Boat Docking

7 December 2011 On The Water

Boat docking requires skills that take a long time to develop. Even the most seasoned skippers have problems once in a while.

How to Dock a Boat

If you are looking for easy directions on how to dock a boat, there aren’t any. Any boater will tell you that there are no sure-fire instructions that will guarantee perfect docking every time, but here are the basics of boat manoeuvring you need to know to get you started. After that it’s practice, practice, and more practice!

How do Boats Turn?
Before getting into the different techniques for different situations it is important to identify how a boat turns. Since most cottagers have outboard motors we are going to cover the aspects for docking a boat with this type of setup.

The main issue is managing the boat’s speed. The slower you go the sharper and more accurately you can turn the boat because it will minimize how much the boat drifts. Unfortunately, you have to have some power because steering is difficult when you are coasting or drifting in neutral. In a drifting situation, there isn’t any current created by the propeller to aid the turning action of the rudder.

So, the trick is to find the right balance between the two. The way to do this is to use the boat’s momentum to help you out. Boats generally continue to turn in the same direction once the motion has begun.

Approaching a Dock

What is the best way to approach a dock when docking a boat?
When approaching a dock from an angle, put the boat briefly in neutral, turn the wheel in the required direction and then give the boat a short burst of forward power at the moment you want to start the turn. As the boat begins the turn, shift the throttle into reverse to bring the boat to a stop as it slides into the dock. How much power to use, what angle to turn, how long to turn, and when to do it, all depend on the wind conditions and the type and size of the boat.

Remember to have all of your ropes and bumpers in place before you begin the docking procedure.

Take Your Time
Don’t ever let yourself feel rushed when docking the boat. If you need two or three tries to get it right, then so be it. Your own frustration is your number one enemy and will be the cause of some serious grief if you try to force things. No one likes docking in front of an audience. Just relax, have fun with it and remember that everyone goes through the same ordeal.

How do you dock a boat with the wind blowing at the dock?
This is the ideal situation because you use the wind to help you. Simply approach parallel to the dock and let the wind push you into place. Put the throttle momentarily into reverse to stop the forward momentum.

How do you dock a boat when the wind is blowing away from the dock?
Approach the dock slowly at about a 25 degree angle. As the bow gets close to the dock attach the line to the dock and then bring the stern into the dock by turning the motor towards the dock and putting the throttle gently into reverse.

Be sure to move quickly to secure the boat. The wind will push it back out faster than you expect.

Leaving the Dock

Learning how to leave a dock is just as important as approaching it.

Double check to make sure nothing has been left on the dock. Ensure everyone is in place and knows when to untie the ropes. If you have guests with you who are not boaters it is essential to give specific instructions.

When pulling away from the dock be sure the boat is well clear of the dock before you begin to turn. A turning boat always pivots before it begins to move forward. If you are too close to the dock when you begin to turn and pull away, the stern and motor will swing into the dock and likely put a quick end to your cottage holiday.

Need more boating tips?
Go to the Boat Trailer Maintenance page.
Go to the Spring and Fall Boat Maintenance page.
Go to the Boat Motor Maintenance page.
Go to the Boat Motor Positioning page.