Rules of the Road

11 May 2010 By Ryan Sputh
Photo by Mark O'Connell

The fastest driver in the Indianapolis 500 Race in 2009 was Helio Castroneves; he was clocked at 224.864 miles per hour. In the yachting industry, we have little time to drive our cars fast, but we have beautiful vessels to take their place…tenders. The average yacht tender will fly at about 40 knots. The powerful feeling of freedom driving a tricked out tender on the brilliant blue ocean is exhilarating, exciting, invigorating and thrilling. You can drive for miles and never see anything except for the diamond-studded water. It’s very easy to forget that you, as crew, do not own this amazing machine. It's easy to forget that you have been entrusted with the care of the tender not only when you are cleaning her, but also when you are driving her. It also is easy to forget that driving others is a huge responsibility.

Never assume because you know how to drive a car that you are proficient in driving a tender. The common denominators between cars and boats are that they both have a steering wheel and laws to govern them. Whether by land or by sea, these laws are called “Rules of the Road.” Common accident factors, both on land and by sea, are speed, alcohol consumption and a disregard for safety.

Courses are offered by the United States Coast Guard and Maritime Professional Training in Small Boat Handling and Fast Rescue Boat Handling. These are important courses to take for those driving the tender.

All mariners are required to know and responsibly apply the navigational Rules of the Road when operating any vessel. Important rules to remember include rule number two: “responsibility requires that due regard shall be given to all dangers of navigation and collision.” Rule number four requires that “every vessel shall at all time maintain a proper lookout, using sight and hearing…”. Rule number six requires that “every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed….” The Rules of the Road are not negotiable; they are requirements.

The chance for a flat ocean as far as you can see while driving is not the usual, although perfect, scenario. Yacht harbors are a filled with buoys, boats and confused seas. Practicing driving in rough seas when visibility is poor can give you an advantage when faced with this situation with guests aboard. Your tender may perform better if you hit a wave from the side. Some vessels roll with a side hit. Other tenders take waves dead on the bow with greater ease. Use your throttle to speed up and slow down and control the ride this way, rather than letting the sea have her way with you.

Every tender has its own idiosyncrasies. Single engines usually pull to the starboard or to the port depending on the pitch of the prop when moving in reverse. The load of the vessel can drastically change the way it handles. It may take more power to stop, the turning radius might change and the important “splash factor” varies with the number of passengers. Practice, practice, practice and know your tender.

Idle is the slowest speed in which a vessel will still have forward momentum. Practice coming in and out of idle as you are maneuvering into a docking situation. This setting gives you time to think and time to plan your approach.

Being a “bright crew” provides another advantage, carry a flashlight on board at all times. If there is drinking, appoint a designated driver. Always ask “all eyes” on board to be vigilant in surveying their 360 degree surroundings. And…if you are ever in the fortunate situation of having a topless passenger in the tender, remember to be wise and keep your eyes off the prize and on your job!