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A Guide to Docking Techniques

Just like parallel parking, docking a boat can be a difficult and maybe even stressful task for any new boater. But not to worry — though intimidating at first, docking a boat just takes some practice to master! Here’s a handy guide to docking your boat in a slip or alongside dockage and a few valuable tips and tricks that’ll have you docking your boat like a pro in no time.

How to Dock Your Boat

  1. Check the current and wind conditions: Before anything else, check the direction of the wind and current and the conditions of the water. Environmental conditions like these can determine just how slowly you should go and how smoothly the docking process could be. This would also be a good time to prepare your dock lines and fenders for docking.

  2. Line up your boat and approach the dock slowly: Always slow down as you approach the dock or slip, applying short bursts of acceleration every now and then. You don’t want to accidentally hit the side of the dock or wharf. This also makes it easier to position and control your vessel.

  3. Approach the dock at an angle: As you near the dock or slip, you want to approach it at an angle; most boaters recommend a 30-degree angle, although this could change depending on the size of your boat and the dock, and the direction of the wind. Avoid positioning your boat parallel or perpendicular to the dock at this point which could make it more difficult for you to dock.

  4. Navigate into the slip slowly and gently: Most boaters position their boat so their back is to the slip. To do this, you have to center your wheel and then reverse your boat slowly and carefully into the slip. Just before your vessel can hit the dock, turn the steering wheel to position your boat parallel to the dock. If you need to stop your reverse momentum, you can apply one last short burst of speed to halt that.

  5. Tie up your boat: Don’t forget to tie it up using your dock lines once it’s lined up neatly to the dock.

Tips & Tricks on Docking

  • Have your fenders and dock lines ready ahead of time: Prepare all your docking lines at your bow and stern ahead of time and attach your fenders to both sides of your boat before anything else. This should go without saying, but never forget your docking lines and especially your fenders, which could protect your boat’s sides in case they hit the dock.

  • Always start slow and apply short bursts of speed: When docking, speed is key. Even experienced boaters should slow down as they approach the dock. Not only does this make it easier to navigate into the dock or slip, but it’s also courteous to other boaters using the dock, as faster speeds and bigger bursts of power could affect the currents and the water.

  • Adjust your approach to the winds and currents: conditions like wind, water, and currents can determine how smoothly the entire docking process could go. If you notice anything different with the winds and the waters, you’ll want to adjust your approach to better suit these environmental changes. For example, if you’re trying to dock with a strong tailwind, you’ll want to cut your motor sooner and let the wind carry you to the dock. Inversely, if you’re fighting back against a strong headwind, you’ll want to speed up instead of slowing down. Winds may also push your boat away or towards the dock. In this case, you’ll want to adjust your angle of approach and your speed.

  • Secure your passengers: If you have passengers on board, make their safety a priority. Tell them to sit down and as much as possible, keep calm and remain seated throughout the whole docking process. Make them wait until the boat is securely tied to the dock and the engine has been shut off before standing up, moving around, or disembarking.

  • Remain calm and patient: It pays to have a clear and steady head. Try not to get too frustrated if you don’t immediately get it, or if conditions aren’t ideal. Remember that you can always pull back and turn around to try again if you mess up.

  • Practice makes perfect: As with everything else, practice is key. If it’s your first time docking by yourself, don’t expect to be immediately good at it. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at it over time.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or assistance: If you have someone on the boat with you who can help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. They can help you prepare your dock lines and secure your boat to the dock. They could also help in navigating your boat and surveying the surrounding area. If you need assistance from other boaters or anyone at all, don’t be afraid to reach out and just ask.

We here at Cape Charles Yacht Center are trained professionals, happy to help you with all your docking needs, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned boat captain. Book a slip with us today! And see more Boat Handling & Safety tips at the Oasis Marinas YouTube channel here:

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