Common Power Boat Docking Mistakes

It doesn’t matter which harbour we visit, we witness so many power boaters making the same common docking mistakes.

It is almost like they have taken lessons to dock badly, and they keep repeating their bad docking procedure over and over and over again. They get really good at bad docking! Very few sailors on the other hand, have difficulty docking their sailboats.

The worst part of it is that the crew gets upset, there is usually a lot of yelling, sometimes there is injury (certainly potential for injury) and often times damage to the boat or a neighbor’s boat or dock. Too many times, family members don’t want to go boating again as result.

The good news is that these power boat docking mistakes are so easily corrected. Some of the most common docking mistakes we see are….

Thinking All Boats Dock the Same Way

Just this past weekend, I watched a boater (we’ll call him Bill) in a 23’ single sterndrive cruiser, t-bone the end of his dock ending up whacking his port side into the end of his finger dock. He was attempting a left approach to enter his slip and tie on his port side.

I later learned that Bill’s sailboat neighbor had demonstrated how he docks his sailboat, and Bill thought his power boat would dock the same way. Bill kept repeating this docking mistake and couldn’t understand why it worked for his neighbor (sailboat) but he couldn’t make it work for his boat. He is obviously a new boater.

Sailboats can make an almost right angle turn without sideways drift, because of their huge keels and rudders. Power Boats on the other hand, continue to drift in the direction of the approach even after you turn. This is fairway momentum. The amount of drift depends on your speed, wind and/or current; therefore, the point at which you turn to counteract the fairway momentum will change.

Because of the differences between sailboats and power boats, Bill should not expect his boat to handle the same as neighbor’s boat and take instructions from him.

While in the fairway on this calm day, Bill should have turned sooner. He should have taken aim for a spot about half way down his finger dock at about 20 degrees. Then, his fairway momentum would have carried his cruiser sideways in his slip for a parallel landing against his dock without any problem.

Taking instruction from another boater could be a big mistake—especially if he has a different drive system because different drive systems handle differently. Even if he does have the same drive system, you don’t know his level of knowledge. It is far better to get the right instruction and practice the right instruction.

Not Crewing the Stern

Last Saturday afternoon, I wondered what this couple (we’ll call them Ozzie and Harriet) were thinking as they backed their twin outboard centre console into their slip on the opposite side of the harbour. She was sitting on the top of the very forward section of the hull with her legs tucked under the bow rails. She was holding the bow line in one hand the bow rail in the other. They were attempting to back into their slip from a left approach to tie on the port side.

As Ozzie backed into the slip, his aft corner scraped the dock and his opposite side (starboard) slid in, rubbing his slip neighbor’s transom. Harriet was helplessly locked in position at the bow under the bow rail on the port side and could not move to help recover his errors.

Harriet should have stood at the aft cockpit corner closest to the dock with the stern line secured to the stern cleat—not positioned on the bow. Ozzie should have backed into the slip with a little more attitude and less angle.

As the aft corner approached the dock, Harriet should have flipped the stern line over the dock cleat, and instantly wrapped it back around the stern cleat. Then, Ozzie could have shifted the outside motor into forward. Pulling against her stern line would have drawn the bow in toward his dock and away from his slip neighbor’s boat. The result would have been a perfect docking.

Not allowing for wind

From across the windy harbor, I watched a boater (we will call him Des) royally screw up docking his bowrider. He powered down the fairway with a strong wind on his tail. He turned into his slip as he’d done the day before when it was dead calm. His boat ended up in his neighbor’s slip—not his. He was lucky his neighbor was out! All the while, his teenage daughter (Lucy) sat obliviously texting someone—likely about her boring day with her dad.

Des should have realized that the wind would add to and increase his fairway momentum. He should have approached his dock much slower and turned into his slip aiming the bow for the upwind half or even start aiming for the slip up wind of his. He should have asked his daughter to participate and stand by on the stern with a line.

Once he had turned his boat parallel to the upwind neighbor’s slip, he should have carefully nudged the bow close to the neighbor’s transom. Then, as the boat drifted sideways with the wind into his slip entrance, he should have advanced into the slip to the upwind side, allowing sideways drift space. As his transom approached his outer dock cleat, he should have signaled Lucy to drop the Stern Flipp Line™ and tie it back to the transom cleat. Then, shift into forward to pull the bow in. That would have brought him in easily and smoothly and involved his daughter in a vital part of the docking process.

 Docking is a Team Sport and kids are captains in training so why not involve them early? With docking skills this would have been a perfect opportunity to have her stow her smart phone and teach her some boating skills. Des obviously needs to learn about wind and momentum and how they affect docking first.

Giving Control to Dock Helpers

Way too many boaters expect dock helpers to take their lines and dock their boats. We see it every day. Usually two or three dock helpers are giving the Captain instructions and they don’t necessarily agree with each other only confusing the Captain even more.

One of the responsibilities of the Captain is to be in control of the boat at all times, including while docking. The Captain should have a docking plan, share it with his First Mate and/or Crew and be prepared to dock without dock helpers.

Neither the Captain nor the First Mate should give up control to dock helpers by throwing them lines and expecting them to dock the boat. You don’t know their knowledge level and they don’t know your docking plan which could result in disaster and quite often does.

If you must have help docking, be sure to communicate to the dock helper exactly what you want done and make sure he/she understands. Then, be prepared for anything. It is best to have a helper assist with a spring line or the amidships rail or something simple that doesn’t matter as much if something goes wrong. But, never give them your FLIPP Line or main docking line. You need to keep control.

Avoiding Docking Mistakes

If you, like Bill or Ozzie & Harriet or Des & Lucy or countless others, are having difficulty docking your boat, remember “practice makes perfect” so be sure to practice good docking techniques to become a “good docker”—practicing bad docking makes you a really proficient “bad docker”.

Learn good boat handling and docking techniques so that you can dock in any conditions at any dock without dock helpers. Be sure to get the right instruction, practice the right instruction and boating will be a much more pleasant experience for your and your family.

You will also be interested to know that if you are having difficulty docking your power boat, it’s not your fault. To learn more, see the following articles and free reports:

Docking is a Team Sport

Power Boat Docking is difficult or Easy, it is your choice

Most Difficult Docking Challenge Winner

It’s Not Your Fault

To Order Docking Lessons

FLIPP Line™ is a Trademark of Dawsons. It is explained in detail in Dawsons docking lessons.

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