Patience and Practice Pay Off
Docking your boat isn’t as difficult as you might imagine; take it slow and easy – and you’ll do just fine.
As with any other learned skill, docking your boat takes practice. You will make some mistakes, but your boat handling skills will improve every time you pull up to the dock.
There are two typical docking scenarios discussed here: parking your boat alongside of a dock, and backing into a slip. We’re omitting the dozens of real-world variables such as weather, tides, the various types of docks, and etc. The focus of the article is on the fundamentals of getting your boat to the dock safely.
Boat Steering Refresher
One thing you need to remember, your boat steers differently than your car.
When you turn the wheel on your car, the tires in the front of the vehicle move in the direction you want to go, and the back of the car follows obediently.
Turning the steering wheel on your boat actually turns the the back of the boat moves first in the opposite direction of where you want the bow to go. The bow will eventually follow your command and turns, but be aware of the stern’s location, especially in close quarters.
Most boats pivot at a point about one-third aft of the bow. Remember both the bow and stern move when you turn the steering wheel. This is very important to consider during docking maneuvers.
Secure your docking lines to the cleats, hang the fenders over the side, and have a boat-hook available.
Assign the crew specific tasks, and explain them in detail exactly what to do when you arrive at the dock.
After determining that there are no obstructions such as; swimmers or other boats heading your way, slowly idle towards the dock at a 30-45 degree angle. Believe me, this is the secret to your success when docking.
As the bow nears the dock, place the shifter in neutral. Let the boat’s forward momentum carry the boat close enough to the dock to tie off the line closest to the bow.
Then turn the steering wheel towards the dock, and move the shifter into reverse. This lets the engine pull the stern to the dock. Secure the stern line, put the shifter into neutral, and turn off the engine – Voila!
If the boat doesn’t cooperate completely, use the boat-hook to grab the dock and manually move the boat to tie up.
CAUTION: Never try to reach out to grab the dock or place any part of your body between the boat and the dock. Serious injury can occur.
Backing Into a Slip
(Paraphrased from U.S. Coast Guard Boat Crew Seamanship Manual, Chapter 10, Section D)
First you make sure that the slip is clear, making sure there is no swimmers, obstructions, or vessel traffic. Then idle your boat perpendicular to the slip, about one boat length away..
As the middle of your boat is even with the nearest edge of the slip, turn the wheel all the way to the left and “bump” the throttle forward. This swings the stern to the right and bow to the left. Place the shifter in neutral and aim the outboard at the back corner of the slip.
Shift into reverse and apply a small amount of throttle to stop the forward motion. Start moving the boat towards the slip. Steer towards the slip, slightly behind where you want to dock the boat. Shift from reverse to neutral and back to maintain a very slow speed.
When you’re nearly alongside of the slip, tie off the stern line. Turn the wheel a bit to the left and bump the throttle forward to swing the bow around. Tie the bow line. Then, place the shifter in neutral, and turn off the engine. – Easy Peasy!
Becoming proficient in the finer points of docking your boat requires plenty of practice and patience.
Be cautiously confident, keep your cool, and over time, you’ll be able to dock your boat almost anywhere, in any conditions.