Put the "ing" in your Boating

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thank-youFather's Day is on Sunday, June 16th and Brenda and I would like to wish all the fathers out there a Happy Father's Day.

I'd also like to share a story of What My Father Taught Me about boating.

Being 5th generation in the boating business, I consider myself extremely fortunate and grateful to my father who was over-qualified to teach me at a very young age how to handle and dock all types and sizes of boats from 14' to 60'—power and sail at our family marina.

I realize now how truly fortunate I was when I see so many boaters unable to dock their boats as easily as they should. Obviously, they didn't have a "docking expert" for a father. Thank you Dad!

Dad taught me ....

1954-Dawsons-New-ShowroomBack in the '50's when I was still in school, I had opportunities every weekend to rearrange all the boats in the sales docks—some port side docking and some starboard. To maximize the use of space, we had them only inches apart so expert close quarters maneuvering was a must.

Once I became "expert" at this handling and docking task, dad had me demonstrate the boats to prospective buyers and teach them to handle and dock their new boats. I became known as "the docking expert kid".

Most of the boats back then were single inboards and twin inboards and small, tiller steered outboard runabouts. In the early '60's, sterndrives were becoming popular in runabouts and small cruisers.

A lot of the single outboard handling techniques applied to the single sterndrives so I was able to master these pretty quickly. However, the twin sterndrives were a different story. The twin inboard techniques didn't work at all on them because of the drive system being so different. So, I spent a lot of my time developing and creating techniques that worked specifically for twin sterndrives.

With this new knowledge I remained the "Docking Expert Kid" teaching all new boat buyers how to dock their new boats.

In short, all drive systems require different handling techniques and, different styles of boats with the same drive system, need different techniques. One instruction doesn't work for all drive systems.

Some Things My Father Taught Me about Boat Docking

  • art-dawsonKeep your First Mate safe in the cockpit or on the swim platform. Don't scare her to death by sending her out on the foredeck.
  • Control the boat with a stern rather than a bow line. Don't expect your First Mate on the bow to use super human powers to lasso or hook the boat to the dock.
  • Learn how your boat responds to the wheel. Don't turn it the wrong direction in reverse expecting the bow to pull away from the dock and have it crash.
  • Use the strength of the motor and dock line to bring the boat in, not your First Mates arms.
  • Boats drift even without wind. Don't expect your stopped boat to stay put like a car.  
  • When it is windy, lean into it. Don't approach your slip the same way as you would on calm days.
  • Be ready for docking before you approach the dock. Don't leave your fenders and lines stowed away in a locker until the last minute.
  • You are responsible for good or bad dockings. Don't yell at your First Mate when you screw up a docking. You are the guy at the helm. 
  •  You must be in control of the boat at all times including docking. Don't give up control to a dock helper. They will just mess up your plan.

I combined what my Father taught me with the techniques that I developed, and have since written step-by-step docking lessons for each drive system.

Just recently I got a call from Tony, a boater who purchased my "Docking a Single Sterndrive" e-Lesson a year ago. We hear stories like his often. He said - 

yelling-man-2"Last year at this time, before my wife and I had received and studied your book on docking our single stern drive, we were ready to sell our 25 foot Four Winns just so we would stop yelling at each other on the dock!

By practicing the methods in your book, we have turned around our boating experience. This summer was the most enjoyable we have ever had on our boat.

Because your methods enabled us to remove the fear and frustration of launching and docking, we were able to finally relax and enjoy the boat and the satisfaction that comes from working together as captain and first mate.

Thank you so very much for what you have done for us. Tony"

Each drive system handles differently

Single sterndrive owners expect the boat to handle like any other boat, but it doesn't. The propeller's thrust direction is changed when the wheel is turned. So, to stop this type of boat, without wrecking the turn that you've already started, the wheel must be turned the opposite direction—before you pull it into reverse.

fearful-faceTwin sterndrive owners expect the boat to handle like a twin inboard, but it doesn't. You can't pivot it on the spot by putting one motor in forward and putting one motor in reverse. On a Twin Sterndrive, this does not work because the propeller's thrust is located beyond the transom of the boat, the thrust is almost always aimed because the wheel is crooked and the propellers are closer together. All this puts the twin sterndrive propellers at such a disadvantage that it requires totally different instructions than a twin inboard.

