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Docking With Spring Lines

Think you need fancy thrusters to get away from the dock? Think again. A few lines and fenders and the correct technique are all you need.

Getting away from a slip with a single-engine boat can be especially tricky when the wind is pushing you onto the dock. Things can get even more stressful when there are other boats around, allowing little room to maneuver. Sure, if you have them, bow and stern thrusters can help to push the boat sideways, but they might not be powerful enough to overcome the force of the wind when it's blowing moderately hard.

This is when a skill called "springing off" comes in handy. It can help you get out of some tight situations. Whether you need to get away from the dock stern-first or bow-first, the technique is similar, except the spring line is rigged at the opposite end to the part of the boat that you want to move away from the dock. Get it right, and you'll look like a rock star!


Every boat responds differently, so practice this on a calm day away from other boats so that you’ll know what to do under more stressful conditions.

You most likely already have all you need on the boat — fenders and lines. Although it is possible to complete this maneuver singlehandedly, we don't recommend it. Having one or two crewmembers to help will go a long way to ensuring success. Just be sure to brief them before you start so they know what to expect.

Let's imagine a typical scenario as depicted in the illustrations at below: The dock is to port, and a breeze is piping up from the starboard-side bow quarter, pushing you aft and onto the dock. You need to swing the bow out while keeping clear of a boat in front of you. Begin by briefing your crew on the maneuver and putting out plenty of fenders on the side against the dock. Also have a couple ready to go if the maneuver fails and you come alongside another boat. Here's how to do it leaving bow-first.

Docking bow first

Illustration: ©2020 Mirto Art Studio

Springing Off The Dock Bow First

  1. Rudder centered. Engine in reverse
  2. Rudder turned toward dock. Engine in reverse
  3. Engine in forward. Rudder centered
Docking stern first illustration

Illustration: ©2020 Mirto Art Studio

Springing Off The Dock Stern First

  1. Rudder amidships. Engine in forward
  2. Rudder turned toward dock. Engine in forward
  3. Engine in reverse. Rudder centered

With all other docklines stowed, rig a spring line from the aft cleat on the boat, loop it around a cleat or bollard roughly in line with the midships position of the boat, and then run it back on board where a crewmember takes a turn around the boat's cleat and holds the bitter end of the line.

With the rudder centered, engage reverse gear gently so the tension comes up on the spring line.

As it does, increase speed a little and turn the wheel toward the dock. The bow should start to move away from the dock.

As the tension comes off the spring line, the crewmember should release the tail of the line, then quickly pull it back aboard.

When the bow is well clear of the vessel in front, engage forward gear, center the rudder, and motor clear.

No More Docking Drama

Of all the maneuvers we attempt as boaters, is there anything more stressful than docking? Coming into a dock or leaving a dock? Dealing with the wind or the current or both against you? It can be intimidating, especially for new boaters. Our editors have tackled the problem by creating the following articles and videos, which you can find on our website. Practice, take your time, and have fun out there!

General Docking Rules:

Docking: BoatUS Fondation

Docking How-To Articles:

4 Steps To Coming Alongside A Dock
How To Dock A Single-Engine Inboard
How To Dock A Twin Engine Outboard


How To Dock a Boat Playlist

Hands-On Learning:

BoatUS On-Water Training

This article was updated February 2020.


Mark Corke

Associate Editor, BoatUS Magazine

A marine surveyor, and holder of RYA Yachtmaster Ocean certification, BoatUS Magazine Associate Editor Mark Corke handles the magazine’s very popular Practical Boater section, keeping it full of easy-to-follow how-to articles. Mark has built five boats himself — power and sail – has been an experienced editor at other top boating magazines, worked for the BBC, has written four DIY books, skippered two round-the-world yachts, and holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest there-and-back crossing of the English Channel, in a kayak! He and his wife have a Grand Banks 32.