How to Dock a Boat

Docking is one of the most important fundamentals to boating. However, for people new to boating, docking can be a challenging obstacle. This article describes what to consider every time you need to dock your boat.

Approaching the Dock

Regardless of the type of boat, wind and current will have a big impact once your craft is going slow. Wind and current can move you away from the dock or pin you to it when you are ready to leave. Always try to approach dock from downwind or down current, whichever is stronger. Generally you will want to approach at a 45 degree angle to the dock. Use only enough throttle to keep control of your boat. If you need to throttle up fast to prevent hitting the dock hard, you may lose control, scare your crew, or injure someone.

Keep in mind that the wind and current may not be the same when you leave. When you tie off, make sure that you position your boat and set your dock lines for easy departure.

Tidal Range

In areas where the rise and fall of tides need to be considered, make sure you add an additional dock line called a spring line. A spring line is a line nearly the length of the boat that is rigged from a mid ship cleat or further forward and secured on the dock. It will help keep the boat in position, even if the tide goes up or down a couple feet.

What’s Up Dock

Never assume that the dock is well kept. Nails, bolt heads, and galvanized piling rings may be sticking out beyond the dock. Fenders lines should be ready in hand and not tied to any lifelines. If you have crew on the bow, they should be looking for metal objects sticking out from the dock as you approach. Remember that you can always drive by first to check out the dock and then decide how to come in.

Dock Lines

Docked boat by bow lineDock lines should be secured to the boat cleats before you approach. Before you throw the lifeline to your crew make sure the coil lead is underneath the lifeline. As you move close to the dock, slow your boat speed so that no dramatic engine thrust is required to stop the boat. Toss the coiled stern docking line to the dock staff first to stop the boat, then toss the bow dock line to the dock hand for him to secure. By securing the stern line first, the boat will naturally move towards the dock, or warp. As the boat pulls towards the dock, make sure fenders are hand placed between the boat and dock until the boat is secured. Then tie the fenders to the base of a stanchion.

Crew Convenience

After you have looked at the practical side of docking, then consider ease and convenience of crew access. For the general safety of your guests, dock lines should be set so getting on and off your boat is easy for your least agile guest.

If it is possible to pull along side where your power cord and fuel fill are located on the boat, the power cords and hoses will not have to be dragged and draped across the boat.

Back Home Safe and Sound

Most boaters agree that motoring and sailing in open water is much easier than coming into an unfamiliar harbor or dock. As with most skills, your comfort level with docking will increase with practice of the basics. Hopefully, these basic tips will help get you on your way to a great day on the water, and complete your trip safely and comfortably.