• Maneuvering a Twin Engine Boat Part 1, The Principles

    contributors to this article: Roger, ICECOP

    So you have found yourself the proud owner of your first twin-engine cruiser and can't wait to take her for a spin. More likely you have already taken her for a spin and other than a few dings and a bruised ego you find yourself wondering how you ever got her nestled safely back in the slip. After all, everyone told you that twin-engines were more maneuverable, right! In the hands of a skilled mariner they are more maneuverable, but for those that lack a
    good understanding of the principles involved it can turn ugly fast. In this first article we aren't going to concentrate on how to maneuver your boat, but instead we will provide you with some ways to learn how your boat behaves.

    The technology available today such as the IPS and Zeus drives make maneuvering any boat seem like child's play, but even with that technology a good understanding of the basics is essential. For the purposes of this article we are going back in time before all of that new technology to a standard twin engine boat with no bow or stern thrusters. Just a plain old boat with twin-screws!

    This article is part of a series that will cover basic and advanced topics related to the operation of Twin Engine boats. In "The Principles" you will learn theory that will help you better understand why the boat behaves the way it does.

    The first thing you have to remember is that no two boats handle alike. Even identical boats from the same manufacturer will behave a bit differently at times. There are a number of variables that can influence how a boat will behave as shown by the list below:

    - Wind
    - Current
    - Size and location of the rudders
    - Prop Pockets, Tunnels and hull shape
    - Type of propulsion, (stern drive versus inboard)
    - Structure above the waterline (flybridge versus express cruiser)
    - Structure and shape below the waterline
    - RPM's, shape and size of the props
    - Weight and loading of the boat
    - Speed of the boat

    Don't let that list overwhelm you, what I want you to notice is that unless you grab a chainsaw and start modifying "Rusty Bucket", or allocate enough nectar to the Gods to make the wind succumb to your will, you only have control of a few of those items: rpm's, weight, loading and speed.

    Why is the boat doing that? How do I make it do what I want? Those are the two most commonly asked questions I receive when teaching twin-screw maneuvering. After reading this article and spending time practicing with your boat you should have no difficulty answering those questions.

    How Propellers Work

    We could begin an in-depth discussion on the physics and other rocket science involved on how a propeller works but you can find countless articles on the internet explaining the various forces involved. So for our purposes lets just agree that a propeller is designed to move water! Since most of us try to spend most of our time going forward at varying degrees of speed, the engineers design propellers to be the most efficient in forward rotation. To achieve this they have to sacrifice performance when the propeller operates in reverse rotation.

    Key Point 1: Propellers are less efficient in reverse and require either; more time or more rpms to do the same amount of work as a propeller in forward.

    Prop Walk

    Prop walk is a term used to describe the lateral movement of a boat's stern due to a spinning propeller. On boats that have a clockwise spinning propeller (when viewed from the rear) the stern of the boat will have a tendency to move laterally to starboard in forward gear and move to port when the prop is in reverse. On most boats the effects of prop walk are generally more pronounced in reverse than when the propeller is spinning forward. If your boats propeller spins counter-clockwise for forward propulsion then the effects are reversed.

    Key Point 2: Propellers that rotate clockwise to produce forward thrust will cause the stern of the boat to move laterally to starboard, the opposite effect happens for counter-clockwise rotating propellers.


    Attachment 921

    You are probably thinking, I don't have to worry about prop walk with a twin-screw boat, right?. Well in most cases you don't but that is because most twin-screw boats have counter-rotating propellers which essentially cancel the effects out. But what if you have one prop in neutral and the other is spinning away, or what if you have engine problems and have to bring "Rusty Bucket" back to the slip on one engine.

    Pivot Point

    The pivot point is the exact point on the boat about which it will rotate when one propeller is producing forward thrust and the other propeller is producing reverse thrust with both engines at or near idle. The pivot point is one of the most important concepts you will need to understand if you desire to maneuver your boat with precision.

    The animation below should help you understand the concept we are talking about. If you were on those boats and standing on the red circles you would not be moving fore, aft, or laterally. Instead you would spin like a ballerina albeit somewhat slower. This is the center of rotation or pivot point!

    Note in the animation below how the pivot point between the two boats differ. Boats with the pivot point located further aft from the center of the boat will have a larger pivot radius. How to determine your boat's pivot point will be discussed later in this article.

