Choosing the Right Slip

All docks and slips are “NOT CREATED EQUAL”


No two marinas are the same and all dock layouts are different. As you discovered in the “Starboard or Port Tie” article, you have to consider many factors to figure out which side is the preferred docking side for your boat. That eliminates about half the docks right off the bat. Some slips are suitable for your boat and some are ideal for others.

If you are having difficulty docking in your slip, you may have the wrong slip for your boat! Slips aren’t like parking spaces where you can park any car in any space. Some slips suit your boat and some don’t.

Many boaters are assigned a slip location without taking into consideration all the factors; as a result, your docking is much more difficult than it would otherwise be if you were assigned the correct slip.

So, what do you need to know
before signing up for a slip for the season?


Here are some factors to consider when picking the best seasonal slip or dock for your boat:

 Ease of Docking

First and foremost, you want a slip that is easy to get in and out of, with enough water for your draft, easy on and off your boat access and convenient hook-ups for power, water, etc.

Approach Momentum

For boaters who are docking most of the time with no wind and no current, ideally it is easier to dock on the approach side of a dock so that your fairway momentum brings you up against the dock rather than pulling you away from your dock. When docking with a prevailing wind, it is easier for you to dock with the help of the wind or current bringing you to the dock rather than away from your dock.

Water Depth


With declining water levels in the Great Lakes and the Mid West, checking current water depth may reveal the slip assigned is not deep enough for your keel or draft. In some cases, there may be enough water to dock bow first, but if you choose or need to dock stern first, you need to have enough water at the inside end of the slip to clear your propellers. Use a long pole for an accurate depth measurement. Make sure there are no boulders or other large obstacles that weren’t a threat before, but may be now.

Finger Length

Depending on where your access point is on your boat, the length of the finger dock is another factor to consider. For those boarding through a side gate or onto the cockpit/aft deck, the length of the dock is less crucial than for those who step off the swim platform onto a low floating dock. If the platform extends beyond the end of the finger, you won’t be able to get on and off your boat. Also, hanging your bow pulpit and anchor over the main walkway is frowned upon by other boaters and not allowed in most marinas.

If there are no docks long enough to step off where you want, then your only choice is to back into the slip in which case you will be tying on the opposite side so would need to choose a different slip if you want to tie on the same side.

Dock Height


In marinas with high fixed docks, it is easier to get on and off from the side deck or cockpit side because the sheerline is closer to the height of the dock. In marinas with floating docks, it is easier to get off from the platform from larger power boats. You may have to add a ladder or a stool to the dock to reduce the height differential. Whereas, with sailboats, bow riders and cuddies, the side deck is closer to the height of the floating dock.


Is there space for your dinghy/PWC in your slip beside your boat, tucked in under the bow or attached to your swim platform, or do you have to make other arrangements for your dinghy? Probably best to find out first.

Slip Neighbor’s Docking Skills

For those in shared slips, choosing the less preferred side based on the above factors may be better for you to avoid a slip neighbor with lousy docking skills, from crashing into your boat. Boaters who have learned from our docking lessons will be better at docking than your slip neighbor who hasn’t. Defend his side of your boat with fenders in case he ricochets off his dock onto you. If he is not competent, send him to this site.

In shared slips, pick a narrow neighbor to give both of you more wiggle room within the slip.

Annoyance Avoidance

Smoking – There is nothing worse than being beside a boater who smokes. Quite often, a smoker will step off the boat to have a cigarette, but the breeze delivers the smoke right into your cockpit.

Clutter – If one of your crew has difficulty maneuvering on a tipsy finger dock, you don’t want a dock neighbor who always has clutter on the dock like dock lines, shore cords, bait boxes, canvas.

Privacy – Boaters share the dock in close proximity with other boaters. When they walk the dock, they are only inches from your space and your face. For boaters who prefer to enjoy their privacy, you can dock bow first so your cockpit is away from the main walkway. Other boaters won’t be peering into your cockpit while you are relaxing with family and friends.

Boaters who prefer to converse with fellow boaters on the main walkway, may prefer to back into the slip to bring your cockpit closer to the action.

Diesel – Some boaters with diesel engines seem to want to warm them up for half an hour—not just a few minutes. If you are beside or downwind from one, the prolonged smelly diesel exhaust can ruin your whole day in a hurry.

Air Conditioners – When your slip neighbor turns on the air conditioning and leaves it running 24/7, the compressor constantly pumps water out the side of the boat like a non-stop bilge pump. The constant sound of this waterfall will not only disturb your sleep, but also accelerate your bladder activity. You will probably want to distance yourself from it.


Allergies – Boaters with allergies would be better not to share a slip with a boater who has dogs or cats aboard. If you share the same finger dock, chances of coming in contact with your slip neighbor’s pet are pretty good. Beware of dogs that bark and/or bite. We’ve experienced both.

Sun and Wind – For boaters who spend a lot of time in their cockpit/aft deck, you will want to consider picking a slip where your superstructure will protect you from the sun and wind. Having the bow face the sun or wind will give you this protection. Conversely, for sun worshippers, choose a slip that allows full sun into your cockpit/aft deck.

Noise Annoyances – Depending on whether you are a partier or a quiet person, choose a slip near boaters with similar interests. There is nothing more annoying than being in the midst of several partying boats while you are trying to read or sleep. Pick your crowd. Similarly, with kids, dogs and smokers—pick your crowd.

If a Correct Slip isn’t Available – If there are only a few slips left and none are perfect for you, you will have to compromise. Boaters with excellent docking skills will be able to deal with docking to accommodate the less than perfect slip; however, if it presents a challenge, you can upgrade your skills with Doug Dawson’s Docking Lessons. The less than perfect slip requires different techniques than the perfect slip. It takes a little more work but, when you know how, you can do it.

When picking your slip for the season,

or even for a short stay, you may want to consider the factors listed above knowing that “not all slips are created equal.”

If you have a choice, why not get the most suitable slip for you and your boat?

Many marina attendants are not familiar with all boats and may not be able to pair you up with the right slip, so be sure to provide all your information including your preferred tying side. It is important to prepare your checklist then investigate and participate before signing up.

Getting the correct slip for you and your boat could make all the difference to your relaxation level.

It’s all about choices, compromise and your level of docking skills. If you need to upgrade your docking skills to be able to use the ideal or less than ideal slip for your boat, check out our Lessons

See: Worst Docking Article

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