Boating should not only be FUN, it should also be SAFE for the First Mate and crew. After all, this is a time for you and your family to escape from the hustle and bustle and spend some relaxing time on the water with your family and friends.

You have probably taken a Power Squadron course to learn all the basics, attended seminars at boat shows and no doubt, you’ve picked up a lot of boating information from the internet and fellow boaters.

But, you may not have learned about the things you should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER do…..

A number of boaters have told us stories of dangerous practices that they have witnessed. “I have seen so many near accidents around my marina docks and boat ramp” Richard explained. Roberta told us “I lost a finger trying to hold the boat off the dock in a strong wind. My hand got caught and my finger was severed from my hand”. Several boaters had seen crew members actually fall into the water—some suffered bruises and scrapes and a big scare, but others had more serious injuries and had to be hospitalized.

NEVER step off until the boat is completely stopped

falling overboard

One example was observing a boater docking his boat, and while still moving, his crew jumped to the dock with the docking line. This may work most times, but it is a very dangerous practice that could lead to serious injury. It only takes a second to trip or miss the dock or slide on wet dock boards and the resulting injuries could be extremely serious.

A total miss could result in a fall into the water between the moving boat and the dock—with disastrous results. The captain may not see where she has fallen in the water, and end up squashing her against the wall; she could hit her head and be unconscious in the water while the captain prepares to rescue. How can he dock and rescue at the same time? Bad weather further complicates the situation.

You don’t get out of a moving car and you shouldn’t get out of a moving boat either.

NEVER turn off your engine until tied to the dock

When docking your boat in your slip or at a dock, never turn off your engine, until you have come to a full stop at the dock and at least some lines have been secured. Why?

As long as your motor(s) is running, you can still recover if someone screws up. You have no control once you turn off the motor. You may need to adjust the position of the boat, because of wind or current, or you may have to compensate for a dock helper or crew member letting go of a crucial dock line. You may need your motor(s) to hold your boat in place in wind or current to give your crew time to tie your other lines.

NEVER Jump from the boat to the dock

jumping from the boat

When docking, you should always wait until the boat is alongside the dock and fully stopped, so that First Mate or crew can step off safely onto the dock.

If it isn’t safe, First Mates should stay put and wait for the captain to abort and try again. If this takes two or three tries, then so be it. Be patient and safe. The consequences are the same as above.

NEVER use a body part to fend off your boat

Never put your hands/arms or feet/legs between a moving boat and a dock/post or even another boat. As a friend of ours said, “You can lose a finger, hand, foot or leg, AND it happens soooo fast”.

Stay safe. Just don’t do it! The boat is repairable. Body parts are not replaceable.

NEVER use both hands to do a job

When moving around the boat, tying lines, standing on the platform etc., always hold on with one hand for safety so that you don’t fall or slip overboard—especially if the captain suddenly accelerates or slows down. Learn to tie lines with the other hand. A passing boat could throw a wake causing you to lose your balance, but if you are holding on, your chances of falling are greatly reduced.

How to Avoid these NEVERS

These are only a few of the dangerous practices that boaters have been seen doing but should NEVER do.

For a high percentage of boaters, docking is the scariest part of boating. Some boaters are hesitant to go out for a day of enjoyment on the water with their families, because they dread coming back to the dock. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a better way to dock.

You should be able to bring your boat into your slip or dock in all weather conditions without the need for yelling, swearing, jumping, boat hooks, bionics, dock helpers, guesswork or embarrassment. Mi in

If any of the above is part of your docking procedure, it’s probably time to improve your docking skills. Many Captains believe that practicing their old docking procedure will result in a different outcome. But, in reality, you usually need to change the procedure before practicing, to get a different and better outcome.

Get the right lesson for your boat, then practice to become safe and confident when docking your boat.

Dawson’s Boat Docking Lessons are all about:

Happy boating family

SAFETY for the crew,

CONFIDENCE for the captain and

FUN for families.

8 thoughts on “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER”

  1. Garry Ferguson

    If you are going to a dock you have never used before, scout it out in advance. watch what expert and novice boaters do. If possible,l practice during times the dock is deserted or only a few boats are there. Every ramp, has its own mysteries. a little prior scouting could make your day a better one and not a tragedy.

    1. Garry,
      I agree. Excellent advice. Pre-scouting at any dock or ramp is good advice in addition to our Never, Never list above.
      Doug Dawson

  2. Re “Never turn off your engine until tied to the dock”…. agree 99.99% of the time.

    On occasion our (and probably any other) marina encounters a boater who is brand new to boating, or just got a new boat that handles very differently than their old one, or has way more windage, or the boater (sorry) is just really not good at handling their boat…. and their docking attempt is a disaster – going around time and time again, using massive throttle, bouncing off other boats or the ends of docks…

    On such occasions, once multiple boaters from the facility have come to help and have a hold of the boat or its lines, either from the dock or from other boats they are trying to fend it off of, then it’s okay (and safest) for the operator to just shut it down and let people push/pull the boat where it belongs. An operator who is having significant difficulty who keeps putzing around randomly and erratically with gears and throttle, once others have control of the boat, is putting people at risk. If you are having trouble, and others ‘have you’, shut it down so you don’t hurt someone.

    I have been involved in about a dozen such scenarios over my boating life (40 years).

    If, as a boater, you encounter someone who is having such major problems, is very erratic in operating the boat when docking, and they refuse to shut it down and keep hitting gears and throttle, step back and protect yourself.

  3. Great pieces of advice, no matter how young (or old) the Captain and crew…
    Keep up the good work !

  4. Garry Ferguson

    Good advice. I should have included that in my remarks. New boats do not do well with inexperienced owners and ignorant drunks.

  5. Regard this statement:
    “Connect a bow line and two stern lines to the cleats, so they are ready:
    Can you please describe
    ~Length of lines to boat length
    ~Two separate line to same cleat? Could they be spliced with single loop?

    1. Thomas,
      There are 3 steps to docking—Preparing, Securing and Tying
      When approaching a dock, whether it is a transient dock or your home dock, yes I recommend preparing a bow line and two stern lines by attaching the eyes of the lines to the appropriate cleats on the boat to be prepared for the docking procedure. The bow line should be at least 3/4 the length of the boat and the two stern lines should be at least the width of the boat. The eyes of these dock lines should be looped through the stern cleat closest to the dock. When putting two lines on the same cleat, put both eyes through the opening of the cleat and one eye over each of the two cleat horns.
      Without getting into a whole docking procedure, these lines are ready to be used by either the crew or the dock helper to temporarily secure the boat to the dock.
      The best way to secure your boat to the dock is to follow the techniques in our Docking Lessons. Each is different depending on the drive system and the wind and the boat style.
      Once the boat is into say your home dock, you probably have pre-tied lines on the dock that are just the right length to position the boat in the slip. At this point, it is easy to one-by-one, remove your temporary docking lines and replace them with your permanent dock lines.
      If you don’t have lines on your boat when you’re docking, there is no way for your crew and/or dock helpers to secure the boat to the dock because the lines that are pre-tied on your dock are not necessarily long enough to reach the boat cleats from the dock.

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