    Key Point 3: Know the location of your boats pivot point.








    Energy Management

    If you have moved up to a twin-engine boat then you are likely to be operating a boat much larger than you are accustomed to. With this larger size comes more weight and the concept of energy management is going to be either your friend or your foe. In my opinion energy management is the most important concept to grasp when operating a larger boat but also the least understood.

    We will be discussing several technical terms in order to demonstrate these key concepts. But when we talk about energy management, we don't care if it's linear momentum or rotational kinetic energy that is causing the boat to behave a specific way. Energy management is what actions you take to control all of these forces, i.e. making the boat do what you want it to do by making proper control inputs at the proper time.

    Let me give you an example by comparing two situations.

    Situation 1: Joe always comes into the dock quite fast and ten feet away you see him rapidly shift into reverse and push the throttles up to slow his boat down.

    Situation 2: Bob on the other hand comes in just above idle speed, and ten feet away he slips the transmissions into neutral and lets the boat coast up to the dock.

    Both were using energy management. However, Joe's method leaves little margin for error, creates un-necessary wear and tear on his equipment, creates a large wake and he is at risk of destroying a transmission. Should something go wrong, for example an engine quits, he is not going to have time to react. He will likely impact the dock with a lot of energy and inflict damage to both the dock and his boat. Admittedly, there may be a time when Joe's method is suitable for the situation but in general this is considered poor energy management.

    Bob's method gives more time to catch any errors and will most likely suffer the least damage should something go wrong. Bob has planned ahead and maintained deliberate and positive control of the situation. This is considered proper energy management.

    Now we are going to get a little bit technical for a while. Don't worry there won't be a test, but we are going to use some math and a few physics principles to demonstrate the theories behind energy management.

    Before we delve in too deeply I have to post the following disclaimer. In order to provide enough detail to demonstrate the principles yet keep things simple, I am going to simplify the equations and use terms that are more boating friendly. We are going to intentionally leave out some of the variables that would only complicate matters and hopefully the physics god will not be too angry.

    We will begin by talking about momentum. Momentum can be linear (straight line) or angular (rotational). For now we are going to look at linear momentum which can be defined as a force generated in a specific direction. The proper equation is mass x velocity = momentum but to simplify we will use the equation below for our examples:

    weight x speed = momentum (force in a specific direction)


    If we take our boat that has a specific weight and propel it through the water at some speed we have developed momentum. If it weren't for friction, drag, wind, current and other forces acting on our boat we could shut down the engines and continue forever. However, once we have built up this momentum a force will have to be applied in the opposite direction to stop the momentum (bring the speed to zero). Friction, drag, wind, current etc. will help accomplish this but we will most likely need to use reverse thrust.

    Note: Although not technically correct we will use the terms momentum and energy interchangeably. When we increase the boats momentum we have also increased its energy or ability to do something.

    Lets look at our previous example of Joe and Bob. Lets assume they have the same boats, both weigh 1,000 pounds and both shift into reverse to stop their boats at a distance of 20 feet from the dock.

    Joe powers up to the dock at a speed of 15 knots so lets see how much energy he developed:
    1,000 pds x 15 kts = 15,000


    Bob approaches the dock at 5 knots, lets compute his energy.
    1,000 pds x 5 kts = 5,000


    What do we learn from this? Joe developed over three times the amount of momentum or energy as Bob. That means that to bring Joe's boat to a stop in the same distance he has to produce at least three times as much force to counteract the momentum.

    This brings us to Key Point 4: The more momentum (energy) you develop, the more momentum (energy) you have to manage.

    It should be obvious from the example above the amount of energy developed will dictate what we have to do on the boat to manage it. In Joe's case he would have to increase reverse thrust quite a bit to produce the force necessary to bring the boat to a stop. This may not be the most appropriate solution in all cases, lets explore further.

    Momentum can also be defined as a force applied over a period of time. Force can be defined as the push or pull applied to an object to change its momentum. So to change our momentum we can either apply a small force over a long period of time, or apply a large force within a short period of time.
    force x time = momentum

    In the previous example both boats weighed the same and both Captains began corrective action at the same time. What would have happened if Joe began applying corrective action sooner. Remember Joe needed to produce approximately 15,000 pounds of force to change the momentum and stop his boat. Lets look at some examples using the above equation.
    1500 pds force x 10 sec = 15,000
    150 pds force x 100 sec = 15,000
    15 pds force x 1000 sec = 15,000


    Notice as the amount of time the force is applied increases from 10 seconds to 1,000 seconds, the amount of force required decreases from 1500 pounds to 15 pounds. So if Joe began applying corrective action sooner, he would not have to apply as much force.

