Would you know how to manoeuvre a 22.5m vessel out of a tight berth? James Stevens answers your questions of seamanship

Could you get out of this tight berth?

James Stevens answers your questions of seamanship


You are the skipper of a gaff rigged pilot cutter, 17.3m long on the deck with a bowsprit, bringing the total length to 22.5m. The displacement is 44 tonnes.

The prop is offset to port, which means it is on the port side of the keel. Unsurprisingly, this makes handling under power challenging to say the least.

You are moored in a marina starboard side to on the inside of a long pontoon with yachts either end and pontoon berths inside to port.

The exit to the marina is about three boat lengths astern around the end of your pontoon.

A diagram showing how to get out of a tight berth

Credit: Maxine Heath

There is a gap in the inside pontoons of about a boat length abeam of you, but either side of that gap the space is too narrow to turn.

The wind is 10 to 15 knots blowing from the bow and the tidal stream is negligible.

The crew consists of a very experienced mate and 10 inexperienced schoolchildren.

When you arrived the pontoon was clear and you were not expecting yachts to berth close astern but now it is time to leave and there is no possibility of moving any of the yachts nearby, and while the marina has a small workboat you are not confident that it is powerful enough to act as a tug.

How do you get out of this tight berth?

James Stevens answers:

Reversing out is problematic, especially with an offset prop.

The yacht is going to have to be turned in the gap abeam on the port side. A stern spring is attached and fenders put out on the starboard quarter.

The staysail is attached ready to hoist and drop at a moment’s notice.

All lines are released except the spring, the staysail is hoisted and backed to bring the bow through the wind, turning the yacht to port.

The engine is used gently to keep the stern off the pontoon and the spring is slipped.

Continues below…

Once the yacht has turned more than beam on to the wind, astern is engaged to keep the bowsprit from striking the yachts on the inner downwind pontoon.

The offset thrust will bring the stern to starboard, helping the turn.

Once the bowsprit is clear and the yacht is parallel with the pontoon the staysail is set on the correct side.


James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

The engine is going to be needed to help with the turn.

Before engaging ahead the yacht is steered 20 degrees to port to counter the effect of engaging the offset prop.

The staysail is dropped, then a big port turn and it’s done.

I would like to thank Toby Marris, skipper of the Le Havre pilot cutter Jolie Brise, for providing a masterclass of this manoeuvre in Cowes Yacht Haven.

Hardly anyone noticed, but even a small misjudgement would have been catastrophic.

Enjoyed reading Could you get out of this tight berth?

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