Bow Thruster Basics | Modern Sailing

Bow Thruster Basics

Two yachts in our Platinum Fleet, Survivor (Beneteau Oceanis 38) and Liberty (Beneteau Oceanis 38.1) are equipped with twin helms, rudders and bow thrusters. If you've never used bow thrusters, before you try them out, learn the basics, where to practice, and when to use or not use them. 

Bow Thruster Basics

Bow thrusters apply lateral propulsion to maneuver a boat's bow in a sideways direction. They are useful to counter the forces of wind and/or tidal current when manuevering in close quarters.

A vessel with twin rudders requires more speed when backing up in order to supply sufficient hydrodynamic pressure on the rudders for steering. In close-quarters maneuvering, adding speed is not always ideal. Bow thrusters enable the helmsperson to turn the bow without increasing the boat's speed through the water.

On Survivor and Liberty, you'll find the bow thruster controls located to the left of the port helm in the form of two buttons, red and green.  

Do not use bow thrusters when guiding the boat into the slip - only when backing out.

Where To Practice

If you've never operated bow thrusters before, it's essential to practice safely and get a feel for the bow thrusters before attempting to use them to maneuver in a close-quarters situation.

Tied To the Dock

With the dock lines well-secured and the engine running, press and hold the red and green buttons together until you hear a beep. This engages the bow thruster controls. Push the red button for 2 seconds and observe the bow moving to port (left). Push the green button for 2 seconds and the bow will move to starboard (right).

Give the port and starboard thrusters a few short bursts each to get a feel for their action on the bow. Next, practice outside the marina - before you attempt to use the bow thrusters untied in the slip. (Remember, do not use bow thrusters when guiding the boat into the slip - only when backing out.)

Outside The Marina

Your first experiments with the bow thrusters are ideally performed in an open anchorage or other sheltered waters in calm conditions.

Steer the boat to near a mooring ball or buoy that you can use as a point of reference to visually experience the action of the bow thruster on the motion of the bow. Also, continue to practice regularly in a variety of conditions.

Tips for Backing Out with Bow Thruster Assist

Survivor and Liberty's berths lie within in a somewhat narrow fairway. They must be turned into the fairway while backing out of the slip, rather than backing straight all the way out of the slip and turning in the fairway. This is where the bow thrusters and these tips can come in handy.

  • Keep the bow centered until you're three-quarters of the way out of the slip. 
  • If you realize there isn't quite enough throttle to steer straight while backing out, a short burst of bow thruster can help keep the bow centered as you go.
  • When the boat is 3/4 of the way out of the slip, turn the wheel to starboard to begin turning the stern into the fairway.
  • If the boat is moving too slowly to steer with the wheel, or if the wind and/or current interfere with the turn, press the red button for 2 seconds. This will nudge the bow left, which points the stern to right (starboard). 

Questions about bow thrusters? Ask an instructor! Captains Leigh, Bill, and/or Kira are available in the office during business hours. If you'd like some bow thruster practice with an instructor aboard, consider a private lesson.

Article by Mary Elkins on June 26, 2020

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