    Now for Key Point 5: A small force applied over a longer time can achieve the same results as applying a larger force over a short period of time.



    Now that was a lot to digest but the good news is you don't have to remember everything you just read, just pay attention to the key points! We will review those again and give a brief example of how they may affect you at the end of this article.

    Maneuvers

    These maneuvers will help you understand the concepts we have discussed above and gain better control of your boat.

    Before beginning these maneuvers you should ensure your engines are properly tuned and the idle rpm is set correctly. Most transmission manufacturers recommend an idle rpm setting less than 1,000 rpms to avoid damage when shifting. However if the rpm setting is set too low maneuvering will be much more difficult. Ideally with the engine at idle thrust the boat should move at a speed equivalent to a slow walk.

    You are going to find that for the majority of maneuvering in close quarters you will leave your throttles at idle and your rudders will be centered. The rudders require a sufficient flow of water across them before they will have any effect. To accomplish that you have to either increase boat speed or increase thrust so the prop's wash will flow across them.

    Prior to practicing the maneuvers you will need to know where to place your wheel to center your rudders. On boats with a single driving station the wheel may have a mark on it, but if the boat is older this mark may not be accurate. You can begin moving the boat forward with the rpms matched and should be able to determine the point where your rudders are centered. Once you have the location, it helps to place a few loops of twine around the wheel so you can identify this position easily in both daylight and the hours of darkness. This method may work fine if you have a single driving station, however, a better method exists.

    ICECOP, one of our members, reminded me that I had failed to mention this procedure, oops! Unless you have a boat with newer electronic steering technology, the procedure described below should be used. It is required on many boats that have multiple driving stations and works equally well on single station boats. I recommend that you make this part of your habit pattern because it may prevent you from swapping fiberglass with metal in the future. Even if the boat has a rudder position indicator, it is a good idea to verify the accuracy prior to maneuvering the boat. The basic procedure is very easy and involves moving the wheel from stop to stop to determine the center point of the rudder's travel. The rudders have mechanical limits (referred to as stops) situated in their linkage that limit travel beyond a specific point. If the stops are set correctly, half of the distance between them is the center point for the rudders.

    Additionally, there are a variety of steering systems installed on boats. Some have power assisted steering similar to your car while many smaller or older boats do not. On these boats the steering may behave slightly different with the engines running versus shutdown. For this reason, begin this procedure after the engines have been started.

    Here is how it works! Prior to moving the boat, rotate the wheel fully to the left until it stops, you have reached the port turn rudder limit. Now find an easily identifiable place on the helm behind the wheel and place one hand on the wheel adjacent to that position. Next rotate the wheel fully to the right counting the number of times your hand passes the position you noted on the helm until you reach the starboard turn rudder limit, in this example we rotated the wheel eight and a half turns. Divide that value by tow to arrive at our final correction factor, in our example you should arrive at four and a quarter turns. Make a note of this value! Now rotate the wheel to the left four and a quarter turns and your rudders should be centered.

    It is possible to maneuver a boat out of a marina or other location without achieving enough flow across the rudders for them to be noticeably effective to the untrained eye. This is not uncommon among new operators of twin engine boats as they will compensate for any rudder yaw using differential throttle. Then as the boat begins to move faster, the rudders will become more effective as the flow of water across them increases. This can result in an embarrassing scramble by the person at the helm to straighten the boat out before damage is done.

    For this reason, it is advisable to slowly and evenly increase thrust on both engines to verify the rudder's position. However, realize that wind and current can affect the movement of the boat and can mislead you into thinking your calculations were incorrect. Then when the boat is stable, increase the thrust as desired.

    Rudder position indicators are a nice feature to have on a boat, but until you verify they are correct you should also use the procedure noted above until you have verified the actual position of the rudders.

