By: Captain Bill Jennings
She walked down the dock with an ice cream cone in her hand, and jumped into her 19' sterndrive runabout. With her right hand she turned the starter key and quickly pulled the shift lever into reverse. Her boat jumped backwards and to one side, crashing into a boat parked on the next dock. She was shocked.
This could just as easily have been a young man, but I witnessed this true event and it happened to be a young woman. The accident brought to mind a simple step that should be taken every time you plan to put your boat in gear. Most readers might already do this -- but if you don't, you will be very glad I told you.
Very few boats have a "rudder position indicator," and so with the exception of outboards you have no way of checking which direction your boat will turn when you put it into gear. It is far too easy to simply put the boat into gear and assume you are straight from the last time you were out. To solve this problem, do this: When stopped, turn your wheel as far as it will go in one direction. Then while carefully counting the number of revolutions, turn your wheel in the opposite direction until it reaches full lock.
If, for example, your wheel turns three full turns, lock to lock, you know that half those number of turns, or one and one half turns from either lock position, will place your steering in the neutral position. This assures you that when you put your boat in gear, it will move in a straight line forward or back. You may also want to put a small indicator on the steering wheel itself to denote when it's centred, like a small ring of tape at the twelve o'clock position.
Once you have figured the number of turns to 'neutral' for your boat, you can simply use this number every time you leave a dock. Get into the habit of always checking your wheel before you put your boat in gear. Its a simple step that can thwart an accident.
She very quickly stepped over to look at the boat she bumped, and was relieved to see that the rubber rub rail had saved the day. There was no visible damage. Too bad she dropped her ice cream cone.