Yes, mistakes will happen. But happens next?

Mistakes Happen

Even after 45 years of boating and 10+ years cruising, you can make mistakes.

Those who follow The Boat Galley’s Facebook page saw my oops on Friday. And, as screw-ups go, it wasn’t horrible. But it was humbling.

What happened? Well, we needed to do our annual haul out — get the bottom of the boat painted and some maintenance chores on the engine drive leg that are far easier to do out of the water than in.

We’d been to the yard by land, and I knew it was a narrow little channel with some underwater hazards (rocks) on one side and a row of boat lifts on the other. This photo is looking back out the channel from the dock at the yard. You can see the arms of the boat lifts sticking out.

Yes, mistakes will happen. But happens next?

It’s not like I’m not used to driving a boat. I do 98% of the close-quarters helming. I drove boats as a kid and started pulling water-skiers without Dad or Mom in the boat the same day I got my license to do so as a 12-year-old.

But somehow I messed up. In looking to see what dock we were supposed to pull into, watching the guy on the dock pointing to where we needed to tie up and watching out for the unseen hazard, I lost track of how close we were to the line of boat lifts with their arms extending into the channel. And I misunderstood what Dave said when he saw we were getting too close.

Luckily, the arms were above our deck level and I was going very slowly as I hit one of the lifts. The only damage was to our lifeline netting and one of the lifeline turnbuckles. Neither one of us was injured and we didn’t panic.

Yes, mistakes will happen. But happens next?

I’m not excusing my mistake, I certainly did screw up. But I know a lot of new boaters — or those thinking about becoming boaters — read The Boat Galley. And one of the big questions is always, “What if I screw something up?”

What I can say is that probably somewhere along the line, you will make a mistake. And life will go on.

To me, the big thing is to figure out why the accident happened and what you can do in the future to avoid the problem. No, selling the boat or refusing to take the helm aren’t the answers. You may want more training or more practice in whatever led to the problem. Maybe a checklist would help. Maybe better sunglasses. Perhaps it’s something else. Or maybe it’s just a wake-up call not to be distracted, as mine was!

But don’t stop with just thinking about why an accident occurred — and beating yourself up over it. Give equal time to what you did right that kept the situation from being worse. In my case, going slow (“never approach anything faster than you’re willing to hit it”) and quickly going into reverse to further slow down just before hitting was key, along with not panicking and making things worse by hitting any of the other hazards in the area.

And above all, remember that boats can be repaired or replaced. Injuries to people are tougher. So when there’s a mistake, the number one thing is to keep the people safe. And that means not panicking, not freezing, not going into a complete collapse or screaming at other crew members, but calmly doing what has to be done.

Side note: if you are not the person that screwed up, don’t berate the person who did. Especially not immediately. Screaming “What the *(#$ were you doing?” does absolutely nothing to improve the situation at hand; it only makes it worse. And really, saying something like that any time — even hours or days after — doesn’t help. The person who made the mistake already feels badly enough; a calm discussion after the boat is secure of what happened and why will do far more to avoid a repeat.

Side note two: If you see you are about to hit something, never use your hands or feet to try to stop the boat. There is too much weight and momentum; you are very likely to be injured. Instead, grab a fender if possible and put it between the boat and the object. Once the boat stops moving, then you can push off and move the boat to a safe position.

Bottom line: Mistakes will happen, whether on land or on water. Certain “standard operating procedures” can lessen the damage, as can how you — and everyone else on board — reacts. Keeping people and pets safe has to be the number one priority. And life will go on.

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  • Gina Soucheray
    Posted at 15 May 2017 Reply

    Oh, yeah – I can still “see” that close-quarter departure where I was at the helm and hubby on the bow with his head outside the lines trying to fend off as we approached an overhangng anchor an another bow pulpit. Nearly decapitated himsef with me on the helm. It would have been my fault (says the person at the helm watchng it all). But, we talked it over afterwards, accepted who did what and how to correct for the future, got back in the saddle and rode off for another ten years. We have ten more years (at least) ahead of us. Thanks, Caroline.

  • Debbie Graves
    Posted at 15 May 2017 Reply

    So happy you guys are safe and not much damage. Good read!

  • Marta Crichlow
    Posted at 15 May 2017 Reply

    I salute you!

  • Cindy Balfour
    Posted at 15 May 2017 Reply

    Slow like a pro… Sorry for your mess up I know it happens to all of us. Hopefully not to expensive to fix.

  • Diane Cook
    Posted at 16 May 2017 Reply

    Just had an incident yesterday trying to dock in crosswind and near a beach. SO underestimated the current, too, and our bow hit a pylon (going slowly!) Think we almost ran aground, too, but he got us out of the situation safely, with little damage. I bit my tongue and didn’t berate him. I tend to be more cautious :”Let’s dock on the outside, even though it is more exposed.”He is more can do, and wanted a calmer berth. I am sure we provided great entertainment for the nearby restaurant of the dock and dine!

    • Claire Ford
      Posted at 16 May 2017 Reply

      Diane, we’ve been told over and over—-“It’s your boat and money. Forget what people think, and do what you feel comfortable doing.” Monday morning quarterbacking is worthless.

  • Amelia Reiheld
    Posted at 16 May 2017 Reply

    Docking our 50-foot homemade houseboat is a challenge, even in fairly calm conditions for this pair of tyros. Several close calls and a little scraped paint has the boat-designer-builder increasingly cautious., so much so that if there is more than a 10-knot breeze, the boat stays tied at her berth, in front of our house. Makes a good guest house, but I’m wondering if we will ever get the hang of this contraption.. Not sure if reading that you pros have occasional mishaps is consoling or discouraging. LOL. But whenever I am tempted to urge more courage, I remember that in 40 years as my copilot in our little airplane, and several scary situations, the boat captain never second guessed the pilot -in-command. If I said we weren’t flying today, , that was the end of the discussion. He would cancel his appointments without complaint. Turn-about is fair play, I guess.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 17 May 2017 Reply

      Houseboats generally have a lot of windage. You might want to think about hiring an instructional captain for a half day or so to work with you on handling it.

  • Susan Burall
    Posted at 18 May 2017 Reply

    I’ve been doing all the close work helming for the last 9 years and mucked it up in Cowes coming out of the Royal Yacht Squadron Marina in Cowes, UK on an OCC rally. We were the second boat in rafted up alongside another boat with 3 rafted out abreast behind us. There was just enough space to drift out with the wind on the bow, but I didn’t turn the wheel quickly enough when I’d passed those 3 rafted boats and we hit the wall. Words were spoken! And everyone was on the decks of their boats watching like meerkats. Only a small dint in the stern, all limbs intact, but hurt pride.

  • Cindy, SV Cream Puff
    Posted at 18 May 2017 Reply

    Well spoken Carolyn. My favorite saying in life when we make mistakes; “This is how we learn.’ No one is born with all the know how needed to successfully maneuver through life. We have to laugh at ourselves, learn from our mistakes and help others who are in trouble. This life is tough enough, why beat ourselves up for being human? Like you say, learn from it, have a plan for the future so it does not happen again and then tell the story over rum drinks with friends while watching a sunset.

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