    Pivot Point
    The first maneuver will help you find the pivot point on your boat and practice spinning the boat in place. One of the best places to do this is in a small cove that provides sufficient room. The cove should allow you to get out of any wind and avoid currents as well. You want a cove small enough so you will be within approximately 20 yards of the shoreline on both sides, the closer the better. This will allow you to get a better sense of the boats movement. Pick out a prominent object on each shoreline that will be easily identifiable. During these maneuvers you should pay attention to how the boat pivots and the path it takes across the water.

    To begin align the boat between two easily identifiable points on both the port and starboard shorelines. Begin the maneuver from a complete stop. Both transmissions should be in neutral, rudders centered and your throttles at idle thrust. We want to watch the initial reaction of the boat when we begin the maneuver so pay close attention to what it does first. Now simultaneously place the port engine in reverse and the starboard engine in forward to begin a pivot to the left. Does the boat move forward before it begins to pivot (spin) or does it pivot in place without any forward movement. Each boat will behave differently but you may find that you may have to put the one engine in reverse before placing the other engine in forward so the boat does not begin moving before pivoting.

    The animation below shows what you are trying to accomplish with the boat. Note how the boat pivots around the red dot while the boat stays aligned with the markers on the bank. This is pivoting in place! Click start to begin the animation.






    Complete several rotations to ensure you are spinning in place, on some boats it may require a slight thrust increase on the engine in reverse to keep the boat spinning in place. The objective is to spin like a top just like the example shown above with no movement fore or aft. Finding the exact location of the pivot point can be quite a challenge. You are trying to find the spot where you could drive a nail through the boat into the muddy bottom below and the boat would be spinning around it. Since you are on the spinning boat this is harder to do than if you enlisted someone to stand on the shore watching you.

    One way to help find the general location is to look over the side of the boat at the waterline. If you are pivoting to port, look over the port side and starting at the bow follow along the waterline noticing what the water is doing. In most cases beginning at the bow there will be a small wake that will disappear as you get amidships then you will notice smooth water with swirls. As you get closer to the stern the swirls will be larger and more frequent. The smooth water area is going to be relatively close to the pivot point.

    Now center your boat between your shoreline markers at a complete stop and accomplish the same procedure but this time pivot to starboard. Once again allow the boat to stabilize and spin in place. After completing the starboard pivot you should recognize the "pivot point" for your boat. Practice these maneuvers until are comfortable spinning your boat in place.

    Forward Pivot and Slip
    For the next exercise you will probably need a bit more room to work. A wider area of the cove will work well and still give you shoreline reference. This maneuver will cause the boat to pivot and move along an arc on the water at the same time. Imagine a race car going through a turn at high speed with the tires losing some of their grip, the car still turns but slips to the outside of the turn.

    Once again bring the boat to a stop. Begin a clockwise pivot and then apply a small amount of thrust on the port engine. Allow the boat to stabilize and you should note that the boat still pivots but as it pivots around its pivot point, it is also moving in a circle, the circle will get progressively larger as you apply more port thrust. You should also note the boat is slipping sideways through the water at the same time. While you are doing this, note the waterflow patterns around the boat. Do this maneuver in both directions.

    The animation below shows the general idea. Note the large circle, this is the path the boat is following as it spins. Click start to begin the animation.






    Reverse Pivot and Slip
    Now bring the boat to a stop to prepare for the next maneuver. It is similar to the above but this time we will leave the forward thrust producing engine at idle and increase thrust on the engine in reverse. You should notice the boat pivoting but also backing in a circle with a little side slip. The more reverse thrust you apply the wider the circle.

    Fast Pivot
    For the final maneuver bring the boat to a stop. Begin a counter-clockwise pivot with both throttles at idle. Now simultaneously increase the thrust on both engines (appx 1300 rpms). The boat should pivot but at a faster rate. Due to the efficiency differences between a propeller spinning in forward thrust versus reverse thrust, you will likely find out that to keep the boat in place you may have to increase the thrust on the engine in reverse (this effect is not as obvious when you were pivoting the boat with both engines at idle).

    Allow the boat to stabilize, warning this can make you dizzy! Once you have the boat pivoting in place, put both engines in idle thrust then shift both transmissions into neutral. The boat should spin just a bit more then slowly straighten out and come to a stop. When you placed both transmissions into neutral you removed the forces causing the pivot, but the boat keeps going for a minutes, this is rotational kinetic energy.


