Taking a boat out might seem like a piece of cake compared to trying to bring it back into dock. Experience, of course, is key in maneuvering your boat properly, but even those who’ve spent plenty of time on the water may still struggle when it comes to docking.
So, what is your docking style? Do you come flying into the dock or are you so timid that you find yourself too far from the dock and you end up doing the big stretch from boat to dock in order to tie up? Are you on your phone, distracted by the conversation, or having a heated conversation with someone else on the boat?
If any of those describe you when you’re boating, you might want to rethink your approach, literally.
What to consider when docking your boat
- Slow it down. When you’re nearing the dock, be patient and ease the boat in. The school of thought is that you should never approach the dock any faster than you would want to hit it. On the other hand, make sure you gas it enough so that the current or wind doesn’t cause you to lose momentum, causing you to end up too far away from the pier. Simply apply short bursts of power, which will allow you to maneuver the boat easier.
- Make sure you give the water around the dock or slip a good once-over. Someone else’s mooring lines could have fallen into the water and the current could stretch it across the water, causing it to get all tangled up in your propeller.
- Always factor in weather conditions, kind of boat, how many engines you have, water and tide levels, the type of dock and the direction of your approach before attempting to dock.
- You should neatly coil any excess lines on the dock and on your boat. The last thing you need is to fall or have someone else on the boat trip as you’re trying to pull into the dock.
- If you have twin inboards, don’t mess with the wheel. Just leave the wheel centered and use he engines only. Conversely, when docking a single-engine boat, always turn the wheel before applying power. This keeps you from getting too much power going forward or in reverse.
- Learn how to properly use fenders when docking. You need to use your judgment and determine where the boat could touch a piling and how to maneuver the fenders so they don’t get caught under the dock or are swinging above it. Proper positioning of the fenders can improve your chances of a perfect docking effort.
- Don’t turn off the engines until you’re sure all lines are secure. Too many boaters will shut it down as soon as the boat is in the slip. However, if a crewmember drops a line, or if a piling slips out of your reach, you’ll have difficulty maneuvering the boat as needed.
- Make sure you turn off your outside lights, VHF radio and instruments. Your neighbors don’t need that aggravation if you should happen to be coming back in late at night.
A thorough understanding of your boat and your surroundings, as well as patience, will go a long way towards getting back into dock properly.