Tie Your Bow Line First! ????

dock-bow-line-firstPower Boaters have all seen diagrams like this one with instructions to tie the bow line first when docking. Just look at the internet.

Safety Associations, Boating Associations, Magazines, Instructors are all touting, this as the way to dock all recreational power boats.

To me, this only makes sense for bowriders and houseboats; but, for all other power boats, it does NOT make any sense at all. In fact, on most power boats, it can even be dangerous for the First Mate, being relegated to the forward deck to tie the bow line first.

I can only think of a few cases, where I would tie the bow line first. For example, if you have a motor yacht or trawler with a flat forward deck, high rails and a fully enclosed aft deck preventing you from getting to the stern cleats, that is approaching a wharf, gas dock or restaurant dock with high pilings (not floating docks), then tying a bow line is an option.

Another case would be where the boat is “rectangular” like a houseboat or a pontoon boat; then, you would use a bow line first, because you have a flat deck, high rails and you can see your First Mate.

If you have a pontoon boat that is equipped with only a forward gate and not an aft gate, then you would tie the bow line first.

Tie The Bow Line First – No

7-power-narrowOn all other power boats it does NOT make sense to tie the bow line first considering:

  • Access to the forward deck is either narrow, awkward or non-existent.
  • The forward deck is sloped and slippery. Catching a cleat between her toes while sliding on a slippery deck eliminates your First Mate immediately as a helper in the docking process.
  • The bow rails are low and offer little protection. When your First Mate falls over, your docking suddenly becomes a rescue—not a good combination.
  • The forward deck cleat is 5 feet or more away from the dock to throw this bow line. The forward deck is 3’ or more above the height of the floating dock. ——
    (To boomerang the bow line out, down, then around the dock cleat, and back 5 foot plus and up 3 foot plus to her hand as required in other instructions, would be a neat trick.)
  • yellingThe physical barrier of the windshield and top leads to yelling and swearing.
  • The bow is not the control end of any power boat. It’s the windsock end.
    If she misses the cleat, you cannot power the bow back to the dock.
  • Dock helpers are not always available or dependable.
  • Jumping off the bow to the dock with the line in her hand or teeth is not an option.
    Injury is almost a certainty.
  • jumpingIf the First Mate was able to conquer all of the above eight challenges, the bow line would be tied too short to swing the stern into the dock, because of the curve of the bow.
  • Fast access from the forward deck for her to tie the stern line—there is none on most boats.

Recently in a conversation with a boater, after discussing all of these points, he concluded that, the only reason it makes sense to tie your bow line first, is to get rid of your First Mate—either by injury, falling overboard or mutiny.

He confessed that he had recently fallen overboard, when trying to tie the bow line, while his wife was at the helm. “The foredeck is not a good place to be” he concluded.

Another boater relayed his mishap of losing his balance on the forward deck and backing up into the open forward deck hatch. He tore the hide off his leg, hip and ribs. I heard these two stories over just one weekend. 

Docking should and can be an easy and safe procedure

—especially for your First Mate.

Tell Me Why

So Captains, tell me why it makes sense, to dispatch First Mates forward to tie the bow lines first on power boats.

Please send me your reasons, why you think it is better to tie your bow line first, and also tell me that you have actually gone forward yourself to tie the bow line first, while allowing your First Mate to take the safe position at the helm.

There is a Better Way

Teach Your Boat To Dock Itself Video

Frantic Fran and Jittery Joe

Why Power Boat Docking is Difficult


If you see or have seen a First Mate

struggling on the forward deck in your harbour/marina,

send this article to her.

2 thoughts on “Tie Your Bow Line First! ????”

  1. Peter Bartolovich

    Wondering if this is an active sight 2019, but here goes, living in many ports, full time we get to watch the docking tie-up antics of retired Navy/Merchant container ship/destroyer captains, International sailing racing crews (professionals), the guy with his first boat, and the’expert’ 20 year week-ender, Did I mention the Commercial fishing boat captain?

    They range from 20-30 foot outboards, to 150 foot Yachts and crab boats, in our usually 15-knot blustery fast river tidal harbor, as an opponent to ever being at sea alone, I rarely single hand. when I have, I usually stern-land and control from the lower bridge, in a usually frantic run aft run back to station, try to stay at the dock, not fall overboard, not hit the adjacent boats, run back and forth bridge-ladder, aft cabin-ladder- fantail-tie off, reverse process repeatedly, angry that I am solo.

    I watch these under 40-foot boats fail miserably single-trying single-handed landings as well, and reiterate “never sail alone”. BUT, having a first mate aboard can be scary as well (two brains-one boat), headphone communications are a must (not squawking over the hailer (in howling winds),, or trying hand signals (in the dark) or yelling out the portlight.

    The fear is getting tied to a heaving cleat or bull rail without getting a leg/arm/body between the dock and boat, or “how-to” get a first mate onto the dock -safely. The third concern is that the tie-line actually gets onto the dock as well.

    All in all in a classroom this stuff is easy, just like on a sunny, dry, doldrums day at slack tide in a familiar empty stretch of dock, in the real-world . . . not so much.

    Dolphin-nose boats had more in mind than making the vessel look “nautical” by adding a bowsprit, or keeping the anchor “away” from the stem, bow riding, or mimicking a place to “sound” for depth, watch with a harpoon for whales, or take “Titanic” selfies, the design evolved from high rake bow angles and having safe first mate “step offs” while bow docking.

    A practice long done on commercial boats.

    1. Peter
      There is a big difference between docking commercial vessels versus docking recreational boats. Many boaters as you describe have difficulty docking their boats, but they don’t need to. Dawsons Docking Lessons apply to all recreational boats (power and sail) and teach both the Captain and First Mate to safely dock their boats and secure them in all weather conditions without the need for yelling, swearing, jumping, boat hooks, bionics, dock helpers, guesswork or embarrassment. And there isn’t really a need for bow thrusters using Dawsons docking techniques. The lessons are designed for each drive system, to simplify docking and keep the First Mate Safe at all times during the docking process. See PowerBoatDocking.com
      Doug Dawson

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