Do You Park a Boat or Dock a Boat? Don’t Sound Like a Newbie Any Longer!

park a boat

For most of us, parking a car is something we do every day, (not park a boat) whether it’s in a designated parking lot with or without lines outlining the parking space, in a parking garage, or on the side of a roadway. The law requires us to take a test before getting our driver’s license, and we must be able to actually park the car or other vehicle in order to pass the test. Unless, of course, you have an amphicar, then the rules change.

We learn how the car responds to the steering wheel, the brakes, and the throttle. Also, we must be able to drive into or back into a parking space, often between two other vehicles, ending up perfectly in the space every time. Sure, sometimes you may not line up perfectly the first time, so you stop and try again. But, hitting or scratching another vehicle or object isn’t an option.

Many boaters think that “parking” their boat is like parking a car; but, they are wrong because….

Park a Boat or Park a Car

We park our cars in driveways and drive on parkways but never in the water. We dock our boats alongside a dock or pier, in a slip, berth or penn.

how to park a boat

Docking your boat requires you to come into your slip (bow or stern first) or parallel to a dock.

Unlike vehicles on the road, there is no requirement for a driver’s license and only in some countries are you required to take any kind of test.

In Canada, we are required by law to obtain a PCOC (Pleasure Craft Operators Card) to operate a boat on the water. You answer a few questions about boating and you must pass the test, but there is no requirement to demonstrate that you can actually handle or dock a boat.

Assuming that you can dock your boat, because you can park a car, is a big mistake.

  • Cars have brakes—boats don’t.
  • Cars don’t drift sideways with wind and current—boats do.
  • Cars steer from the front—boats steer from the stern.
  • The steering wheel in a car is on the left—the steering wheel on a boat is on the right (with a few exceptions).

As a result, different techniques are required to handle and dock boats and each drive system requires different specific instructions as well. Your car brain won’t work.

Unfortunately, there are many boaters on the water having great difficulty handling and docking their boats. We believe it’s not their fault. The marine industry has done a lousy job of making updated handling and docking instructions available.

Most of what is out there is based on old material that hasn’t been updated to accommodate the changes in power boats since the 1930’s and 1940’s. Sailboats haven’t changed much, so the same instructions  for docking a sailboat apply today.

Docking your boat should be as easy as parking your car.

With the right instructions, you can learn or upgrade your docking skills to dock every time with predictable results. It is a skill that can be duplicated. Just as you learned how your car responds to the steering wheel, shift, throttle and brakes, you can learn how your boat responds to the wheel shift(s) and throttle(s) to dock perfectly every time regardless of wind and current.

Shorten your learning curve instead of reinventing the wheel. Learn from someone who has already invented and perfected the easiest docking procedure for each drive system.


Park a Car, Dock a Boat. What about an amphicar?

Thanks to Doug Souter at and Rob Conti for their permission to use their pictures.

See also the following articles:

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