Smart Boating To and From the Dock!

By Capt. Scott Mathis

Docks and boats spend a lot of time together, but the skill of managing the two when approaching or departing your berthing area, requires practice and an awareness of the significance of the winds and currents. Since we have no control over the wind direction or velocity and no ability to slow a current when making an approach or departure to or from a dock, every boater should have a plan:

Boats do not have brakes so you need to move slowly. When approaching a dock, watching your speed is critical for a successful approach. Too little speed and the boat loses any ability to maneuver; too much and the boat slams into the dock. Shut off the radio and have all aboard pay attention. Observe the traffic pattern ahead of you, taking notice of other boaters and their maneuverability – or lack of it. Before making the approach, watch and see if boaters are blown or swept against a dock. Decide which side of your boat will be alongside the dock. Determine the wind and or current direction. If possible, make your approach into the wind or current for more control.

Instruct your crew where the fenders and lines need to be placed. It is mandatory that an untangled bow and stern line be attached to your boat and ready to be tossed to a dockhand or made fast (secured) to a piling by a crewmember, as you ease your way to the landing. All aboard should keep hands, arms and legs inboard, and not use them for boat fenders. If there is no wind or current, approach the dock slowly at a narrow 10-20° angle. When close enough step ashore and secure the bow line. Don’t shut off the engine until the stern and bowlines are ‘made fast.’

When the wind is coming off the dock you are approaching, point your boat at a 45° angle towards the middle of the opening space of your “parking spot.” As the boat nears, have the crew member that is holding the lines, step off, not push off, onto the dock, then attach the lines to a dock cleat or piling. Now steer the bow away from the dock while the boat is still moving forward. Once docked, secure and adjust the lines, making sure the fenders are in place and the boat is protected. If the wind or current is pushing you toward the dock, approach parallel to the dock, allowing the wind or current to push you to the dock, then secure the bow and stern lines. Be ready to use reverse to stop and maintain your position.

Before casting off from a dock, keep the mooring lines secured to the dock while starting the engine. Always start in neutral. If you have a pull starter, remain seated when starting. Once the engine is running smoothly, make sure the departure area is clear before shoving off, allowing for sufficient clearance for your boat to be able to move. Again, it is crucial that you determine the wind and current direction before casting off. Is the wind or current pushing the boat away from the dock or is the wind or current holding the boat to the dock? This will determine whether you remove all lines and push the boat away from the landing, or swing the stern away from the dock, casting off all lines and backing away.

Remember to remove the fenders and stow all lines after you leave the dock. If you follow these few tips, it should make your boat handling in tight quarters easier. Remember, practice makes perfect but the only time you’ll ever dock a boat perfectly… is when absolutely nobody is looking. Safe boating!

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