Before docking try to find out if the dock hands know their job by talking
with them on the VHF or cell phone. If the situation is tricky explain your
intentions and concerns before coming in. Ask whether they have special advice.
Check what they say against what you see and know in order to gauge their
experience. Often dock hands are exceptionally skilled and can help the most
experienced skipper. But you have the ultimate responsibility for operating
that the dock person explain clearly the location of your slip. They’re
often busy and give rapid directions which don’t make sense unless
you’re already familiar with the marina. Make them repeat slowly until
you get the picture. This is particularly important if you’re entering
a marina with tight maneuvering space or there’s a lot of current
Find out, by asking or looking at the pilings, which way the current is
running, if any. Insist that you be assigned a slip where you will be docking
into the current, if possible.
you approach a pier, check the pilings to see if there are any eddies
that could affect your
boat in a manner that is inconsistent from what you
would have expected from current flow. Often an eddy will slam you sideways
into a pier (or other boat). If you ask the dock person about eddies
and the answer is “We don’t have any Eddies working here,”….
Try to judge what effect, if any, the wind will have. This will depend on
various factors in addition to direction and velocity of wind. These include
the windage of your boat, the extent of gusting, and the direction of the
wind relative to the current.
Use the wind and current. Often, if you work with them instead of trying
to out muscle them with your engine, your job will be much easier.
Learn how to use a spring line. It is seldom a good idea to secure a bow
line first. Most boats will respond nicely to a spring line running from
midships to a cleat astern on a pier or a piling. Proper use of rudder and
engine can give you control of the boat and allow you to bring the boat into
the dock safely, even if current and/or wind are working against you. Practice,
to learn the behavioral characteristics of your boat and to increase your
skills. Spring line maneuvering can involve a huge amount of stress on the
line and cleats to which it is attached. Be sure the hardware, line, and
method of securing used is more than adequate.
you throw a line to someone on the dock, make sure that he knows what
to do with it. If
he just “wraps” it around a cleat, it
may slide off into the water and wrap around a prop. If he just walked out
of a restaurant to see the boats, he may stand there just holding it. Learn
how to throw a line, without hitting the recipients head. If you’re
like me, you may have a hard time finding the cleat if you’ve just
had your glasses knocked overboard.
you need to, practice “docking” out in open water between
fixed safe markers or with none at all. Floats that you may temporarily anchor
usually aren’t a good idea because your prop or rudder may snag
the anchor line.
the boat’s blind spots, if any, and ask your helper to keep a
watch out for you in these sectors. For example, frequently the helms person
can’t tell how close the bow pulpit or stern platform is to a structure.
If you’re going to knock over a power pedestal, it’s preferable
to not knock over the only one nearby that has the voltage configuration
that your boat requires and the only working cable TV plug.
and stern thrusters are great. But don’t substitute skillful use
of the engine and rudder with thrusters. They are intended to supplement
the main sources of maneuvering power—not replace them.
For many boats, a two way head set walkie talkie set is very helpful. It
allows you and your helper to talk calmly without yelling. A voice activated
mike in your headset is necessary. Try the set out before you buy. Some of
these have a background noise threshold level that is set so high that the
first several words of your transmission will be cut off. This can be dangerous.
Always wear shoes when docking. Bare feet or flip flops can cause big trouble
when scampering past deck cleats or jumping to the dock.
Have a plan and discuss it with others aboard. All should understand that
the plan may have to be aborted should conditions dictate.
and secure lines to both sides of the boat, before you come in, even
though you may plan
to tie up only on one side. You never know what’s
going to happen no matter how well you plan. I’ve learned with
this method that, when I totally blow it, I can tell everyone watching
really meant to come in on the other side.
isn’t always a good idea to rig fenders prior to docking. If, for
example, you have to slide along a piling, you might end up destroying the
fender or whatever you’ve tied it to. If you’re coming alongside
a floating dock with no pilings, the fender may be needed at your water
line. Assess each situation individually. As a minimum, have them ready
NEVER use human fenders. No boat is worth even a finger or a toe.
If you think the weather or current is going to be a problem, tell the dock
master and anchor off until it gets better. If your current is caused by
tidal flow he should know when slack water will occur.
Most of these steps apply to undocking as well as docking.
kill the engine until the boat is secure.
Don’t drop your ignition keys overboard unless you’ve been told
that your credit card hasn’t cleared.
TAKE YOUR TIME. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.