What is the issue?When two vessels come alongside in an anchorage the potential for them to damage each other is magnified. Rafting can be particularly damaging because the vessels tend to roll at slightly different frequencies whilst in close quarters. A further added risk is because it can be difficult to quickly extricate a vessel from a raft in the event of an emergency.
Why address this?Rafting on the anchor, however, is fun and is a very social berthing arrangement. It lets you hang out with friends with the convenience of being docked, where you don't have to get in a dinghy and worry about climbing back aboard. If you are with a group of friends it is easy for adults to congregate on a boat for pre-dinner drinks, and after dinner parties. People can cook food on their own boats and share it without the necessity of awkward dinghy transfers, and if someone wants to go to bed early the whole boat doesn't have to go home with them. It is particularly good for families with children, having them clambering from boat to boat, and swimming and diving themselves into exhaustion.
How to address this?With safety precautions, good conditions, a proper setting and some good procedures rafting may be easily handled. Get all these right and you will have a wonderful time.
Picking a quiet position that is unaffected by wind, waves, or shifting currents is the key to a successful raft. If there is a source of wakes such as ferries, pilot boats, or other fast powerboat activity, it should be entirely avoided. It will simply not be comfortable, as it gets tiresome and dangerous fending the boats off one another. In a particularly bad location, the boats are likely to damage each other when they respond differently to the wakes rolling through the raft. It is a prime time for vessels to scrape their topsides, gouge rub-rails, bend stanchions, and entangle masts. Some waves are OK if the raft can be constructed in such a way that it can take them head-on, but on the whole, think 'millpond'.
Smaller rafts are better. Record circular rafts have been formed, but you should think of having no more than 5 boats in a raft at any one time. Although lots of care, attention, scope, and multiple anchors will be of great assistance to holding the collective in place, most of the time any more than five is overdoing it. It is easy to be attracted to a burgeoning group when the party is in full swing, but once you are at the half-dozen mark or more, you are entering at your own peril.
Should there be a change in the weather, or some other alteration to the conditions in the anchorage, each vessel in the raft should be ready to cast off quickly and in a coordinated way. Every anchorage is subject to a number of variables, so it's best to keep an eye not only on weather conditions, but the strength and state of the current, the tide, and the activities of other boats in the vicinity, and act accordingly. Be vigilant as you can do some damage if the weather picks up and you are caught in the middle of a raft in the night.
If you anticipate being there through a tide change, you all have to hang off one anchor which reduces the size of the raft to a few boats at most. Alternatively, all boats may use a bow and stern anchor but this vastly increases the complexity. If changes in current or wind directions are not expected, then simply line up and lay out the extra anchors in parallel.
Brief the children and non-sailing adults to never put their bodies, limbs, toes or fingers between any of the boats no matter how calm the water is at that point, a sudden unexpected wake could occur at any time leading to a dangerous crush.
The below points will help make rafting up at anchor a little easier:
- • If, as illustrated in the above header photo, the situation and conditions are benign and one boat is much smaller than the other, they can swing out of the larger boat's anchor. A smaller boat is likely to be more manoeuvrable than a larger boat so it is easier to pull alongside and make use of the larger boats superior ground tackle. The larger boat should increase its scope significantly to take account of the increased weight.
- • All the participants in the raft should buoy their anchors so they can easily tell where they are. Likewise place fenders into position ahead of time.
- • The heaviest boat should anchor in the centre with smaller ones on its sides. The heaviest boat may not necessarily be the longest boat but it should be the one with the biggest, heaviest anchor. This boat must be placed in the sweet spot of the anchorage and deploy maximum scope, somewhere between 5:1 and the maximum 10:1, in order to take the additional weight. Once the heaviest vessel is in position, deploy fenders and prepare to ease in.
- • Each boat then sets its own anchor and then pays out the chain to allow the boat to settle gently back and come abeam of the host vessel. Be careful to get the height right as different boats have different freeboard.
- • Heave the bow and stern lines to the other crew and come abreast. If you are a little too far off power across towards the bow at an angle of 45° and then toss a bowline to get set up. Then tie bow, stern, and spring lines onto the adjacent boat.
- • Stagger the spreaders so they won't tangle as a result of unsynchronised rolling. Use the spring lines to adjust fore and aft positions relative to the host vessel. If possible try to get the sterns of the boats to line up so people can pass from vessel to vessel. If you've set your lines properly the springers in the vessels should sit tight.
- • Use all of the fenders available on all boats. Fenders are easily pushed aside if one is not careful and the below diagram presents the best layout for maximum protection. Place additional fenders to protect obvious rub points. All the fenders should be made fast with a clove hitch locked by a half hitch.
- • Check for some transits, as you would normally do when anchoring, but maintain a more vigilant watch as in a raft it takes more time to react and there is much more complexity. This is because drifting is one of the biggest issues when in a raft, and it takes time to escape once a situation develops. Lines and fenders should also be checked regularly during the raft-up to ensure tension and position.
- • As the raft grows alternate each arriving vessel so that the numbers remain the same on each side of the heaviest centrally anchored vessel.
- • Once the raft is all settled in, loop your bow & stern lines around a cleat on the other boat(s) and bring the ends back to your boat as a slip line. This makes it easier and quicker to leave without disturbing the other boat, or for them to leave if that is possible. If all the participants tie up the same way, it allows a quick escape should the need arise.
- • Before settling into the party, focus on devising a practical plan for all the skippers to break up the raft quickly if conditions should change. You need to work as a co-ordinated team to do this, which means you need to have confidence in all the other skippers. If another skipper seems careless about any of these procedures, consider whether you want that person rafting up with you or vice versa.
- • When leaving a raft-up, conduct one last visual check for swimmers, lines in the water and other boaters before turning over the engine. As you move to retrieve your anchor be highly vigilant.
Photo: Michael Harpur
Rafting up your boat with others can be a fun experience, be it for dinner, drinks or letting the kids play. If you are vigilant and follow the above guidelines, you should get the most out of the experience. As long as the boats are brought together properly, and you monitor the conditions, rafting up with friends is one of the great social activities afloat.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
When rafting goes bad
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