Boat Docking Aids

Aids to Simplify Docking

Learning to Dock as a Team, as we discussed in a previous article, really simplifies the docking process by eliminating fear and worry as you bring your boat into your slip according to your plan.

Because there are so many variables like the wind, current, or you just “blow it” for whatever reason, you could be caught off guard. It would be nice to know that your screw up will not result in any damage to your boat or your slip neighbor’s boat. Well, there are many products you can buy to help you in those awkward situations. But, beware, there are many inventions being marketed as the best invention ever. We feel they only complicate a process that should and can be simple.

We found one product that you put on the end of your docking line, then attach the end of your boat hook to it to put a hook through the cleat. It is a whole lot easier to just use a FLIPP Line—no extra piece, nothing to drop in the harbour and sink.

Other products say they are the best for hanging fenders, but the ones we’ve seen require two hands. On a boat you only have one hand for the task because the other hand is holding on for safety. When we tried various fender gadgets using one hand, the fender line escaped and the fender dropped. We recommend boaters learn the proper knot to tie fenders. They are free and last a lifetime. You don’t have to store them and they are readily available. They are better than any gadget.

We believe in making docking a simple process not further complicating it with extra tools and gadgets. There are a few docking aids that we have found and recommend, that actually do help and saves your fiberglass when you or a family member blows it.

Dock Wheel

2-wheels-dockendWhen you are challenged with a narrow slip or have a slip neighbor with a wide beam leaving you very little room to maneuver, especially with a cross-wind blowing you onto your dock, you might want to consider a Dock Wheel.

Or, if you are teaching family members to dock, you may want some added insurance against hull damage during the learning process. Installed on the outside corner of your finger dock, the Dock Wheel will roll your boat into the slip when it touches the wheel on the corner—much better than letting the corner of the dock scrape or gouge your boat.

dock wheel 9inch sm2This Corner Dock Wheel is molded of thick marine grade vinyl to withstand rough treatment and harsh marine conditions.

The wheel has a molded-in hub and axle, so there are no metal to metal fittings to rust or corrode. It is suitable for boats up to approximately 30’ and mounts on the corner of the dock.

The metal bracket is galvanized welded steel. The corner mounting gives more strength and protects you from the corner of the dock as well as having it slide you into your slip.

Emergency Stop Cleats

dock-cleat-alm10One of the docking situations covered in the ADVANCED Docking e-Lessons, addresses the situation when Mother Nature’s wind and/or current is always forcing you off your dock as you back in. If your situation is severe and persistent, the solution we recommend is the addition of two or three extra cleats that I dubbed “Emergency Stop Cleats”. These extra cleats provide “Stepping Stones” for your First Mate to use the FLIPP Line™ from cleat to cleat assisting you to keep your boat tight to the dock as you back in.

For boaters who want to purchase and install their own cleats, in lieu of having your marina do it, we recommend the 10 ½” that are cast in aluminum with an open base. They have a grey mat finish and come in a package of 3.

Dock Strips

dockstrip-h00026-smFor a boaters who aren’t able to hang enough fenders on the side of their runabouts and daycruisers, there are vinyl strips that can be screwed to the dock edge to protect the hull. These products are available in many, many shapes and configurations.

The best Dock Strip we have found is a “P” shaped extrusion that screws to the top of the dock as well as to the vertical edge of the dock and the loop of the “P” protrudes slightly above the dock surface to protect the hull.

The extrusion measures 3 ¾” high x 2 3/4” wide. Each strip is 8’ long.

Ends and joiners give it a continuous look.

Post Line Holder

lineholder-canoe-smFor slips with pilings/posts beyond the finger that you need to tie to, installing a line holder on the post is something to consider, to make picking up the line easier for your First Mate and Crew.

It also keeps the line high and dry out of the water.

There are a few on the market, but I would suggest getting one that won’t catch and scratch either an arm or the boat. Some have large metal hooks that stick out a long way.

The one I prefer, is a flatter plastic hook that won’t do damage if it does come into contact with the boat or a body part.

It attaches easily and will hold your line for you. And, it is not expensive.

You will probably find a myriad of uses for these Line Holders , like hanging spare lines, ring buoys and mounted in pairs, are ideal for water skiis and water toys.

Boat Hook

04052-boat-hook2Boat Hooks are a must on a boat, but should be used for retrieving objects in the water, picking up a pendant from a mooring, and that type of thing. I don’t recommend it be used as a docking aid for many reasons.

There is more chance of the person using the hook to either push or pull, to lose balance and fall which could cause injury. If the one with the boat hook pushes or pulls the boat opposite to what the Captain is expecting, the docking procedure may have to be aborted and tried again. I’ve seen it over and over again where the person with the hook pulls or pushes the boat when that isn’t in the Captain’s docking plan and hinders his docking attempt rather than helping. In some cases, I have seen the one with the boat hook lose balance and fall into the water.

When a telescoping boat hook is used as a docking aid, it can collapse when you push hard on it or it can come apart if you pull hard on it. In either case, it can spell disaster if it happens when you are trying to dock in less than ideal conditions.

The Captain and motor(s) can do a far better job of moving the boat than any hook, leaving the First Mate and Crew to simply tie the lines.

In circumstances where the motor(s) have failed, the weather is severe and/or you don’t have control of the boat, a boat hook could be a good docking aid.

Bow Thruster

Bow thrusters are aids to docking—not a means to dock. They are intended to nudge the boat the last couple of feet to the dock, not to push it 20’ or 30’.
No twin engine boats require a bow thruster in my opinion. Whereas, big single engine power boats like trawlers or sailboats or houseboats with a lot of windage, can be docked easier with the aid of a bow thruster.

Boaters should be able to handle anything, no matter what the drive system, under 40’ without the assistance of a bow thruster. It is one more lever to add to the stressed brain as you approach the dock and you don’t really need it so why complicate the docking process? In many cases, boaters have become dependant upon their bow thrusters and use it as a third gear shift to power the boat around instead of using the shifts. Then, they can’t figure out why the poor little thing burns out.

If you are challenged and think you need a bow thruster, I highly recommend our ADVANCED Docking e-Lessons. Get the one for your drive system and you’ll find that you won’t need a bow thruster. You’ll be able to dock fine without one and you’ll be ahead tens of thousands of dollars. If all else fails, call me.


Knots are a docking aid that you and all your crew should master. You don’t need to know 100’s, you just need to learn six boating knots. These same knots can be used all year in your home, car, garage, workshop, recreation, everywhere.

Knots are free and last a lifetime. They don’t sink, they don’t break, you can’t lose them and you have as many as you need at your fingertips all the time.

Our Tying and Using Knots e-Lesson gives you the instructions in written steps, pictures and links to our UTube videos. The e-Lesson focuses on which knots to use for which jobs and why. The cost is less than $2 per knot. 33 pages of valuable information.


By far the best Docking Aid, has to be the FLIPP Line™. Everybody already has one so there is no cost, it is simple to learn and simple to use and works every time. You can use the FLIPP Line™ with the stay-aboard or step-off procedures. There isn’t enough room in this article to explain it, but it is covered in great detail over several pages in each of Doug’s Introductory Docking e-Lessons.


Docking aids are just that. They are only aids to assist you in making docking easier. They don’t replace docking skills.

It is most important to learn how your boat handles so that docking isn’t difficult, challenging, stressful or embarrassing.

Take lessons from a Boat Pro the same as you would from a golf or tennis pro. Getting and practicing the right instruction will make docking much easier

Get the right Docking lesson for your drive system, practice and your docking will be easier, and without difficulty, stress or embarrassment.

by Doug Dawson

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