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How big a boat can I handle by myself?

A question that I get almost monthly deals with how large a boat can one handle on their own. I thought that the answer might be of interest to those of you who are continually looking for some way to spoil an otherwise nice day. One version of the question and the answer follows.
Capt Matt

Question: I need to know how large a boat can one person operate without anyone else aboard? I am looking at buying a 65' trawler (beam=19') that has twin 800 hp engines and weight is about 55 ton.

Answer: Single-handling a boat depends on the design and layout of the vessel and the handler’s physical fitness, strength, experience, nautical cunning and determination. There are very definite limiting factors that can help you decide how big a boat you might be able to handle with safety and confidence.

The first thing is the anchor. Assuming you have an anchor(s) that is/are large enough to hold the vessel in a storm, can you raise the heaviest anchor onboard without the help of a winch and get it on deck?

Another factor is simply the configuration of the vessel. Is it set up in such a manner that you alone could maneuver it to a dock with a strong wind blowing you away? Could you get a line from the vessel to the dock without loosing control?

If you are considering single-handling a sail boat, you must answer the following question; Can you reef or lower, smother and get sail ties around the largest sail on board, in all kinds of weather, with no assistance?

Although living aboard a large boat can be very satisfying, I’m afraid that one is going to be very limited in what he/she can do alone by way of actually traveling by himself/herself away from the slip. Due to circumstances beyond my control I have, on occasion, singularly operated vessels between 80-100 feet. It is not fun and it takes its toll both physically and mentally. Luckily, in all these instances I was not presented with contrary weather or other emergencies.

I also gave private lessons in the Bahamas to a gentleman who bought a 53’ Defever and wanted to operate it alone. Although I told him up front that I didn’t think it was a good idea, he insisted he wanted to try. In the first two hours he had changed his mind when he discovered that it simply couldn’t be docked without help. He couldn’t be on the bridge controlling the boat and on deck to handle lines at the same time. Contrary winds and currents would not allow it.

 

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