The Boat Docking Expert Kid

art dawson

Dawson’s Marina Limited, a family owned business, was well known by all Lake Simcoe boaters from the 1930’s until 2000. Art Dawson and his two sons Doug and Jim sold, serviced and stored boats at the Marina in Keswick.

We caught up with Doug Dawson in Meaford, Ontario and found that he and his family are still helping boaters enjoy their boats more, through their website offering boating “how-to” e-books and e-lessons as well as informative articles.

We asked Doug, what he learned from his father and grandfather about boating. “Being 5th generation in the boat business, I consider myself extremely fortunate and grateful to my father who taught me at a very young age how to handle and dock all types and sizes of boats from 14’ to 60’—both power and sail at our family marina. Dad was taught by his father who was taught by his father who was taught by his father.

Back in the 1950’s, when I was still in school, I had opportunities every weekend to rearrange all the boats in the sales docks. To maximize the use of space, we had them only inches apart so expert close quarters maneuvering was a must.

Once I became “expert” at this handling and docking task, Dad had me demonstrate the boats to prospective buyers and teach them to handle and dock their new boats. I became known as “the docking expert kid”.

Most of the boats back then were single inboards, twin inboards and small, tiller steered outboard runabouts. In the early ’60’s, sterndrives were becoming popular in runabouts and small cruisers.

A lot of the single outboard handling techniques applied to the single sterndrives, so I was able to master these pretty quickly. However, the twin sterndrives were a different story. The twin inboard techniques didn’t work at all on them, because of the drive system being so different. So, I spent a lot of my time developing and creating techniques that worked specifically for twin sterndrives.

With this new knowledge I remained the “Docking Expert Kid”.

Some Things My Father Taught Me about Boat Docking

  • Keep your First Mate safe in the cockpit or on the swim platform. Don’t scare her to death by sending her out on the foredeck.
  • Control the boat with a stern rather than a bow line. Don’t expect your First Mate on the bow to use super human powers to lasso or hook the boat to the dock.
  • Learn how your boat responds to the wheel. Don’t turn it the wrong direction in reverse expecting the bow to pull away from the dock and have it crash.
  • Use the strength of the motor and dock line to bring the boat in, not your First Mates arms.
  • Boats drift even without wind. Don’t expect your stopped boat to stay put like a car. 
  • When it is windy, lean into it. Don’t approach your slip the same way, as you would on calm days.
  • Be ready for docking before you approach the dock. Don’t leave your fenders and lines stowed away in a locker, until the last minute.
  • You are responsible for good or bad dockings. Don’t yell at your First Mate when you screw up a docking. You are the guy at the helm. 
  • You must be in control of the boat at all times including docking. Don’t give up control to a dock helper. They will just mess up your plan.

I combined what my Father taught me with the techniques that I developed, and have since written docking lessons for each drive system.”

In his Docking Lessons, Doug points out that it is most important to take the boat out into open water on a quiet calm evening, to learn and understand how the boat responds to the wheel, shift(s) and throttle(s) before attempting to dock. In each lesson for each drive system, there are open-water exercises, and step-by-step detailed instructions with pictures and diagrams over approximately 130 pages for the Introductory and 230 pages for the Advanced.

All his lessons teach you how to dock confidently and safely, bringing your boat into your slip or alongside your dock AND securing it to the dock in any conditions without the need for yelling, swearing, jumping, boat hooks, bionics, dock helpers, guesswork or embarrassment.

“Boaters quite often say that I make it look so easy”, says Doug. His answer is simple. “It IS when you know how. Docking is a learned skill that is duplicatable with the correct instructions.” He told me that boaters who use his methods and techniques have eliminated the fear of coming back to the dock. Docking is now easy for them. Why not shorten your learning curve or sharpen your skills to better enjoy boating more on beautiful Lake Simcoe.

Lake Simcoe Living Magazine
Summer 2013

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