The vast majority of time, close quarters maneuvering at low speed is fine. But strong current or big wind gusts can greatly reduce the margin for error. We recently saw an example of exactly that at Eagle Island, where strong currents wrap around the island. A particularly large exchange that weekend made for especially swift currents.
The people on one pleasure craft had just finished raising anchor. As they cleaned off the tackle, the current carried their boat towards another moored to a buoy. As the boats closed, someone on the moored boat became concerned and walked up to their bow. Those on the drifting boat moved their vessel forward slightly so that they drifted closely past the moored boat. But their dinghy passed on the other side and hooked on the buoy.
Held by the buoy, the drifting boat now spun towards the moored boat. The person on the moored boat jumped into the dinghy to try to free it and prevent damage to his vessel.
Soon after, the painter snapped from the strain. The dinghy rocked violently and the person aboard was thrown in the water. Fortunately, they appeared unhurt and were able to make it to their stern and climb aboard at the swim platform.
Big clouds of diesel smoke came from the drifting boat as the crew throttled up to turn and retrieve their lost tender.
When things go wrong, either on our boat or another, we try to learn what we can from it in the hopes of avoiding a similar incident. We thought about what we would do if our boat were in the same situation as the moored boat. The first step would be to get our engine started to give us maneuverability. Then we could release the line to the buoy and hopefully get away. Were we at anchor, with the engines running we still would have a reasonable amount of leeway to move the boat around and perhaps even let out more rode. Slipping the anchor quickly might be difficult because our first 200 feet of our rode is all chain. Was our boat the one drifting, we’d want to get well away at the first sign of trouble. Barring that, we’d release the tender if it hooked.