Boating Life

Tips for Docking Your Boat

May 25, 2021
Ingman Marine
Helpful Tips
May 25, 2021
Ingman Marine
Helpful Tips

Docking a boat can be tricky, especially for beginners. Reversing into a slip or pulling into a slip with another boat next to you can get hairy. Captains of larger vessels will have it even harder.

The good news? With practice and proper knowledge, the boat docking process doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult. You only need to follow a few basic rules in order to turn this task from tedious to the easiest thing in the world.

Preparing to Dock

Like most things in life, being prepared is always the 1st step, the same goes for docking a boat. Being precise is necessary and that is why there are a few things you need to be careful about when you approach the dock. Planning ahead of time is one of the first things you need to do – in this case, you have to know exactly who does what on your boat.

Your passengers can help with the bowlines or fenders. Taking just a few moments to teach them what they will be doing upon return with help prepare them to do their parts with little error. Be sure to make sure that your passengers don’t become the fenders. Reaching their arms out to push on the pillars of the dock in an attempt to stop forward motion is dangerous.

Relying on speed is not the best approach in the case of docking a boat, as you need to navigate at a slower speed and hit the boat dock on the right path. This also calls for a fair warning issued to your passengers: it’d be best if they stand aside from any of the pinch points that can be found in the space between the boat dock and the boat.

It also goes without saying that your remaining passengers should stay put until you’ve fully docked the boat, as any sudden movement could force the boat to start drifting, straying away from the dock.

Even though windy situations might not be preferred, you can sometimes use them to your advantage: if the wind pushes the boat toward the pier, it might make it easier for you to dock beam to a pier. Watching the current is also beneficial. Docking a boat by mooring against the current is a best practice.

The Quick Rundown:

  1. Have Bow and Stern Lines prepared and Fenders at the ready
  2. Take note of the wind, current and other water conditions
  3. Survey the Docking space and line up your approach path
  4. TAKE YOUR TIME! Move slowly using intermittent acceleration
  5. Approach slowly, never pull in at a speed higher than you are willing to hit the dock
  6. Pull / reverse into the slip or navigate to pull alongside the dock
  7. Pull / reverse into the slip or navigate to pull alongside the dock

As mentioned above, having a friend or family member that knows how to drop fenders and tie lines will help ease the docking process.

Docking in a Slip

Most of the time, docking a boat will mean docking in a slip, be it your own, a public marina slip or pulling into the loading ramp dock. Having your bow & stern lines and your fenders prepared before docking can save last minute fumbles or mishaps.

Now that you have prepared, remember to take note of the weather, water conditions, and surrounding boaters. Coming in at a slow pace is a must when docking in a slip; especially in Florida, as many docks here tend to have tight slips to account for the populated waters.

When moving towards any dock you will want to start with centering your wheel.

Reversing into a Slip

Once your wheel has been centered, you need to start reversing your boat slowly and at the same time making sure that your passengers are seated and still to help maintain your vessels balance.

When you have reversed far enough, give your boat a final powerful burst of forward acceleration to stop your reverse momentum. After you have stopped your backward movement have your designates person(s) drop the fenders and lines. Lastly, be sure to tie those lines tight to prevent the current from untwining your ropes.

Docking a Pontoon Boat

Pontoon boats are a bit different from your usual powerboat and bringing them into a boat dock needs a bit more attention. The wind and current weather conditions are especially important, as well as the slow-speed maneuvering. In this case, with the light weight of the boat, there is a risk that the wind pushes the pontoon boat off track or into the dock.

To ensure the correct docking of your boat, make sure you enlist all the help you can get and try to have someone who can guide you either into the slip or alongside the dock. Preparing your docking lines, as a general practice, is also a good idea.

With such a wide boat, make sure you know your boat’s turning radius. Knowing how much acceleration you need to make a complete turn is useful, especially since you need to slow your speed down in order to dock.

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Tying a Boat to a Dock

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and that is the case for tying your boat to a boat dock. Besides learning how to dock, tying your boat is another thing you might want to practice as well.

Having the Right Equipment

Having the proper equipment is the first thing to consider when you go to tie up your boat. You will need:

  • Bow Lines
  • Stern Lines
  • Fenders

Make sure the slip is outfitted with cleats or pilings, as you will need them to tie off your lines. Cleats can be found attached to the dock and are usually a small double hook looking item, often made from metal. Cleats should also be found on your boat and are used in order to attach them to the docking line. Pilings are a bit different as they’re larger and wider, made out of wood and found more frequently on piers. It is recommended to tie your boat by using the cleats if available, as this makes for a far easier process.

The final part is, of course, tying your boat. Some of the most common knots that can be used are the cleat hitch, the clove hitch, or the bowline knot. Learning your nautical knots help not only in docking but in anchoring, fishing, among other things.

Final Words

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Being prepared, knowing the techniques and practice will make you a pro docker in no time! Avoid scratching your gelcoat by using fenders. Have your lines ready. Tie your boat off tight.

Happy Docking!

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