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 Windsong Dockbox: Windsong Dockbox - May 2013

Windsong DockboxThis month we are going to continue talking about docking and close quarters maneuvering. But this time we are going to focus on sailboats or other vessels with a single engine inboard, such as a trawler.

Prop Walk
Propeller walk is the term for a propeller's tendency to rotate a boat.

A right-handed propeller rotates clockwise, as viewed from the stern when in forward gear. This rotation

will tend to push the stern of the boat to starboard, thereby pushing the bow to port and turning the boat counter-clockwise unless the rotation is corrected by the rudder. When in reverse gear, the effect will be much greater and opposite. A right-handed propeller in reverse will push the aft of the boat to port.

Understanding propeller walk is important when maneuvering in small spaces. It can be used to your advantage while turning, mooring and docking or it can complicate a maneuver if the effect works against you.

Some boats have more prop walk than others. Things affecting the prop walk include the type of propeller and depth of keel. A fat high pitches three bladed prop walks a lot more than a skinny two bladed prop and the deeper the draft of the boat the less the prop walk.

Prop walk can help you rotate your boat 180 degrees in little more than the length of the boat. It allows you to turn the boat around on its own axis, which is very useful in tight channels or marinas. Letís assume you have a right-handed propeller (directions are opposite for left-handed blades). Spin the wheel all the way to starboard and flip between forward and reverse without moving the wheel. In forward gear the wash from the prop over the turned rudder will push the stern to port, and then switching to reverse gear, the prop walk will continue to pull the stern to port. Thus simply by moving between forward and reverse with the rudder hard to starboard, the boat will slowly rotate on its axis spinning around in the same place.

Using Prop Walk to Back Your Boat into a Slip If you have a lot of prop walk, backing your boat straight into a slip becomes very challenging. In this instance it is far better to use the prop walk to your advantage. Instead of lining your boat up with the slip and going in straight, start with your boat sideways to the slip about 100 feet (or three boat lengths) past the dock.

Shift into reverse applying power carefully, the prop walk will immediately start turning the boat to port (right-hand prop). Now move the wheel to port adjusting the degree of turn to guide the boat into the slip in a gentle 90 degree curve.

Using Prop Walk When Picking Up a Mooring Ball While we donít have many mooring balls in our area, they are very common in Tampa, The Keys and throughout the Caribbean. Approach the mooring ball keeping it on the starboard side of the bow (right-hand prop). Have your crew leaning over the starboard side with a boat hook. As the bow comes level with the ball apply power in reverse. The stern will walk to port pushing the bow to starboard making it very easy for your crew to reach the mooring ballís pickup line.

Overcoming Prop Walk
Speed will overcome prop walk. Once the reverse motion reaches approximately 1.5 knots, the rudder will overcome prop walk and you will be able to back up in a straight line.

You can also reduce prop walk by bumping in and out of reverse gear Ė when the prop stops turning in neutral, prop walk is eliminated. Give short bursts in reverse and then coast in neutral.

Another way to reduce prop walk is to re-prop your boat with a lower pitch prop or two bladed prop, but as this will more than likely affect the overall performance of the boat in forward gear, it is not really recommended. A more expensive alternative is to replace your fixed propeller with a folding or feathering prop Ė they exhibit significantly less prop walk but do cost well over $1,000.00.

Donít forget, email your questions to

Happy Boating!

Capt. Bruce & Capt. Wendy Longman

Posted On Saturday, May 4, 2013

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