    Rotational Kinetic Energy

    We aren't going to delve into rotational kinetic energy in detail but what I want you to understand is that just as the boat developed energy along a straight line (linear momentum), it can also develop energy as it rotates. If the boat had a flat bottom and no other forces were acting on it, friction etc., the boat would spin forever. This is most evident when you pivot the boat to back into your slip. If you don't plan accordingly you will end up with the boat's bow swinging past the point you needed to align with your slip.

    This is shown in the animation below. The shifters are placed in the proper position to rotate the boat but they are left in this position too long. The green line shows the proper alignment to enter the slip and the red line portrays the longitudinal axis of the boat. Notice the red line rotating past the green line even though the shifters have been placed into neutral, this is due to the rotational kinetic energy. Click start to begin the animation.






    So now you may be wondering can you have both linear momentum and rotational kinetic energy occuring at the same time. The answer is yes. Once again you will most commonly notice this while you are maneuvering to enter your slip. If you are coming down the fairway and don't counter the forward momentum before beginning to pivot your boat to align with your slip, you will begin to rotate but linear momentum will carry your boat past your slip.

    In theory if you were in a world of no friction and had a boat with a purely flat bottom with no keel you could be moving across the water in a straight line while the boat was spinning at the same time. When you are maneuvering your boat, you should think in both dimensions. Click start to begin the animation.






    So with that thought in mind we will add another key point.

    Key Point 6: While slow speed maneuvering don't limit your thinking to one dimension, think about what your boat is doing and will be doing along both a linear path and a rotational path.



    Summary

    Key Point 1: Propellers are less efficient in reverse and require either; more time or more rpms to do the same amount of work as a propeller in forward. Remember this and plan ahead when maneuvering in close quarters, learn to shift into reverse sooner rather than later to avoid having to increase thrust.

    Key Point 2: Propellers that rotate clockwise to produce forward thrust will cause the stern of the boat to move laterally to starboard, the opposite effect happens for counter-clockwise rotating propellers. While maneuvering into a slip is most likely when this may be a factor. It is quite common to have one propeller in neutral while the other is spinning away.

    Key Point 3: Know your boats pivot point. You will base much of your slow speed maneuvering around the location of your boats pivot point, so it pays to find this spot and use it.

    Key Point 4: The more momentum (energy) you develop, the more momentum (energy) you have to manage. You will find that for most slow speed maneuvering keeping your momentum at a lower level will make the boat much easier to handle. Conversely with a strong current or wind you may find keeping the momentum higher will help you overcome those adverse effects.

    Key Point 5: A small force applied over a longer time can achieve the same results as applying a larger force over a short period of time. Keep this thought in mind every time you touch the throttle while slow speed maneuvering. For instance if you are maneuvering your boat to enter your slip do you find yourself having to add throttle to counteract the boats path? If so it is likely you could have applied the corrective action (shifting to reverse etc) sooner and avoided the need to increase thrust.

    Key Point 6: While slow speed maneuvering don't limit your thinking to one dimension, think about what your boat is doing and will be doing along both a linear path and a rotational path. This is important when maneuvering in tight spaces which may require turns with a change in direction.

    Hopefully from this article you have gained a better understanding of the forces at play as you maneuver your boat. Having a second propeller in the water makes the boat extremely maneuverable under the control of skilled hands. The key to gaining these skills is good basic understanding and lots of practice.

    Remember, go slow, plan and think ahead, don't forget to think in two dimensions linearly and rotationally, and manage that energy!



    Stay tuned for more maneuvering articles.

     

    Comments 19 Comments
    1. OH2BNKW's Avatar
      OH2BNKW -
      Amazing article........what I've been looking for for weeks now. Thank you so much!!!
    1. TimG's Avatar
      TimG -
      your very welcome!
    1. rkelly1's Avatar
      rkelly1 -
      I've spent over 15 hours researching how to maneuver my new to me cabin cruiser. This article is more proficient than anything I learned with my boaters license, you tube and other material.

      Bravo Sir!
    1. TimG's Avatar
      TimG -
      rkelly I certainly appreciate the comments!
    1. bustanson's Avatar
      bustanson -
      Next week I'll have to bring a 64' boat from Croatia to Romania. It's a twin engines. I'll, for sure, do all the exercises you described in this fantastic article (and not only once!!!) before enagageing in the 1400 miles trip. I'm sure that every boat reacts difrent, so after the first step on board, it is strongly recomanded to do those test, before going out.
      And a question: when is coming the part 2? If only one to come.
    1. TimG's Avatar
      TimG -
      Wow that sounds like it will be a great trip!