Single Inboard owners soon find out that their single inboard has a mind of its own. I call it "port prop pull stubbornness in reverse".  It won't go to port, it won't steer in reverse and won't dock on the starboard side. As a result, single inboard owners experience many stressful dockings.

In short, all drive systems require different handling techniques and, different styles of boats with the same drive system, need different techniques. One instruction doesn't work for all drive systems.

In my docking lessons, I insist on taking the boat out into open water on a quiet calm evening for the boater to learn and understand how the boat responds to the wheel and shift(s) following step-by-step instructions. Then, and only then, should you attempt docking. In each lesson for each drive system, there are step-by-step detailed instructions with pictures and diagrams over approximately 130 pages for the Introductory and 230 pages for the Advanced.

All my lessons teach you how to dock confidently and safely, bringing your boat into your slip or alongside your dock AND securing it to the dock in any conditions without the need for yelling, swearing, jumping, boat hooks, bionics, dock helpers, guesswork or embarrassment.

Docking is a learned skill that is duplicatable with the correct instructions.

My advice for all boating fathers
is to get the proper instruction
before teaching your kids.

happy-faceKnowing how important it was as a kid to get the right instruction to dock boats, my advice for all the boating fathers, is to get the proper instruction before teaching your kids. Your kids will thank you forever.

Doug Dawson


Click here to treat yourself and to teach your kids correct docking procedures that are duplicatable.

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Doug; Nice father's day tribute and pictures. I well remember the " docking kid ", and the Dad who docked a boat- one hand in his pocket while giving a sales pitch to a customer - perfectly .<br />George & Sheilah.

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Brenda, I want to thank Doug for his docking lessons.
I looked on You Tube and endlessly on the internet. Doug's lesson is the only one that worked.
Two weekday mornings out with the lessons made a HUGE difference. There is such a difference in my docking abilities that other newbies are already asking for my advice. I can't wait to see the results after 6 months of real practice. I would be honored for you to use my comments. Thanks again.

Don Grantham, Argyle TX

The only mistake I made in buying books about boating was not to get yours first. It would have saved me about $75.00 in other books that aren't half as informative as yours. Your book has helped me in understanding the correct way to bring a boat into a slip.

Arnold Mackey, California

You will find that boating provides a wonderful relaxing experience that strengthens relationships, builds character, extends lives, or you just aren't doing it right.


The means to further enhancing your boating experience involves, in addition to more power, the reduction of risk and elimination of anxiety.


I have found this best accomplished through knowledge gleaned from appropriate training and experiences.  

My family and I have found Doug and Brenda Dawson’s eLesson an indispensable resource. Whether a novice, or seasoned boater, you will benefit from the Dawsons’ expertise.

Stephen Pollock P.Eng.

I dock my boat in an area with very strong currents and shifting winds. While I am getting better with practice after reading the introductory Docking e-Lesson, I am looking forward to learning more from the Advanced Docking e-Lesson.

Hope I didn't bore you, but wanted to say thanks and let you know that what you are doing is saving not only boats, but also lives.

Keep up the good work! Boating knowledge allows you to live and fish another day and to come home safely to your loved ones.

Your work is important! Thanks again and tight lines.

Bill Pollok, VA

The information you have given me is exactly the kind of thing I need. That 'stand backwards' trick is priceless by itself! I truly appreciate the information. I can't wait to get out on the water and work on it. I'm sure it'll make an amazing difference.

 That one little tidbit, though I've not even tried it out yet, will undoubtedly save me lots of aggravation, lots of discomfort, and lead to a far safer, more controlled, more predictable, and more successful set of docking procedures. The rest of the information you've given me is gravy.

Again, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to help me.

Bill R, SC