll need to come alongside a crowded dock, or pull in to a floating finger pier, or back into a slip between pilings, or back between other boats. You’ll have to deal with headwinds, tailwinds, crosswinds, and everything in between. Same for currents, in most places. So no matter how much you watch videos of docking and read about it – and you should do those things because they’ll help you understand all the elements involved —  the only real way to get good at it is to practice in your own boat, or in the boat of a friend. If you have a friend that wonderful, ask to watch him or her dock the boat a few times and explain what they’re thinking and doing at each step. Note the moving relationships between boat speed, approach angle, engine trim and angle (or rudder angle), and how the person at the helm is accounting for the effects of wind and current. In general, you’ll see that the people who are best at docking are both calm and slow. (OK, most launch drivers are calm and fast, but they do this for a living.) Here are links to some good docking articles:

Ultimately, nothing gives confidence more than time in your own boat, practicing the moves. But don’t practice them in a crowded marina. If a boat is new to you, or you’ve never been confident in your own boat, take it out and really get to know it in open water first. Back it up, turn in circles, and see how your turning radius is changed when you change engine speed. Note how much rudder control you have in reverse. Remember the effect of prop walk in reverse, and use it to your advantage.

close quarters
With neighbors this close, a slow approach is critical.

Practice coming alongside public docks and jetties when there’s open space and you won’t cause damage to anyone else if you botch a landing. If there’s a peanut gallery, the slower you go the less attention they’ll pay. Assuming that you’ve studied the elements of docking, watched the good and bad approaches of others, and learned how your own boat behaves, here are a few cardinal rules about docking any boat:

  • Whenever possible, use wind, current, and prop walk to your advantage
  • If wind or current will push you away from your landing, a forward spring line can really help.
  • Plan all your moves ahead of time.
  • Have your lines and fenders ready well before the approach.
  • Be clear with your crew about what what’s expected of them in terms of line and fender handling, and how to move from boat to dock.
  • Relax. Take it slow. If conditions dictate more approach speed and a last-second turn-and-grab, still stay relaxed.
  • If things start to turn sour on your approach, don’t pursue it. Back or turn away and start over. It’s hard to turn a bad approach into a good landing.
  • Don’t yell.

The only time yelling is appropriate is when someone is about to hurt themselves, as in when they try to fend off a 10,000-pound boat still moving too fast when it gets to the dock. Please let the inanimate objects absorb the contact.

Now that we’ve got all this time-honored seamanship out on the table, let’s relax and see how the Other Half are doing it – with joysticks. We don’t need no stinkin’ joysticks, right? Right?

Mercury Four-Engine Piloting for Joystick System

BRP Joystick Controls V6 Evinrude Outboards  

Yamaha Joystick Control in Action at the Miami Boat Show

Boat Delivery: Do It Yourself or Hire a Pro?

Cape Hatteras
A delivery around Cape Hatteras in an unfamiliar boat takes serious preparation.

Anyone buying a boat via the Internet these days may want to consider the delivery aspect of getting the boat home. Trailering is one thing, but delivering a boat on its own bottom up or down the coast is quite another. During my merchant mariner days, I occasionally delivered boats during my mandatory time off between work assignments. What could be more fun than taking someone else’s boat and getting paid for it, right?

I got out of the business pretty quickly because most of the boats I delivered just weren’t ready for a long trip. Oh, they were fine locally, but a 1,000-mile offshore trip was a different beast. I found myself doing more boat prep than sailing—after all, I had my own safety at stake, as well as my responsibility to get the boat back in one piece. I tired of mundane tasks that an owner might not have attended to, like filling propane tanks, checking life rafts and safety equipment, and having the right charts for the voyage.

So the other day when my friend Will called to ask me to help deliver a 44-foot sailboat from South Carolina to Rhode Island, I hesitated just a bit before asking a lot of questions. It turns out the new owner had purchased the boat from — you guessed it — an Internet listing. The boat is being prepped by a local yard down south, and we are busy trying to arrange crew, flights, shakedown and inspection issues, not to mention the 750-mile trip around Cape Hatteras.

Most of the time, new owners want to deliver their new toys themselves, and may even conscript some friends who think it will be fun to help out. Let me tell you, it’s a lot of work to make sure all runs smoothly. Some years ago, I did the same thing as a new owner, delivering my own new boat from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Cod. My crew consisted of my 12-year-old son and some gung-ho coworkers without a lot of sailing experience. What a fool I was! It was early spring, the water was frigid (no survival suits) and if I had gotten hurt or incapacitated during the trip it was unlikely any of my sea-sick helpers would have made it back alive without me.  I was not familiar with the new boat and relied on others to prep it. Fortunately, everything turned out fine and it was quite an adventure. We made the trip in just a few days, despite the fact that we left shortly after a furious storm blew through—all because of work-related scheduling pressure.

If you are delivering your new boat yourself, here’s my advice on how to get it home safe and sound:

  • Make sure your boat insurance is in place.
  • Choose experienced crew who can operate and navigate the boat without you being on deck constantly.
  • Go for a shakedown cruise prior to the trip!
  • Be prepared for some extra expenses the shakedown may reveal.
  • Give yourself plenty of time.
  • Wait for the weather window.
  • Have some options for ducking into port along the way if things go bad.

If you’re constrained by work schedules or crew capability you may want to hire a pro. And if you do hire a pro, but want to go along as crew, let them run the show—you’re paying for their experience and objective view of your new boat’s preparedness. Good luck!

Boat Handling Basics: Docking in Breeze

Using your boats lines to help manuever around docks gives you ultimate control. especially in a breeze.

The day-long parade to the dock of boats unloading equipment at the end of the season got my attention. It was a windy day, and many skippers had trouble getting  alongside since the wind blowing them off the dock. Even the boats endowed with twin engines and bow thrusters had problems; it seemed that the more complicated the equipment, the more they struggled. The solution to this common test of seamanship is a simple one: your spring line.

Use a spring line as your brake, and warp in against it with your wheel hard over to kick the stern into the dock.

With the wind blowing you off the dock, coming in with a spring line prepared can save the day. Once the spring line is dead-ended on the dock, power forward with the rudder hard over (away from the dock). Ease out the boat end of the line until you are positioned appropriately and then make it fast. The combination of spring line and propulsion wash off the angled rudder will keep you alongside the dock until your other lines can be made fast.

Spring lines can also be used for getting off docks where the wind is pressing you alongside. Release all other lines except the forward spring (the one that leads aft), turn the rudder toward the dock, and power up until your stern is kicked far enough off the dock to allow you to back out, retrieving the slackening spring as you go.