By: Captain Bill Jennings
There are many reasons why a group of boaters may want to come together, so let's begin by clarifying the various reasons that boaters raft as a group.
Probably the most common reason for rafting is when you arrive late to the party and all the dock spaces are taken. The first thing that happens when you arrive at a dock and find no place to park is the 'Squeeze Play.' This is the process of nosing into a space half the length of your boat and shifting back and forth in a futile effort to get your boat into that opening. Very often concerned shore dwellers will run to the dock and move some boats to give you the space you need. Of course if that doesn't work, you will need to raft off another boat. Choose a raft mate boat that is close to the same size as yours. Drop off your first mate to enter the event and locate the boat owner to ask for his/her permission to tie onto their boat. Once approval is acquired, line up the sections of each boat that offer the easiest and safest place to walk across. Place as many fenders as you can find between the boats in a position that covers not just the sides but also the rub rails. Tie three lines tightly, one midship to midship, and the fore and aft lines crossed to prevent fore and aft movement. Before offloading passengers, ask them to take off their shoes as a courtesy to the other boat owner.
Another reason to raft is when the inevitable happens and you experience a mechanical issue. When the cussing has stopped and you have decided that a short tow will save you a month's pay on a formal towing service, ask the first
vessel that stops if they would please help with a short tow to to shore. Explain that a 'raft tow' will not hurt their boat. Secure fenders and lines much like rafting to a boat on a dock and explain to the towing boat that because of the drag they will have to steer away from your boat, in order to proceed in a straight line. Towing by rafting is easier and safer than using lines (unless your boat is over 60 feet). Towing by rafting also allows the boat towing to place you against a dock and not just cut you loose 100 feet from safety and hope you float somewhere near a dock. Be sure to get the Good Samaritan's address so that you can send them a token of your appreciation.
Sometimes it seems like a good idea to use rafting as a means to get "up close and personal" with that good looking lady in her Boston Whaler. Fender and line use is the same, but be careful in the conversation not to tie the knot too tightly. An extreme example of rafting is called 'Social Rafting.' This is when boats raft together in a bay or the middle of a lake. There can be two or three boats rafted, or two or three hundred boats. Party Cove in Nevada derived it's name from rafting parties on steroids. If you are at such an event and go walking from boat to boat, be sure to count the number of boats you cross, in order to be able to find yours again. While social rafting you will meet tons of people but will remember none of them, except that police officer who gave you a piece of paper. Then there is the "Where Is It" rafting. That's when you and other boating friends come together to search for the boat that was accidentally left at last week's social rafting event.
I am sure there many more reasons to raft. If you take the time to do it right, it can be safe, helpful and fun.