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Use the Magic of Feathering for Emergency Docking

Just as you enter the marina, your engine coughs and dies. You still have just a bit of momentum. But will it be enough to make the turn into an empty slip just ahead to starboard? Use these three sailing tips to learn how to “feather” your boat in an emergency!

To feather with a tiller, shove the tiller hard away from the direction of turn. This is a super fast thrust; no more than half of a second. Then bring the tiller back to amidships (center) in a smooth motion. Right away, do it again; hard thrust, then ease it back to amidships.

To feather with a wheel, turn the wheel hard in the direction of the turn; then ease it back to amidships. Take care not to turn the wheel all the way to the stops (the maximum ‘throw’ of the rudder where it will turn no further). This could damage the rudder. Keep your hands on the wheel at all times to maintain good control.

Why ease the helm back to the center? Note that after each hard thrust, we ease the tiller or wheel back to the centerline. You want to avoid stalling the boat while she turns. Use a fast, smooth motion to return to the center. Then a super fast thrust away to feather; then a fast smooth motion to return to center.

Continue the sequence described above with the helm (tiller or wheel) until you complete the turn. With practice, you can turn a boat by feathering with the smallest amount of forward momentum.

Now let’s put this into play. You have just lost your engine and need to make a sharp turn into a slip ahead to starboard. You have just enough steerage to make way through the water.

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