A Collision at Sea

harbor collisionA collision at sea can be catastrophic!

A collision in the harbor may not be as catastrophic, but it can not only cause serious damage; but also be extremely embarrassing. It can happen so easily.

We witnessed the following “miss” and use this story to show, how easy it is for a collision in the harbor to happen. Art isn’t his real name, we changed it for obvious reasons and the boats in the picture above are not the boats involved.


captain at hellmArt was returning to his dock alone after a relaxing afternoon on the lake. As he idled down the fairway, he mentally ran through his docking check list “fenders down”, “cockpit clear” etc. Then, he remembered that he had forgotten to dig out, and cleat off his stern line in preparation for docking alone. He pulled both shifts into neutral, double checked that the wheel was straight, then he left the wheel. He was just off the helm seat, headed for the stern quarter; when he spotted a small sailboat backing out of the slip directly ahead of him.

He leaped for his shifts, pulling them into reverse with lots of throttle—just in the nick of time. Art’s bow pulpit stopped well over the little sailboat’s cockpit. This was a very close call for both, leaving their hearts racing and arms shaking.

Immediately, both Captains realized what they had done wrong and what they should have done, but both were thankful they didn’t make contact.

  • eyes openArt should never have left his helm, and he should have been watching down the line of boats ahead of him for one to be moving, separately from the rest. It’s easy to spot a sailboat mast moving amongst other boats; whereas, small power boats are more difficult to spot, because they are hidden behind the superstructure of the larger boats. Like in a car, driving past a row of parked vehicles; you always watch for tail lights, opening doors, people moving—any motion.
  • The sailor should have looked both ways for oncoming traffic, before backing out of his slip. Usually, a sailboat helm is close to the end of the slip, giving better view of traffic in the fairway. Power boats helms are closer to the middle of the slip, whether bow in or stern in, so extra precautions are required. Best to have a look-out person and be prepared to stop in a hurry. Like in a car, you look both ways, before pulling out of a driveway or a stop street.

Here are some tips to help you avoid a collision in the fairway of your harbor or marina.

  • Never leave the helm, while in the harbor
  • Look before you pull out.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected.
  • Have all your preparatory work done, before heading down the fairway, whether single handing or with a crew.
  • Drive defensively when in confined quarters.
  • Focus on everything around you—especially in your path and be prepared to take defensive action to avoid a collision.
  • In the stationary scene ahead, watch for movement—whether it is a boat or a person.

thumbs up
Keeping your hands on the controls and
your eyes and ears open
will certainly help prepare you for the unexpected
and help prevent a collision in your harbor.

Improve your Close Quarters Maneuvering Skills

Also, see the following articles:

Don’t Hit the Doock! 

Reversing Collisions

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