Could you moor on a very busy pontoon?

With a 1.5 knot tide flowing and 12 knot winds blowing straight off the pontoon, would you be confident to moor in a tight spot?

Boats rafted up alongside a pontoon
Rafting up is popular amongst sailing rallies and friends but there is etiquette to follow. Credit: Lester McCarthy

With a 1.5 knot tide running and the wind blowing straight off the pontoon at 12 knots,  how confident would you be to moor on a busy pontoon?

James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship.

Question: Could you moor on a very busy pontoon?

John and Mary own Mollie, a Twister, which is a long-keeled sturdy 8.5m yacht.

Mollie manoeuvres ahead under power without too much trouble, but being long-keeled John and Mary reckon she always goes astern towards the nearest hazard.

Their intention is to moor on a pontoon up the river where they can walk ashore to  a favourite pub for an evening meal.

When they arrive there are already eight yachts on the pontoon in two rafts of four each.

It  is clearly a club rally as they are all flying the same burgee and their crews must already be in the pub as there does not appear to  be anyone on board.

John and Mary are pretty frustrated that there is hardly any space left on the pontoon for Mollie and the harbour rules say that yachts cannot raft up more than four abreast.

If only the club members had moved the rafts closer together there would be plenty of room for Mollie on the end.

There is, however, a gap between the rafts which John and Mary reckon is about 10m wide, just enough to squeeze Mollie in.

There is a 1.5 knot tide flowing and the wind is unhelpfully blowing straight off the pontoon at about 12 knots.

John and Mary look at the gap.

Should they attempt it or find a different mooring?

James Stevens answers:

It requires very careful handling and a technique known as ferry gliding.

In this situation the strong tide is going to be the force that moves Mollie towards the pontoon, cancelling out the offshore wind.

It is vital to attempt the manoeuvre before slack water.

First, once the fenders and warps have been prepared, Mollie should be positioned head-to-tide just outside the gap.

Continues below…

The trick here is to control the throttle carefully to maintain speed through the water, but not over the ground.

The best way to check this is to line up a transit ashore.

Offshore passage

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 years as the RYA’s Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

It will require carefully engaging and disengaging the propeller.

The helm should then be slowly steered towards the gap.

If there is too much boat speed or the helm movement is too much Mollie will end up alongside the downtide raft pinned on by the tide.

With very small helm movements and skilled use of the engine Mollie can be eased into the gap pointing into the tide.

There is a big temptation to go too quickly for the pontoon but it is much safer to take it slowly and safely.

Surrounded by two rafts of boats is not a place for beginners to practise tricky boat handling so I recommend only experienced sailors attempt this technique.

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