Your boat is trapped in the middle of a raft and there are no crew on board. What do you do? James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship

Your boat is trapped in the middle of a raft and there are no crew onboard. What do you do?


Louise and two friends are on a sailing holiday on board Surface Tension, a 9m cruising yacht.

They have planned an overnight stop at a marina up a tidal river.

When they arrive, all the finger berths in the marina are occupied and the two hammerhead berths are also taken.

They call the marina. The reply is an apology; they are so full, there is a rally that evening, but they can raft alongside one of the yachts on the hammerhead.

Louise looks at the flood tide running past the hammerhead and decides the easiest option is to come alongside the upstream yacht by turning her boat up river and motoring into the stream.

A diagram showing boats in a raft on a pontoon

Credit: Maxine Heath

It all goes fine and they secure alongside and set up shorelines. Before long another yacht appears.

The berthing master signals for them to come alongside Surface Tension.

By the end of the evening Surface Tension has two yachts outside.

The other yacht on the hammerhead has an equal raft of yachts outside. All the yachts know how to raft and all have shorelines attached.

Louise explains to the outside crews that Surface Tension has to leave at the end of the flood, around 0900 next morning.

Next morning at 0830 there is no one on board any of the yachts, they are all having breakfast ashore together.

Is there any way Surface Tension can leave without assistance from the other crews on the raft?

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This is a frustrating situation and inconsiderate of the rest of the raft to trap the boat inside.

Louise’s best chance of leaving is while the tide is flooding so she can slip the boat out astern down tide.

If she leaves it until the ebb, the raft will drift out of control when she departs.

This manoeuvre requires at least one crew member from Surface Tension to remain on the raft and be picked up later.

A line is passed from the stern of the inside yacht around the bow of Surface Tension to the stern of the outside yacht.

The stern shorelines are removed from the outside yachts. Surface Tension is detached from the yachts either side and carefully eased astern with plenty of fenders.

Once free, the stream will help bring the outside yachts alongside the inside boat with some help from the crew member left on the raft.

The yachts must now be remoored and the shorelines secured before Surface Tension comes alongside the outside of the raft to pick up the crew.

The alternative is to wait until the other yacht crews return.

The easiest way for Louise to leave then, if the tide is ebbing, is for the outside yachts to slip their lines and stand off while Louise manoeuvres Surface Tension out astern against the stream.

In these tight tidal situations it is really important to avoid becoming positioned beam on to the stream.

Enjoyed reading How do you manoeuvre out of a raft?

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