Boat handling skills

Did you watch the video in post 38?
It is not about “heaving the bow off with an anchor” but using an anchor to gently inch the bow into the wharf, which certainly takes skill and forward planning.

I wouldn’t belittle the skills needed to shift along the wharf unaided, but ???

The use of anchors and mooring lines by vessel’s masters often develops because of the nature of the trade the vessel is in. Old timers used to talk many years ago about mooring in Calcutta which sounded pretty hair raising.
Here in NZ the colliers used to cross the bar into river ports to load coal. Alongside the anchor cable was secured around a specially built bollard because the current in the river could be as much as 11 knots.
The colliers had a cruiser stern and after letting go forward used to swing with the stern against the wharf . Once they were half way round full ahead was ordered with the wheel hard to port to lift the stern clear of the wharf. Sphincter fully closed but twitching, the river being not much wider than the vessels length. Full power on these ships was nothing to write home about they were known as “slow greens.”

Nope, only on the vessels built early nineties.

Modern vessels have different limitations than old-school boats and ships. They are just as much fun to maneuver, as they are less limited. All any of them take is practice. It happens all around the world every day. Fun stuff, but about as blue collar as it gets.

Of course fun is a matter of perspective, but I humbly beg to differ. There is something gratifying about working with your environment to solve a complex task with a small tool set.

A few years back, I read the history of the Colin Archer SAR boats, and there was a bit about when they had engines installed. One of the captains was asked what he thought of this newfangled device, and his answer was that they were very nice for making way in a dead calm, but absolutely useless for maneuvering. To this day I’m consumed with envy, but we are all bound to be children of our times :-/

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I did not mean fun but skills. To “manoeuvre” a boat using DP may be seen as fun to some (for most it is a job) but the skills involved are more on the tech side than seamanship side.

Certainly, getting under the crane of a rig or platform and stay there for hours can still be a challenge in a force 8-9, even with DP and plenty of thruster power. To do so by manual operation take both skills and guts. With the older low powered boats with fixed pitch propellers and no bow thruster it was not even possible.

Back in the 1980’s I inspected a new AHTS that had all the latest and best of equipment for the time.(Joy stick, no DP yet)
The young Mate showed me all their gadgets and explained what they could do, but when I asked the older Master if he used all these wonderful tools he said; “I let the Mates play with it, but when it gets difficult I go back to manual operation”. (That wouldn’t apply today)

I was on a Colin Archer for a time. Beauty on the water, but only 4 knots on full speed!

DP was not mentioned in your original boast… er… I mean post.

If you mean this boast — er Post, it was

I don’t see this thread going anywhere, it’s basically “I’m awesome and you’re not”.

Mariners sailing today are so pathetic we can’t even recognize superior shiphandliing when we are shown videos.

At some point we are going to be told the story of an old-timer backing a 100,000 ton tanker into a slip in blustery winds using nothing but a lady’s handkerchief as a sail - in a cross current, at night etc etc.

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People need to get over themselves. It doesn’t take some magic skill to handle a boat. It takes practice and training. If young guys on a DP boat can’t do it its because no one showed them how or let them practice. You can pull out an old relic of a ship and people will figure out how to maneuver it, that’s all I’m saying, it’s not rocket science.

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I agree, skills get built up over time. You start with an easy situation on a nice day (if you’re lucky) and over the years work up from there, building on previous skills.

No need to fetisize it.

While this is true in general, aptitude plays a part.

Same as anything, it’s 80/20. Twenty percent are never going to get it. Of the remaining 80%. 20% are going to see it the first time and look like hot shit The next lower 20% is going to need another go at it in good conditions before they master it. And so forth.

The idea the ship handling can only be done by a rare few is bs.


Anyone can eventually learn easy boarhandling.

Difficult boathandling takes a combination of prudent judgment informed by experience, skills, and nerves.

A person without good judgment may have skills and pull off some amazing manouvers, but he will have more than his share of screw ups too.

Many people were simply not born with the necessary nerves. They will never become good boathandlers.


Most people don’t apply themselves, once they are good enough to do the job they just do it.

Working a tug/barge in Alaska takes a very high level of skill. You are going to reach that level just to get the job done. Most mariners don’t have to do that.

Another point is a lot of people, including mariners don’t know it when they see it.

Here’s a story, I made many trips up the rivers with pilots, I see good and not-so-good.

Then, after many trips I make some trips with apprentice pilots. I watch the experienced pilot, I watch the apprentice. Most critical I listened to the experenced pilot critique and explain. Something simple like making a turn and ending up in a good position for the next one. I never saw it till I heard it explained.

Once I saw it I watched with a new eye. The really good ones make it look easy but a lot going on.


I agree that boat handling can be learnt by experience and most people gets better at it as they experience different conditions and different ports. The more the merrier.
But some never gets the hang of it, either because they don’t have the guts that is required, or never learn from mistakes.

Obviously someone docking and undocking ships or boats regularly gets more experience faster than someone getting to do so infrequently. (Someone sailing on large ocean going ships may never actually gets to do so)

The same applies to Offshore vessels. Someone operating OSVs for years in benign waters may not be prepared to do so in harsh environment.

An old boy on my first OSV told me that some people can’t drive and will never be able to and the best thing they can do for themselves and the industry is to Foxtrot Oscar. Wise words I think.


I think people overestimate the so-called natural talent to a large degree and underestimate other factors such as experience, motivation, opportunity, who gets selected and coached and who does not. I sailed with guys who’s biggest talent was keeping the mate away from the controls.

In any case natural talent is likely disturbed like this:


If it’s the case that only the mariners in the third and fourth deviation (2.1% and 0.1%) are suitable for some jobs then the screening process and pay would reflect that. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Risk would also be a factor, if some jobs can be only successfully be done by rare few then other factors could be adjusted, smaller weather window or more maneuverable boat etc.

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