Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rubber Docking

The first time I had the conn of a Coast Guard cutter (the 210 foot Steadfast, MEC 623), the captain threw a paperboard box off the bridge, had me steam away, and told me to turn the ship around and stop her alongside the box. (This was to be done with my never taking the helm, but rather by giving helm and engine commands, which is both easier than it sounds - gets trickier when, coming alongside, line commands are thrown in - and really cool.) I did ok, but the real lesson was the value of learning how the ship turned, accelerated and stopped in an open sea, with nothing around to hit. We called it "rubber docking", and it's how we learned to maneuver the ship.

I still use the technique today. If I am making a difficult approach to a pier or even a mooring, say with a strong wind or tide or both, I may make my first approach a dummy run. I'll give it my best shot, but I'll intentionally stay five or ten feet off the pier, and use the dummy run to gauge wind and current. The data I gain makes the real approach a lot smoother.

It's important that the crew understand that the first approach is a dummy run, so no one tries to be a hero by leaping for the dock.

Pictures of Steadfast

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