      Hopefully I can get part 2 done by the end of the year if everything goes okay. However I am thinking of the possibility of part 2 being mostly videos of various maneuvers.
    1. SnakeBite's Avatar
      SnakeBite -
      This is a fine article...makes me want to leave the office and go practice. I'm new to a 32 footer and much of this information was new to me. I have a slip in the Ohio River and the current is pretty steady and can get rather sporty. I prefer to back stern-in to the slip (very rough slips) but was told that when the current is fast, you're better off going bow-in. This seemed to make sense, but, with the right inputs, could backing in be just as easy?
    1. TimG's Avatar
      TimG -
      Yes with the right inputs and practice, backing in will get easier but will not necessarily be easier than bow forward. As you increase your skills backing in, your overall skills will improve and show up in all maneuvers such as bow forward. One thing I have noticed is that most recreational boaters are really hesitant to use rub rails etc. I have been backing into my slip in tough conditions and see people scrambling over to "help" me get the boat in. They graciously push the boat off the side of the slip in an effort to help not realizing they just made my best made plans go awry.

      In your situation what is the current like inside the slip, in other words do the slips retard the current flow etc (which will change the forces on your boat and the corrections you have to apply. There are several different ways to handle this, since you said you have a rough slip I imagine you will not want to pivot off of one of the poles on the slip. If so you can try coming into the slip with the boat pivoted slightly into the current so it maintains a straight ground track (tracking a straight line) headed into the slip. I would start this maneuver just slightly offset upstream from the slip. Then be prepared to take the pivot out as you enter the slip.

      Another method is to keep the boat straight (no pivot) and start upstream with timing to place you at the slips entrance as you approach it, much harder to do.

      A boat is a unique animal all its own with so many different behaviors that can be explored.
    1. Nelsonel's Avatar
      Nelsonel -
      In July I bought my first twin screw boat after two single I/O boats. I was almost overwhelmed with anxiety as the day drew near to reposition her to my home marina, two days away with about 15 locks thrown in to add to my apprehension. I read everything available on twin screw maneuvering including Tim's excellent work, advised by other members of this great forum, consulted with my marina-mates and bought a DVD on the subject. With my family on board we embarked on my first attempt to navigate with two propellers. In what seemed like no time at all the butterflies disappeared and I felt very comfortable that all aboard and those I shared the water with would be safe. There's much more practice in my future, but I can say at his point that maneuvering with twin screws is a novice boaters dream!
    1. Shufti's Avatar
      Shufti -
      Hi TimG,

      Great article - thanks. Is there a part 2 in the making? I look forward to it.
    1. TimG's Avatar
      TimG -
      There will be more Shufti, it is just finding time to get it all together. I have a pretty good video coming soon.
    1. Shufti's Avatar
      Shufti -
      Great news TimG - as a fellow 'internet businessman' I completely understand how it can get running a site such as this. Looking forward to the new vid!
    1. coalprep's Avatar
      coalprep -
      Great article for a novice like me. Thanks


      Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk - now Free
    1. comefriday's Avatar
      comefriday -
      This is great, getting my first twin inboard next week, very helpful. When is part two coming out?
    1. TimG's Avatar
      TimG -
      comefriday I am not sure when part 2 will be coming out, I did a lot of videoing of some concepts so it may be a video instead of an article.
    1. ronx's Avatar
      ronx -
      Practice, practice and go slow
    1. olcdlm's Avatar
      olcdlm -
      the best post i find on the web !
      thank you
      a find a online simulator :
      Welcome to The Boat Docker – The Boat Docker
      very close from real life (for me)
    1. gramyankee's Avatar
      gramyankee -
      This is amazing. Exactly what I have been looking for. I just purchased a 1989 Sea Ray Weekender 300 and have found it to be a daunting task trying to figure out how I was going to operate her. Well now I know. Thank you.
    1. Cap'n Ray's Avatar
      Cap'n Ray -
      Glad the article was helpful! We have a lot of great articles and a load of very experienced boaters happy to help!
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