Maneuvering a sailboat under power

In 2009 we launched the Maneuvering under power course for the NauticEd sailing school. Since then we have made many improvements to the course. Since launch however, it has been our #1 selling sailing course and to date remains the best course on the maneuvering topic anywhere. In this article, we have added a few tips and graphics that were put into the course. In the course, we spent a lot of time focusing on reversing a sailboat for two reasons really. The first is that reverse is a very powerful maneuvering tool and is very underutilized and the second is that it is underutilized for the reason of not knowing how powerful reverse is. I’m not being too funny here but I always notice that many sailors are reluctant to drive their boat in reverse around a marina.

The biggest point we made in the course is that sitting still in a sailboat with your wind to the stern is the most stable point for a sailboat to be sitting in. The wind always tends to want to move the bow of the sailboat downwind. So it’s easy to just hang out like that. Especially if you’re in a busy marina and have to wait for other boats to clear out of the way.

Stern to wind then gives you a starting point to start steering the boat backward. Of course, you have to deal a bit with prop walk before the boat really starts moving but so long as you understand that propwalk is going to happen then you can set up for it first. Once a sailboat starts moving backward with flow of water over the rudder then it becomes very easy to maneuver. With practice using the exercises laid out in the online course anyone can back a boat into a slip with ease and in fact almost easier than maneuvering in forward gear.

For this reason, we now park our sailboat stern too. The boarding is so much easier with the swim platform.

Trying to start out in reverse has bad results

Trying to start out in reverse has bad results

To the right is an example of some of the diagrams that are used. In the diagram, it explains that starting out in reverse with your stern not into wind results in your loss of control. And in a marina is where you want control the most.

We also go into an in-depth discussion of what causes prop walk and how to deal with it to your advantage. Then we show an incredible array of realistic diagrams on how to get in and out of tight marinas with every direction of docking and wind possible.

While maneuvering a sailboat with a bow thruster is pretty simple we even show you a few tricks based on your new knowledge of prop walk to make the boat move completely in a lateral direction for as far as you want. Very cool and fun stuff. The online lesson is based on a series of exercises and teachings that I’ve been using and improving upon for 7 years. The results with sailors from new to very experienced have been incredible. Everyone got value out of it. I encourage anyone who takes the course to please blog here to discuss its value. In coming blogs, we’ll give more tips and tricks but the crux of it all is inside the online course on Maneuvering a sailboat under power.

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My vision for NauticEd is to provide the highest quality sailing and boating education available - and deliver competence wherever sailors live and go.
Grant Headifen
1 reply
  1. AKSailor
    AKSailor says:

    I enjoyed the Skipper’s Course very much. As someone new to the world of sailing, it was very helpful. Although I have not been able to put my new skills into practice as of yet (I live in Alaska and November is not a very popular sailing month due to the feet of snow we have), I feel confident that when I push away from the dock, I’ll be ready. Thanks, NauticEd!

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Last updated on April 12th, 2023