Use the Wheel to Dock a Twin?

To Be or Not to Be— That is the Question“. William Shakespeare knew there was a difference.

But, for boaters with Twins, “To Wheel or Not to Wheel—That is the Question.” Doug Dawson knows there is a difference .

Using the wheel to dock a power boat

Yes, you do use the wheel when docking twin power boats” says one boater.

No, you don’t use the wheel when docking twin power boats” says another.

There is great confusion around the question “should I use the wheel when docking my twin engine power boat?”

Which boater is right? Both are right and both are wrong. It depends on several factors, but most importantly, whether you are docking twin inboards or twin sterndrives or twin outboards.

Most other instructions for docking twins don’t differentiate between sterndrives and inboards.  There is even a YouTube video by a well known Magazine Captain that advises boaters to dock their twin sterndrive using the twin inboard method. What works for one, doesn’t work for the other. Doug knows better and he can show you how and why they are different.

  • On twin inboards, the propellers and rudders are under the boat;
  • whereas, on twin sterndrives, the propellers and outdrives are out behind the boat.

How can the thrust be the same or respond to the same instruction???? It can’t.

The biggest problem using the wheel on a twin engine boat is not returning the wheel back to top dead centre; i.e. straight ahead, and not slightly off to port or starboard. For the maneuver that follows, the boat won’t go straight ahead or straight back or pivot on the spot, if the wheel is not dead centre. You won’t be able to predict your move after using the wheel and disaster can result.

There are tricks you can use to mark your wheel, but in the heat of the moment, with so many things going on; even with the wheel marked, seasoned captains can get it wrong.

The most important thing to consider is whether you are docking a twin inboard or a twin sterndrive/outboard. Why? Because handling for each is totally different when docking.

Let’s look at Twin Inboards first.

twin-inboards power boat docking

In the heat of the last 50 feet to the dock, adding the wheel to the 2 shifts and 2 throttles, overloads the Captain’s brain. Centering the wheel gets forgotten and; therefore, screws up your docking.

Using the wheel and one shift won’t work for you. You’ll end up just going back and forth on the same path—i.e. forward to port, then backwards to port. As a result, you never go to starboard.

When you add throttles, you overload the brain, because both throttles must be re-synchronized for the next command; otherwise, you are rowing harder on one side than the other.

If you don’t use the wheel when docking a twin inboard, you have much more control without overloading the brain with wheel and throttles, but you must know when and where to put the wheel.

Some maneuvers using the wheel and throttles when docking twin inboards, should only be done after several seasons of experience.

The thrust on a twin inboard is from two fixed propellers under the boat with two rudders behind the propellers for steering. The boat’s bottom traps or captures the propellers’ energy improving the leverage to pivot the boat.

Twin Sterndrives or Twin Outboards


If you use the wheel on a twin sterndrive, handling both motors like a single sterndrive, you will be able to dock, but your turning radius is much larger than it should be and you are advancing too fast. This isn’t an ideal way to dock and could result in a much bigger scrape.

If you use the wheel and only one motor on a twin sterndrive, it will turn well one direction, but not the other. You could dock this way, but it isn’t ideal.

docking twin outboards

When you use the wheel, with one motor in forward and one in reverse, the reverse thrust is cancelled out, because the one in reverse is aimed the same direction as the one in forward. As a result, the boat won’t turn and the boat certainly won’t pivot.

If you don’t use the wheel on a twin sterndrive and try to dock using the two shifts like you would on a twin inboard, it won’t work very well for the following reasons:

  1. The propeller thrust on a twin sterndrive is out behind the transom of the boat mounted on outdrives.
  2. The whole drive and propeller turn for steering like an outboard motor.
  3. The propeller’s thrust or energy, is lost behind the boat with no hull bottom to contain it.
  4. The leverage is poor and the props are usually closer together than on twin inboards, which also decreases leverage resulting in a lousy pivot. It’s like trying to park a car with four flat tires.

So, when you add all these factors together and try to dock a twin sterndrive like a twin inboard, the twin sterndrive system doesn’t stand a chance to control the boat, when one motor is in forward and one motor is in reverse.


So, are you confused yet? Most are. With so much confusion, you can see why so many boaters are having difficulty docking and end up damaging their boats and alienating their first mate and crew as well as providing humour and entertainment to everyone watching.

The question should have been “When do I use the wheel and when shouldn’t I use the wheel when docking a twin engine boat”. That would be a much easier question to answer.

When to use the wheel–simplified

Doug Dawson has separate step-by-step, detailed instructions with diagrams to show you how to dock either your twin sterndrive/outboard or your twin inboard–the instructions are quite different.


You will learn when to use the wheel, how and in what combination of wheel and shift, and what combination of wheel, shift and throttle and when not to use the wheel.

Doug covers why certain procedures work and why others don’t, so you’ll be able to know how to do it and how to win the argument on the dock as to why you didn’t take their instruction. Be Captain Confidence like Martin in this picture.

There is too much information to cover here in this article. Each introductory lesson is 130 pages with approximately 180 diagrams and pictures.

It sounds very complicated when you answer a question like “Do I use the wheel to dock a twin engine boat”;

But, it is really easy to dock a Twin when you know how.

Use Doug’s docking techniques, to dock with ease! Get your lesson now.

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