How it Works: Docking the Ferry

You're sitting on the ferry, relaxing with the morning paper. Suddenly, an announcement crackles over the loudspeaker:
“Attention, ladies and gentlemen: if there’s anyone who knows how to dock the ferry, please report to the bridge.”
This is your big moment. Don’t panic. As Captain Parker Hirschel of the Martha’s Vineyard says, “I can dock this boat easier than I can park my pickup truck.” Of course Captain Parker has docked the Martha’s Vineyard close to 20,000 times, so he’s well qualified to teach the basics.
It normally takes two people to guide a ferry like the Martha’s Vineyard into the slip: the pilot and the captain. The pilot is in charge of the wheel; the captain is responsible for the starboard and port throttles and the bow thruster.
The bow thruster is a propeller at the forward end of the vessel that can rotate 360 degrees. It’s operated from the bridge by a control that resembles a joystick and it’s used to fine-tune the direction of the vessel. The bow thruster can act as a brake or an accelerator. In fact, in a pinch, it could propel the vessel up to around six knots without the aid of any other engine. It can also be used to make the bow go sideways. If your car had a bow thruster, you would be the undisputed king of parallel parking.
The Martha’s Vineyard, unlike the Islander, which has pilothouses at both ends, must execute a 180-degree turn in Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs and then back into the slip so that cars can exit facing forward. No problem. Between the bow thruster and the two throttles, the vessel can turn around in its own length.
But before you make your approach, you must first assess the wind and the tide. You make your approach at around six knots, putting the throttles into reverse as you approach the slip to slow down the momentum of the boat, but making sure you have enough speed to maintain headway.
Once you’ve turned around, you’ll want to execute what’s known as a tail drag. To keep the hull lined up and the speed right, you let the after-quarter on one side drag lightly against the dock as you enter. A hip check occurs when the vessel accidentally hits amidships with a little too much force and everyone spills their coffee. A nose banger – whether going in forward or backward – is something you also want to avoid for reasons that should be self-evident.
We’re assuming that you have good visibility, but of course there’s always the possibility that fog will have made it impossible for you to even see the slip as you come in, in which case you’ll have to rely heavily on the radar screen next to the helm.
Got it?
Good, report to the bridge. You’re on your own.