Wally, a boater in New York, wrote to us with the following docking question. Our answer may help you if you are in a similar situation.
Wally asked “I had a question regarding the “FLIPP” line. Actually I have been using a variation of it on my 26 foot Bayliner single stern drive taught to me by a captain I hired for a boat handling lesson. Its using a spring line attached to the midships cleat. A loop on the end of the line is put over a dock post and the helm is turned fully away from the dock. This glues the boat alongside the dock.
I was wondering if there was a critical angle of the bow from the dock at which point the maneuver wouldn’t work? If so, what tactic would you advise in that situation? Thanks.”
I spoke with Wally and learned that he has no side deck, camper canvas and bows on his aft corner, he is docking on his port side between 2 boats and the fixed dock has high posts.
Many boat docking instructors and docking lessons use a spring line (forward spring, forward quarter spring, after bow spring, aft spring, aft amidships spring) to assist with docking.
An Amidships spring line works on open boats like large centre consoles and large yachts where there is easy access to the spring line cleat. On most boats, the side deck is either non-existent or very dangerously narrow for either the Captain or the First Mate to traverse and safely tie the line to the spring line cleat then hold that tenuous position on the side deck to reach out to the dock cleat or post and tie back to the amidships cleat. Smaller boats like fishing boats, bow riders and cuddies don’t have spring line cleats so an amidships spring line doesn’t work for them at all.
You can tie this spring line to the amidships cleat and run it back to the cockpit to throw over the piling or cleat, but the window of opportunity to do this, is very short and limited. If the First Mate misses getting the bowline on the dock cleat/post on the first shot, the wind, current or momentum will most likely have the boat too far from the dock to reach by the time she scampers up the side deck like spiderman and retrieves the soaking wet line hanging from the spring line cleat.
A second toss from the side deck is almost guaranteed to miss the cleat or post that she was aiming for previously from the cockpit.
Too many times I’ve seen the First Mate mutiny and quit boating because docking is too difficult. Make it easy for her and she will stay in boating with you.
From the Captain’s point of view, once the cockpit side or side deck is too far out from the dock for the First Mate to reach, there is no second chance to bring the side of the boat back into the dock because no boat has sideways gear. He must abort, go out and re-approach.
The long Amidships spring line you are talking about would probably not work when the bow is so far off the dock that the dock cannot be reached from the amidships spring line cleat. This would be the point at which your teacher’s line would not work. This is because the First Mate cannot reach the dock. The loop or eye that you mentioned could be safely dropped over the dock cleat/post from the cockpit, but timing is very crucial. If your First Mate reaches out from the cockpit to the dock cleat/post and misses, you have to abort and re-approach to get the centre part of the boat close enough to the dock for her to reach. Or, if she doesn’t get the loop on the dock cleat soon enough, you are past it and must back up for her to retry. Usually, backing up at a slip means you are too far off the dock and have to abort and re-approach.
Also when docking, there is most often a wind and as soon as you stop forward motion or start moving aft, the wind takes over. 270 chances out of 360, the wind is going to blow you off the dock.
There is a much simpler and safer procedure.
Docking should be easy, safe and stress free without the need for yelling, swearing, jumping, boat hooks, bionics, dock helpers or embarrassment—the simpler the better. Docking a boat is a duplicatable skill when you follow the correct instructions.
I do not recommend any of the gizmos and gadgets for docking—they only complicate the docking process because they need another hand, have to be stored, slide overboard, you need more than one, etc. Just practice (using the correct docking instruction for your boat) using your lines and using the motor to do the work—no armstrong method required.
Stern FLIPP Line™ better than Amidships Spring Line
I recommend my Stern FLIPP Line™ procedure over the amidships spring line, because the Captain (if single handing) or the First Mate is safe in either the depths of the cockpit or on the swim platform than clinging onto the side deck.
It works in all docking situations, in any weather or current. You have more control of the stern than either the bow or the side of the hull. Also, you are in a better position to correct if something does go wrong because your stern is your control end. The rest of the boat just follows. It is also much safer for your First Mate.
In Wally’s scenario
If Wally executes our Stern FLIPP Line™ procedure from the platform or aft cockpit corner, he will likely nail the dock cleat/post on the first reaching out of the line. If he misses, and the boat drifts away from the dock, he can easily bring the stern corner back into the dock.
In my opinion, it only makes sense to execute the Stern FLIPP Line™ Procedure.
Once the Stern FLIPP Line™ is secure, you have total control.
In Wally’s particular situation where he has camper canvas and bows to contend with and he is single handling the boat, he could tie a large bowline in the Stern FLIPP Line™ and tie the bitter end back to the post with about 3′ of slack while learning to dock. This will give him about 6′ of window to land the back corner in the right place to pick up and drop the bowline over the stern cleat. Because he has posts rather than cleats on the dock, he can hang the bowline over the top of the post when leaving. Then, when returning he won’t have to bend over all the way down to the dock to pick it up. He can just retrieve it at hand height from the top of the post and drop the bowline eye over the boat cleat. If the post is too high, he can simply add a line holder. This will be quicker for him than tying a knot, so he can get back to the helm. Once he gets more precise with practice he can shorten the line.
When docking in the same spot time after time, it is quite easy to set up all your dock lines by placing the eyes over the boat cleats and permanently tying each line back to the appropriate post. Just flip them off when you leave. Then, upon return to the dock, while the motor is holding the boat in place against the FLIPP Line™, simply step onto the dock and drop the eyes over the cleats. You are done. It only takes a few seconds.
Friends and Fellow Boaters Mean Well but…
Don’t listen to your friends and fellow boaters for boat docking instructions. They mean well, but you don’t know where they got their information. Their contribution doesn’t necessarily apply to you and your boat.
Protect your investment, your ego and your First Mate
- Protect your investment, your ego and your First Mate.
- Get a boat docking lesson that applies specifically to your boat.
- It could save hundreds of thousands of dollars, embarrassment, damage and your First Mate.
- Why Not?