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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Raft Up

Raft Up
Raft Up! Caro and friends at Gildersleeve Island in the CT River
Cruising around at a low RPM in the calm waters of a sunrise or sunset has its own special place in my heart.  Equally beloved, however, is the time spent at anchor with friends.  Rafting up with your buddies is one of the most fun experiences you can have while boating.  Unfortunately, it's also one of the most perilous!

This is a good video example of what can go wrong while rafting up.  It's a bit long, but you'll get the idea:

Lots of things can go wrong when rafting together.  Principally, the danger is not only in the physical mistakes that can happen, but also in the fact that everyone's guards are down when they're peacefully at anchor, 'impervious' to the elements.  Or so they think!

Although rafting up gives you a stationary home temporarily, you must maintain constant vigilance to check the status of your new floating dock party.  Here are some tips and tricks to ensure you don't get blindsided by an unfortunate rafting mistake:

  • Set the largest boat at anchor first.  This boat will serve as the anchor (no pun intended) for the rest of the party.  This boat MUST be placed strategically in a place that will NOT be affected by wind, waves, current AND/OR a current shift.  If you are in tidal water, you MUST prepare for a current shift (more on that later).  Scope is extremely important - since the total load on the center boats will be much more than a typical single-boat load, extra scope is absolutely necessary, perhaps on the order of 10:1 or more.
  • Place large boats together in the center, and smaller boats to the outskirts of the 'wings.'  Place as many anchors as possible, and ensure that each boat is setting an anchor first, THEN powering back to raft up with the other boats.  Ideally, each of the boat anchors will extend perpendicularly to the line of boats (as opposed to set at sloppy angles from the bows).
  • Although lots of care, attention, scope, and multiple anchors will be a great assistance to holding your collective ground, there still is a finite number of boats that can safely raft together.  The above example is partially a fault of WAY too many boats on one line.  Realistically, a line of 5 or 6 is capacity; 7 is overdoing it most of the time.  When the party is on, this rule tends to get overlooked - do so at your own peril.
  • If you anticipate a tidal shift, you must also set stern anchors OR have a swing plan.  I tend to prefer the stern-anchor approach, because you know exactly what will happen at slack tide and when the tide reverses (which, if you've set your stern anchors correctly, with enough scope, perpendicularly to the sterns of the line, will be absolutely nothing - that is, your boats will stay in exactly the same position, between the stern and bow anchor sets).
  • If you have a swing plan, ensure that no other boats will impede that plan.  This is a difficult maneuver to accomplish, since you'll have multiple anchors out front, and a slack tide will wreak havoc on your geometry.  You can end up floating over the anchors and getting all sorts of tangled up.  This can only be done if you work together at slack tide to pull up the anchors, and use one or multiple motors to maneuver the group and reset the anchors.
  • After you've settled into your raft, check some landmarks, just as if you're anchoring by yourself.  Know your distances to certain marks and continually check them, more frequently than if you were by yourself.  You want to check your status more frequently because it's going to take time to reset your squad if something goes awry.  You'll have to get everyone out of the water, captains back to their helms, engine blowers run, engines turned on, etc, etc, etc.  (QUICK TIP: In an emergency, forget the blower - open the engine hatch to ventilate the engine, wait twenty or thirty seconds, then start her up).
  • Have an exit strategy.  If another captain seems careless about any of these procedures, consider whether you want that person rafting up with you.  If you start to drift on your anchor, or have another emergency situation, you need to have extreme confidence that your rafting team can handle that situation swiftly and accurately, without panic or potentially deadly mistakes.  Plan, ahead of time, a way that your fellow captains will handle a drifting situation if it arises (drifting is probably the number one concern among rafters).
  •  Beware wakes or large waves.  Rogue wakes can rock an armada of boats harder than you can imagine.  You'll find yourself at risk of losing fiberglass, limbs, fenders and lines this way.  Again, safety and proper setting is a must.  NEVER put your limbs in between any boats, no matter how calm the water is at that point.  Also, use LOTS of fenders and place them strategically between the boats.  By strategically, I mean at obvious rub points.  If you've set your lines properly, your boats will connect just as they would at a fixed dock.  Check out the picture on this page for a good example of proper set-ups.
  • Finally, coil lines properly so they stay out of the way of people climbing in, on, or around the boats.  Tripping up in a line could prove fatal.  In fact, all kinds of injuries can occur when people are hopping boats, hanging out on slick swim platforms, and jumping off bows.  Those things are fun - enjoy them - but do use caution and advise everyone to do the same.  Trust me, falling off a a slippery swim platform is not fun, and it's completely avoidable.   
As with all things boating, vigilance and forward-thinking will make a day on the water fun and safe.  Although this seems like a lot of work, you'll soon develop a routine and accomplish all of these tasks without much thought at all.  The biggest thing to remember is that not all captains are as smart and careful as you are; for the safety of all involved, don't be afraid to help others see that their actions might be perilous.  Usually a quick remark about how difficult insurance companies can be is all it takes!

On a lighter note, if you see Caro out and about this summer, hail me down and come aboard!  I'll bring an extra burger for you.
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  1. At times like this raft guide can do the trick usually in his or her 20’s but for some flow lovers old workouts die hard. Just make sure that you get what you paid for.

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