Undocking Disaster

Terror at the dock

Sometimes, you can learn to dock and handle your boat by watching, or asking another boater; BUT, only if they have a boat the same as yours, with the same drive system as yours, AND they know what they are doing. Too often, this isn’t the case.

One day, I watched Sue (not her real name) cast off the dock lines of their 25’ mid-cabin cruiser, as Max (not his real name either) warmed up their single sterndrive. I watched with fear of anticipated upcoming problems, as she climbed through the windshield opening with her extendable boat hook (their mid-cabin cruiser has no side decks). This is usually a recipe for potential disaster……

She gently “butt –walked” her way down the steep forward deck to the low bow rail. Max pulled the shift into reverse to back out of their slip. To avoid backing into the boats on the other side of the narrow fairway, he stopped backing up as soon as his bow cleared their dock. (Another red flag).

Max immediately shifted into forward, then started turning the wheel (another red flag). What happened next was as anticipated.

Too close to the docked boats
This is What He Did

Their bow bounced off their slip neighbor’s boat. Sue frantically tried to fend off the next neighbor’s boat with her boat hook, but it collapsed as she pushed on it.

Max panicked. Too much throttle in forward, then too much throttle in reverse. Their performance would have been a hit on youtube.

If Sue and Max had known these few simple techniques, 
they would have avoided all this drama.
  • If Max had reversed all the way across the fairway to within half a boat length of the boats on the other side of the fairway, it would have given him lots of space to turn in forward.
  • Then, if he had turned his wheel hard over to the direction he wanted to turn, he would have reduced his turning radius.
  • Then and only then, he would shift into forward. (Aways wheel first, then shift – just like parking a car in a tight underground parking garage.)
  • Then, he would clear the transoms of his neighbor’s boats and there would be no reason to panic.
  • If Sue had stayed in the cockpit, she would have been safe and relaxed, without endangering her life with a collapsing boat hook. (Just use a boat hook to pick up dock lines that are out of reach).

Using Dawson’s Docking Lessons:

Proper un-docking a boat procedure
This is What he Should Have Done
  • Max would confidently back out of the slip the maximum distance (i.e. within a half a boat length of the other side of the fairway), turn the wheel, then shift into forward and exit the fairway confidently without panicking or providing entertainment.
  • Sue would be positioned safely in the cockpit, not on the bow, nor would she use a boat hook to fend off other boats.
  • As a team, Sue and Max would depart the slip smoothly, calmly and confidently.—No disaster!

The diagrams show only one row of docks. In a fairway, there would be another row on the opposite side; so, you would back up to within a half a boat length of the boats on that side before turning the wheel the way you want to go, then shifting into forward.

All Dawson’s Docking Lessons cover boat handling, docking and undocking with easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions with lots of pictures and diagrams.

Shorten Your Learning Curve
Invest in a docking lesson today.

4 thoughts on “Undocking Disaster”

  1. We only have about a boat and a half length in our fairway before we hit the dock or boats across the fairway. It’s really tight!

    1. Eadb, thanks for the comment. Some fairways are tight. In your case, you have to use as much of the available space as possible.
      As soon as your bow is clear of your dock, turn hard over in reverse to get the boat as far around to parallel to the freeway as you can, rather than backing up straight across. In our diagrams above, you would turn hard to port in reverse and back up to within a few feet of the boats on the other side. Shift into neutral, wheel hard over to starboard, then shift into forward. That should get you space to turn and exit. To perfect your close-quarters maneuvering, I would recommend that you get our introductory docking lesson for your drive system.
      Doug Dawson

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