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Docking Skills

Your ability to dock well is the key to your reputation...

For many people docking their boat is one of the most trying experiences to be had on the water. Attempting to
tie up to a busy fuel dock on a windy weekend day can test anyone's piloting skills.

Let's face it, you may be the greatest captain on the planet, but your ability to dock well is the key to your reputation.

The things you need to notice when you are about to dock is where you intend to tie up, where other boats are,
what the wind is doing, and to a lesser extent what the current is doing.

  • Look and see how much room you have to maneuver your vessel around the area you intend to dock.
  • Docking next to a long open pier is usually going to be easier than backing into a narrow slip in a
    confined marina.
  • Are other boats leaving or entering the area you need to turn? How other boats are tied up or moving
    can greatly alter your intended steering and docking.
  • Knowing which way the wind is blowing can greatly aid your docking. When coming alongside a pier with
    the wind in your face, head in at a steep angle to the pier and turn sharply at the last moment to avoid being
    blown out by the wind. If the wind is at your stern, come into the dock at a narrow angle and let the wind do
    the work of pushing your boat up against the dock.
  • Current can also effect your docking in a similar fashion to wind, and in some areas can preclude you from docking at all in low water. Consult your tide tables, especially when traveling in new waters.
At all times, maintain no more than steerage speeds and try and have some crew ready with lines to tie off immediately. Using your lines to assist in docking can save a great deal of time and energy. Lines can be used as simple fulcrums to help bring either end of your boat to the dock. Let the lines do the work!

Like the people who run them, all boats differ in their docking characteristics to one extent or another.

And, the distinctions are particularly significant among three separate types: single-screw, keel-equipped powerboats and sailboats; single-screw planing hulls of moderate draft powered by a single outboard or stern drive; and keel-less powerboats driven by twin engines, whether inboards, outboards, or stern drives.

Covering all three types (and the variations within each) would be impossible in one section, so we're going to restrict ourselves to single engines this time around.

If you are routinely experiencing frustration and anxiety when entering slips or tying up to docks, the very first step is to give yourself a break: handling a boat - any
boat - in tight quarters is difficult, particularly if you've got

an audience and especially if you have to deal with wind and/or current.

Sure, launch operators and charter boat skippers who make 500-1,000 landings a year are good at it, but why should you be? Your total is probably more like 50 dockings annually, and expecting yourself to be perfect
is unrealistic.

So, as you're going into a docking situation, it's better to relax and admit to yourself that you're probably going to make a mistake. That step in itself should help you calm down and, more importantly, slow down. Only good can come of your being more deliberate and more forgiving of yourself and your crew.

Next to patience and self-control, your biggest ally in docking maneuvers is nylon line. If, early on in the process, you (or a crew member) can connect your
boat to the targeted dock or piling, and if you then
know what to do with the throttle and steering wheel, you've got it made.

Your problems are solved!