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Articles to Simplify Boat Docking

There are lots of tips and tricks to help you simplify docking your boat. The following articles could help you or a friend overcome a docking obstacle. Please submit any suggestions so that we can add them in future.


boat co fumesWe’ve all been told to warm up our motors while we are casting off the dock lines; so that, when we shift into gear (either forward or reverse) it doesn’t stall. Right?

This is really good advice; but, how long do you have to run the motor(s) to warm them up?

Some boaters run them for just a few minutes, while others leave them idling at the dock for several minutes to as long as half an hour.

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figure eight cleat hitchSecuring your Boat is the second half of Docking your Boat and is equally important. One isn’t any good without the other.

What is the definition of Docking a Recreational Boat? According to Doug Dawson, it is….

"Confidently and safely bringing your boat into your slip or alongside your dock; AND securing it to the dock in any conditions without yelling, swearing, jumping, boat hooks, bionics, dock helpers, guesswork or embarrassment.”

However, so many boaters practice the first half of the docking procedure; but, it isn’t much good, especially in a wind, if you don’t secure it to the dock or pier. Wind, current and momentum always move a boat away from where you want it to be. We have all observed this over and over again. One example follows:

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bad docking

Too many boaters don’t know how to dock their boats without DRAMA.

In our family marina, Dawson’s Marina on Lake Simcoe Ontario, where I grew up, we spent considerable time teaching our customers and new boat buyers, how to handle and dock their boats. As a result, our harbor didn’t really have any “DRAMA” dockings.

However, over the decades, I have observed probably thousands of dockings around North America, and too many of them are really “bad” and some of them turn out to be “disasters” with damage and/or injury. All of them, in my opinion, were preventable.

Here are just five of the more common mistakes that I have observed consistently over the decades. There is one simple solution.

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mother nature blowingBoaters who have tried to argue with Mother Nature, have discovered that she’ll win every time. She has more power than your boat.

As a result of this fact, many boaters get frustrated and frightened when it comes to docking and undocking their boat, and even get a little embarrassed. Some even decide to get out of boating all together.

When Mother Nature is blowing one way but you want to go the other, it becomes a real battle and unless you know what you are doing, Mother Nature will win and take you where she wants you to go. It is the same when undocking. If you back out of your slip and want to go one way and she wants you to go the other, she will win. So, don’t argue with Mother Nature.

How do you outsmart Mother Nature when undocking?

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only one motor“Good morning Captain. Your mission should you choose to accept it, is to dock your twin engine boat with one motor shutdown.

As always, should you or any member of your crew be………. This tape will self destruct in five seconds.”

Is this another “Mission Impossible”? For details of your mission........

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Pic0smHave you ever pulled off the perfect parallel docking at a long gas dock, but 6 feet out with no one in sight to throw a dock line to?

Tom experienced this recently in his twin sterndrive and emailed this question:

“Your lessons say I should ‘abort and re-approach’ which I did, but I wonder if you have any advice to recover instead”?

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mid cabinSince the mid 1980’s, mid-cabin cruisers have become the most popular style of cruiser for families, giving them two distinctive sleeping areas—mid-cabin and v-berth. Most boaters don’t realize though, that the changes to Power Boats over the decades, made them more difficult to dock than earlier power boats—especially mid-cabins.

Manufacturers re-designed smaller cruisers to include more sleeping accommodation with the introduction of the mid-cabin. A mid-cabin cruiser is an express cruiser with a cabin under the forward cockpit sole (some people mistakenly call them aft cabins, but aft cabins are at the transom or aft, as opposed to a mid-cabin in the middle or amidships ahead of the motor(s). Having extra sleeping amidships is a great feature for family and/or guests; but, what was compromised?

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boat hit dockDon’t approach your dock any faster than you are prepared to hit it.”

I read this advice several times the other day, when checking some internet boating forums. This really isn’t good docking advice at all for sail or power boats. In fact it is very bad advice because you should never hit the dock at any speed.

Those writers who give this advice clearly don’t know how to dock a boat. When you reduce speed, while approaching your dock against the wind, who do you think is going to win?—You? Or the Wind?

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butt-dragging-dogBoats are not like cars, but we still see boaters pull out from long docks, like they were pulling out of a parallel parking spot on a street. Cars steer from the front; but, all boats steer from the stern.

Boats pivot as they turn. When you leave the dock, turning the wheel away from the dock, causes the bow to swing out, but at the same time, swings the transom in against the dock and drags it along the dock as you move. Dragging your transom corner or platform along the dock, causes damage and embarrassment.

There are many ways to avoid “butt dragging” or scraping your transom along the dock when departing.

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tie-bow-he-2Thanks to Lee for her very interesting docking experience. We have changed her name and her husband's name for this story, as they didn't want to be identified. Her story follows:

I would like to know what chauvinist decided it was best to send the First Mate out on the bow to tie the bow line first when docking. I struggled every time we came into the slip, trying to tie the bow line from the forward deck, while my husband Tony sat at the helm.

It was such a frustrating experience every time, because I couldn’t get the bow line around the cleat on the dock, no matter what I did. The bow on our 30’ cruiser was way above the floating dock and the cleat attached to it.

I would have to be a magician, to have the line go out, over, down, around and back to me! Needless to say, there was a lot of yelling involved in our dockings.

Then, I came up with a solution!

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