Steering astern in a Bristol Channel Cutter... oh yeah... we all know what's coming in this post!

Hey everyone,

I’ve been writing an article for about a recent experience with berthing our BCC.

It revolves around the art of going astern with almost no steering. Do all BCCs suffer from this affliction - which I assume is due to the deep keel? Eben and Annie (new owners of Taleisin) posted a great article on their site about their epic first trip berthing the old girl.

With an on-shore wind, and only about 6 feet of leeway before hitting the rocks, berthing our boat (Ubique) can be quite exciting shall we say.

I’d love to hear any tips people have for berthing and manoeuvring their BCCs when going astern?
So why not share your experiences - both good and bad?


Gday Chris,
Friendly Light kicks her stern to Port in reverse. Ubique probably does too. With a LOT of practice, you can learn to use this to advantage, or at least allow for the change in direction. With no water flow across the rudder, there ain’t much effect on tiller movement until you get a bit of sternway, which takes time and space! I find when berthing I lead a spring through the midships fairlead, with the tail back to the staysail sheet winch. I ask my crew to drop the eyesplice onto a bollard, then I can control the spring with one hand and with judicious use of ahead and astern, can usually pivot and end up where I want to. I have been FL’s custodian for twenty years and she still has her own way somtimes! Maybe I’m a slow learner.

Hey Gus,

It’s Dave here - we bought Ubique from Chris!
Many thanks for your thoughts, and yes, Ubi does kick to port in reverse too.

I’ve learnt to use this to our advantage, although on windy days it can be very difficult to get any sort of control going astern - mainly because her windage is surprising.
Chris recommended an almost identical technique to the one you suggested, although I’ve found that the friction through the dockside cleat can sometimes lead to Ubique being sucked into the pontoon as she reverses.

I’ll keep trying, and I’m thinking about using the concrete fingerpost as a pivot point. Still getting my head round how she moves, so hearing Friendly Light can be a little feisty is comforting - especially with you having 20 yrs of tiller experience.

Anyway… hope to see you down here in Tassie when you bring FL down for the Australian Wooden Boat Festival - it’s gonna be fun!!


I tell people that going in reverse is a voyage of discovery because I never know where I’m going to end up.
I have a feathering prop that reduces prop walk somewhat and occasionally gives a semblance of control but backing any long keel boat is always going to be a lottery.
I rarely try and berth in reverse. I find it easier to back out where I can use some of the dock to start her off in roughly the direction I want. As long as the bowsprit clears I can usually get back far enough that full rudder and a blast of forward propwash will start her turning.
That’s the theory anyway…

Heh heh!!!

Jono it’s nice to know you have that problem too, and considering the wind smashing through the marina the other day we were down at Takayna, then I wouldn’t have liked conducting reversing drills then - nasty squalls!!

Does any other BCCers have advice for me?


My experience has been with a different full keeled boat, but I imagine it’s very similar. I also rarely berth in reverse. To get any steering in reverse, I keep the helm centered, put on some power to gather a little way, then go immediately into neutral. With very small changes to the helm I can often get some steerage, too much and the rudder will stall. It doesn’t take much, and of course you don’t get much. As the boat slows down, just a little slow power in reverse, then back to neutral. You don’t want prop walk or wash interfering with the steering while trying this.

If it’s windy, I often use shore lines to pull the stern in the direction I want. I find it a lot easier to dock bow in, it’s then simple to rig any lines I need for a reverse departure. Rope work is easier with two people, one to manage the shore line. Make sure it doesn’t bind and pull the stern to early, and haul it in fast at the end, etc.

I rely a lot on prop walk and prop wash. I use them quite a bit to maintain control over the boat at slow speeds and always plan my approach / departure with them in mind. In a few cases prop walk can be annoying, but I made the mistake once of switching to a smaller prop that was touted as reducing prop walk. That prop had several issues, but it did reduce prop walk, which made me realize just how much I depended on it for maneuvering. I’m not using that prop anymore. Prop walk = good for full keel boats.

I also use boat hooks quite a bit. Sometimes I’ll just reverse “straight” out of a slip, let the bow blow off if there’s any wind, and keep reversing upwind until I get to a piling (preferably), or another boat. Stop, quite close, usually a foot or so off, then give a big push off with a boat hook from the stern to start the boat spinning in the direction I want. If I think it’s going to be tight, then I try to have someone near the bow with a boat hook to help complete the turn. But usually just a good push of the stern is enough to set things right.

Also just pushing or pulling the stern around the end of the dock, as the case may be, is enough to get it headed in the right direction. Sometimes I end up climbing on the bow sprit if I need to give the bow a push as I get on. That one’s not my favorite.

Often it’s a combination of these techniques. Pushing, pulling or boat hook followed by prop walk / wash, etc. If I’m using a line ashore it’s usually enough all by itself, though the other techniques are easier to do single handed.

Needless to say, this is all planned out a little in advance :slight_smile: Though I’m sure you could be cavalier about it.

Hey Timg,

This is fantastic advice, and for me it’s great confirmation that I’m doing the right things.
We rely heavily on prop walk to get Ubique berthed, and I’m contemplating picking up our fixed mooring lines as haul, lines to get us in to the dock on unfavourably windy days.

I’m hoping to write an article about berthing in awkward spots on the website as soon as I get some free time (I run 2 companies!).
I trust you wouldn’t mind if I using some of your suggestions in the article?


Sure, used whatever you like :slight_smile:

Thanks for that timg!!

Hi from Gus,
i fitted a featherstream 3 bladed prop which has made a great difference, but… it is stillquite a challenge . Practice a lot with no-one looking. Use your prop walk to advantage. don’t be afraid of LOTS of fwd and reverse, with lotsof rudder use. The bow will tend to blow downwind. maybe you canmake use of that as well. no substitutefor lots of practice in different conditions to get to know your mistress. I amstill learning after 20 years,as you are always encountering different situations. then again, maybe I’m a slow learner!,

Has anyone fitted an electric or hydraulic bow thruster to a BCC? Is there room in the bow?

Hey Todd,

I’ve not heard of such a retrofit, although I can imagine it’s happened before.
No doubt others will chip in with the evidence…
I’m actually surprised how well the BCC steers with prop walk, and since this post my skills have improved.
I’m a complete novice with BCCs and I managed, so I’m sure everyone else on the planet can breeze it!

Takes a bit of practice - perhaps 4 to 5 hours in total to get proficient.
I’m thinking of filming a piece for the website ( to share my experiences, as we have had a lot of comments after that post I did…

Have you got a BCC? Or just thinking about one, as don’t let these little niggles put you off!
Thanks also for leaving a comment - you’re a legend for not just reading but commenting too!


Hey Dave

I am a boatbuilder/shipwright that worked at Riviera Marine and Haines Hunter for many years now working out of Nowra on the South Coast of NSW. I have been looking at different options for a sub 35 foot boat for an extended circumnavigation which a considerable amount of the sailing will be done single handed and the BBC 28 is top of my list. I have found a couple of boats in North America that look suitable as a place to start a refit however still need to finalise the cost to transport back to Australia from Canada. There is very few glass BBC 28 available for sale in Australia/NZ.