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.
Mistake #1 - Pushing on a Rope
The most common mistake is crew or docking helpers, trying to “push on a rope”.
How often do you see a crew member grab the bow line, then run forward on the dock and push on the rope to stop the boat from continuing its forward motion?
The boat continues to move forward with the momentum of entering the slip— no matter how hard they push on the rope.
Pushing on a rope doesn’t work!
Mistake #2 – Holding it, Instead of Tying it
Another big mistake that can have serious consequences, is for the crew member or docking helper to think he can hold the line to control the boat’s movement against the motor(s).
With small boats on calm days, this sometimes works; but, in strong winds or currents and a large cruiser or yacht, the helper can be pulled off his feet and through the cleat or even into the harbor trying to out muscle the power of the engine(s) and the momentum of the boat. Too many assume they can just hold the line.
So, why do so many helpers think that they should just hold the line?
Holding the line doesn’t work!
Mistake #3 – Tying a Bow Line too Tight
The majority of boats have a pointed bow. When you use a line that is too short, the bow of the boat gets tied too close to the dock. Docking helpers pull the bow line in tight to the dock cleat. The bow pivots sideways and into the dock. Great.
Now the bow is in too tight! When the bow swings in to the dock, the stern swings out, away from the dock. Think of a teeter-totter. When one end goes up, the other end goes down.
Now you have a situation where the stern is too far from the dock to be able to secure the stern line.
A bow line tied too tight doesn’t work!
Mistake #4 – Not Preparing Ahead of Time
Another common mistake, is coming in to the slip or dock without being prepared. Within the slip, everyone is running around looking for lines and moving fenders and not ready for the docking procedure, making it much more difficult and rushed than it needs to be.
This sometimes turns into a catastrophe, drifting away from the dock and into the slip neighbor’s boat.
I have even seen a fisherman return to his dock with all of his canvas zipped up so tight, that it took him a long time to extricate himself from his enclosure to get out. He had no fenders or lines prepared. Of course, he drifted away from the dock and up against his neighbor.
Not being prepared doesn’t work!
Mistake #5 – Docking against the boat’s momentum
Most often when a boater is travelling up the fairway to turn into a slip, they just do a right angle turn around the end of the dock into the slip, like they would if they were parking a car.
What they don’t realize is, that the momentum keeps the boat moving in the same direction up the fairway, drawing the boat away from the dock.
This usually lands the boat on top of the slip neighbor’s boat or into a recovery operation, or even T-boning the downwind dock.
Not compensating for the boat’s momentum doesn’t work!
It is easy to spot the common denominator in all of the above examples. They all need training. They weren’t docking as a team.
The docking helper in every case needed to be trained. At least, told what to do by the Captain, and that docking helper needs to do as instructed—not modify it—even if it is just a 5 minute relationship with someone on the dock. "Tie it" means "tie it now", for example. They are not mind readers. Tell them what you want them to do.
Once the Captain and docking helpers are working as a team, knowing what each is doing and expecting to be done, docking is easy—as it should be.
The ideal solution is for the Captain and First Mate to study and practice the techniques in Dawsons Docking Lessons and Videos—one for each drive system with step-by-step detailed instructions over 150-250 pages introductory and advanced.