Yacht Tender Driving 101

23 January 2009 By Matt Brown

When it comes to safely and comfortably transporting guests in the yacht’s tender (keep in mind, this can be a key factor when they calculate the tip), there’s no substitute for experience. Having said that, here are some tips I’ve learned from my own experience as captain of a variety of “tenders-to.”

#1 – Know the Rules
Throughout my Yachtmaster training, the lectures paid more attention to the “Rules of the Road” than any other topic. Whether you’re driving a 200-ton superyacht or a 1.5-ton tender, the rules are the same. Knowing the rules cold [without having to think about them] along with quick decision-making are essential ingredients in the tender-driving recipe of success.

#2 – The Bow Line Is Your Lifeline
When docking a tender, it’s important to get your bow line tied up to the dock as quickly as possible. Your stern line is always secondary to this, as once the bow line is secured, you can use the engines to bring your stern in to the dock. Docking in high winds ups the ante considerably [see #6 below], as any tender with a decent surface area will move away from the dock very quickly indeed. Therefore, if your bow line isn’t holding the tender where it needs to be, you’re likely to be blown onto some ground lines, catch a yacht’s anchor or worst of all, wind up swapping paint with the boat next to you.

#3 – Whoa, Speed Racer
There is a certain courtesy that should be displayed when driving a tender in close proximity to other yachts; this is not only for safety but also for the guests’ comfort. For these reasons, certain ports have speed restrictions in place [usually three to five knots]. On the south coast of France and other superyacht hotspots around the globe, maritime police are using radar guns to record the speed of tenders and are issuing hefty fines and even revoking lawbreakers’ licenses.

#4 – Mind the Gap
In very busy ports and marinas, sometimes you simply don’t have enough space to dock “side on,” with either the port or starboard side of the tender on the dock. If you’re driving a RIB, a space-saving option is to fasten a fender to the boat’s bow and nudge it up against the dock. You can hold the bow onto the dock without any lines attached while the guests embark/disembark simply by using a little forward throttle. But be sure to mind the gap!

#5 – Bring Cover Ups
A Gucci gown covered in seawater is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination (unless you’re a guy). If there is wind, spray from your tender will most likely be thrown over your guests. So be sure to ask the stewardesses for a grab bag of towels or blankets to reduce the chances of their outfits and hairstyles being ruined before they’ve even arrived ashore for their reservation at the four-star restaurant.

#6 – Watch for Wake
I’ve seen inexperienced deckhands get this wrong, resulting in either themselves or their guests being thrown overboard. Whenever you approach the wake of another motor vessel, slow right down. This will save you an embarrassing apology afterward and possibly a tip from a charter guest.

#7 – Use Your Head
Driving tenders will present you with any number of situations and new challenges, but no matter what the context, common sense always rules at sea. Let’s take the subject of towing: When you want to tow a smaller tender into port, its better to tow it alongside rather than behind you – there’s nothing more embarrassing that having the tow line tangled up around your props or even worse, being sucked up into your jet drive. Naturally, there are other basic things to take into consideration as well, like making sure you have enough fuel for the length of the passage you are about to embark on. Remember always to do your pre-launch checks before departing.

#8 – Dropping the Hook
When anchoring the tender, make sure your guests are settled where they want to be on board and stay there. As a guideline, your chain length should a minimum of three to five times the depth of the water you are anchoring in. Finally, be aware of other boats near you – if the wind changes speed or direction, you will swing on your anchor chain (as will they) and you can end up dragging anchors and drifting into each other.

#9 – Stay in Touch
Always inform the “mother ship” when you’ve collected the guests from shore. This will ensure that the stewardesses and the rest of the crew are waiting on deck when your guests arrive. It also gives them enough time to put the finishing touches on any preparations they are making for the guests.

#10 – Experience is the Best Teacher
Remember that you will make mistakes, but through your mistakes, you’ll learn a great deal. These pressure points will take you the furthest if you’re able to embrace them rather than excuse them.