The Joy of Berthing

Innovative devices that can aid berthing.

We all know it. Berthing a boat can sometimes be remarkably straightforward, and at other times can be a time of stress, challenge, shouting, misunderstandings, slight (and possibly expensive) bumps and even the odd (and definitely very expensive) trip to the divorce lawyer!

What can you do to reduce the stress? Obviously practice and training are important. So is mentally rehearsing what you are going to do, taking into account wind, current, the windage, momentum and general characteristics of your boat… and of your crew. Fortunately, nowadays, just like parking a car, there are some systems that can help you.

For wind direction, simply look at the top of the mast of any sailing yacht. The simple arrow (the masthead fly) will tell you the direction the wind is coming from. Look at a berthed boat so you get the true wind direction. The wind direction can veer, back or can be steady. Again, look at the arrow.

To check the direction and strength of the current, and whether you are on a falling or rising tide, know the area and look at the water. Reading the water is a learned (and easy-to-learn) skill. Tidal maps are generally of limited relevance once you are in the marina itself. The windage of your boat and the nature of your keel will determine the extent to which the wind and current will affect you. If you are new to the boat, spend a few minutes outside the marina, just drifting. See how and which way the boat moves. Various systems make close quarter manoeuvring much easier.Systems like twin engines, bow thrusters and stern thrusters have been around for some time. Slightly more recent innovations such as pod systems (like Volvo Penta’s IPS range, the MerCruiser Cummins Zeus, and the ZF Marine 4000 systems) coupled with joystick control aid the control of your boat. The problem with all these systems is that they are either impossible or very expensive to retro-fit.

However, there is one activity that until now has always led to the crew being very busy and all too often trying to be in all parts of the boat at the same time – and that is managing the fenders. This applies especially if you are short-handed – such as being single-handed or just a skipper and his/her partner.

The scenario is all too familiar. The skipper shouting orders and the partner/crew running from one end of the boat to another deploying fenders, trying to fend off, as well as keeping a lookout. All this is happening at a busy time. Even when you are out on the water you need to find a way to safely stow the bulky fenders so that they don’t cause any damage by bouncing around.

Fortunately, a new solution is being launched at the Southampton boat show – the Automatic Fender system.

The concept is marvellous in its simplicity.

The foam fenders are stored in a special basket. When you approach the marina, the inbuilt GPS knows where you are. The basket then swings out and the motor automatically lowers the fenders to the correct height. Once you have set the height for the marinas you visit, the system remembers them.

If you prefer, or are entering a new marina, you can set the height via, for example, a tablet
(using the in-built Bluetooth). What does the crew have to do? Sit back and slowly sip the gin and tonic. Or beer. That’s it. It really is as simple as that. How complex are they to initially fit?

Again, simple – about basket. There is not even any wiring to fit. The motors are fully driven by solar cells at the top of the unit. The foam fenders are better at retaining their shape, as they cannot defl ate or get punctured.

For the larger, crewed, yachts and superyachts, the installation of this system may even save money on crew costs, as fewer deck-hands may be required. They can even be integrated into the yachts systems; as well as adding to the all-important bragging rights!

Go Earth is the international (apart from the USA) distributor for these products. They will be demonstrated on the Go Earth stand (J316) at the Southampton Boat Show in September. They will be available for mass sales from about December, although enquiries and pre-orders are being accepted now. We believe this product will become as essential as, say, a bow thruster in aiding the berthing process. It helps make berthing painless!