Final approach. It’s a term commonly used in aviation denoting an aircraft’s descent on a glide path for landing. And yes, boats have their own version. For those of you with vessel handling experience, you know quite well the anxious feeling as your vessel edges toward the dock. Sometimes the piloting maneuver is complicated, with many factors to consider: wind, water depth, current, speed, obstructions, and other nearby craft, all of which are primary concerns before coming to all stop.

The task may appear easy to accomplish, but I can assure you it is sometimes not without complications and risk. Successful boat handling requires a mandatory proficiency for completing these types of maneuvers without incident. I have personally witnessed my fair share of mishaps over many years. Competency in this realm is only achieved by specific methods, either by simulation or actual experience. There are also local organizations in your area that can help you gain the confidence and experience needed to become proficient in this type of maneuvering.

For example, take a virtual simulation environment. You can make the mistakes, learn from the process, and become superior in the skill of boat handling, without an actual incident or associated risk occurring at all. This type of training also develops a process called Error Trapping to improve overall piloting performance.

However … there is another way you can acquire this knowledge: part simulation, part actual hands-on experience. This simple innovative combination produces outstanding results and serves your learning needs extremely well. This time of year, when the lake is not crowded, is a perfect time for you to hone your capability in boat handling. I recommend practicing a method called Rubber Docking by throwing something highly visible in the water that floats near your vessel, and practice maneuvering up to it, using small amounts of rudder or just engine power.

This exercise will get you accustomed to how your boat handles in slow speed situations, with the elements such as wind, current, and rough water sometimes added for educational benefit. There’s no need to be in close proximity to other vessels when you can accomplish the basics out in open waters, away from crowds and objects that can cause damage. Practicing these procedures will improve:

  • Retrieving a person from the water quickly and safely
  • Collision avoidance
  • Maneuvering next to a dock
  • Anchoring

Welcome to another boating season on the lake. I look forward to your success on the water and stand ready to help you reach your goals in maritime education improving boating safety.

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