Saturday, December 3, 2011

Anchoring Hand Signals

Recently while on a trip down to check the MV Independence, a boat neighbor at the dock stopped me and asked about anchoring.  He said that many times he and his wife get into this shouting match because she's up at the bow dropping the anchor and he's running the boat.  She's screaming at him to do something, but with her back turned, and the sounds of the engines, he only hears "Bob, mumph, blah, blah, @&#%!"  He said he watched us come in to a local anchorage once, and how without a word, you calmly walked to the bow, your wife took the helm, and viola' you were anchored.  Never a word was heard between you two.  Of course my wife gave me a dirty look and said, "why can't we do that!"  He went on to comment that even when you dock your boat, even in trying conditions, you seem to have everything arranged and nary a word is said, and when a word is said, it's calm not shouting.

I offered him to come aboard, and share with me a finger of my favorite Canadian Rye.  I explained that after 22 years of successful boating and 32 years of successful marriage, we have come to develop some routines.  Otherwise, we would not be so successful in either boating or marriage.  There was a time when we too did the shouting routine, but found it just didn't work.   We anchor out 90% of the time when we go boating, so we had to come up with something.  It had to be simple, clear, and effective.  The idea of anchoring hand signals was born.  We've been using them for over 15 years now and they work great.  Letting my wife work the helm also gives her some experience working the boat.  And by me doing the anchoring I sleep better at night.  I then demonstrated and discussed with him each of the anchoring hand signals that we had developed.

The first three hand signals - forward, neutral and reverse - are pretty basic.  When you want to have the boat move forward, the arm from elbow up is raised and pointed up.  The boat will stay in gear going forward - at dead slow - until the another hand signal is given. When the arm is pointed straight out away from you and not moving, the boat should be taken out of gear into neutral.  Again, the boat is kept out of gear until another hand signal is given.  When the arm from the elbow is pointed down, the boat is put in reverse - at dead slow.  Although not pictured, if I want the speed increased, I simply spin my wrist in whatever position my arm is in.  If I want the speed decreased, I wave my fingers together in unison - making a flapping motion, like doing a child's wave.  To signal okay that the right speed is set, I simply flatten my hand.

If the boat needs to be turned, my wife and I worked out that the hand is spun in the direction you want the wheel to be turned.  My wife found that to be easiest and less confusing than pointing the direction, or saying "turn to port or starboard."  So, the arm from the elbow is spun to the right to turn right or starboard, and the arm from the elbow on down is spun to the left to turn left or to port.  Again, the helmsman performs the action until another hand signal is given.  One spin of the arm means just turn a little, whereas continuously spinning the arm means hard to the direction indicated. To indicate that the correct direction has been obtained, the arm is swung forward and back from its current position.

As said above, all actions by the helmsman are continued until another hand signal is given.  So we came up with these last two hand signals to indicate the action is over.  Waving an extended arm slightly up and down signifies that the anchor is set and no further action is necessary.  Waving the arm back and forth to above your head and back to level indicates that there is a problem.  When there is a problem the helmsman takes the boat out of gear immediately, comes forward to the bow to talk,  discusses the issue, and what the next actions are.

Again, the above system of hand signals works great for the captain and crew of the MV Independence.  Rarely, do we ever get into a shouting match and the boat is always successfully anchored.  We even use these hand signals when navigating through shoal areas or times when you need someone at the bow.  At the start of each boating season we rehearse the hand signals to ensure they are still understood.  We've found that having a crew that is coordinating with the skipper makes for easier and happier boating.  In the end trust and respect are maintained. You might even want to discuss with your crew the above hand signals or develop your own. 

At the end of the evening my boat neighbor and I had consumed more than one finger of whiskey and had invented a few other hand signals that might not be appropriate, but they sure did generate some laughs.
At anchor in Cutter Cove on a windy day.

1 comment:

Ozymandius said...

Excellent piece of advice