Filed Under (Boat Docks and Boat Ramps) by Debbie on 15-09-2007

For every person boating, no matter where in the world you are, you will eventually be faced with docking your boat.  The first time you dock your boat is one of the most knuckle clenching, gut churning experiences of your life.  This article is going to relate to docking a sailboat because I find the sailboat (we have a sailboat and wakeboard boat) much less cooperative.  Rather like that little dog in the circus act that never does the command that’s given but everyone thinks is funny.  Docking a Boat Starboard View


Off and on in my site you’ll come across sexist comments…here comes one.  Women don’t dock boats.  Okay, most women don’t dock boats.  I dock our boats; as a matter of fact I almost always dock the sailboat.  My hubby who’s only docked ‘Whisper’ a couple of times likes to spout orders as I come along side the dock.  I find this to be irritating.  I’m sure most ladies would agree.  Therefore, on one of our last cruises I let him dock the boat so we could pump out the head.  The conditions weren’t the best and after a few tries, he decided we didn’t need to pump out just yet….


I know there are lots of men out there begging their ladies to bring in the boat.  Generally they argue that their woman needs to know how to dock the boat incase he has a heart attack or some other disaster.  He’s right ladies.  We all need to be able to handle the boat, whether it’s sail or power.  How would you feel if he died because you were waiting for your clubs harbor master or the like to come out and bring you in?  Okay, am I making you nervous?  No?  Well, what if he and one of the kids fell overboard, he dies and the kid needs help…you still okay with waiting for someone else to come and dock your boat?


There are lots of things to remember and I think the most important one is, “Everyone has good and bad docking days”.  There are so many factors that come into play, many beyond our control, that the band with the circus music is just waiting in the wings for their cue.


Okay, guys…you really want your lady to learn to do this but she’s afraid to try.  So I guess you’ve got to ask yourself, how bad do you want it?  Can you be silent and let her be ‘captain’?  Great!  Here’s my idea on how to learn to dock a boat.


You start in your slip, lines attached to the boat cleats and dock.  I’ll bet you’re scratching your head now, huh?  The best way, I think especially for women to start, is to stand at the helm while the boat is docked and look around.  This is done with her favorite drink in hand and no plans other than boat drinks.  I have found that most women haven’t a clue how to line up the boat.  So, a non-threatening time at the helm to just look at things to line up on and helm control levers to play with, is very helpful.


We have a piling on the starboard side of our slip near the bow area and it intimidated me.  I was afraid to try coming in for fear it would just suck the boat right over to it.  Dumb, huh?  So on a day that we were just lounging around the boat and visiting with other club members, I stood at the helm with drink in hand and studied the landmarks around me that I could use for guides to bring in the boat.  If you haven’t anything around you, do what someone else did…make one.  They nailed a child’s ‘pinwheel toy’ on a 1 x 2 board, stuck it between two boards on the walk and guide themselves in with that…use anything that stays in a fixed position.

 Starboard Docked Boat

I figured out where the piling lines up on the starboard side of the boat and found that it’s almost the same area I need when bringing the boat up to a fuel dock.  The flip or mirror image is true for the port side as well, which is good as the finger for our moorage is on the port side.  I always look at those landmarks to guide myself.  Our neighbor boater says that a starboard side tie up is the most difficult; I was surprised to hear that as I though a port side was really hard.  After surveying the club I find most boaters feel whatever side they tie up on is the hardest!  So see?  Docking a boat is never fun but it can give you a true sense of accomplishment!


The next thing to do is to take her out on the water with the iron genny (motor only) and let her get a feel for the boat.  This is best done on a good day with great conditions, come on guys, you’ve got to seduce her….  Find a navigation buoy or if you can’t find any drop a small anchor with a fender tied to the line and let it float and do this exercise.


Have the Admiral power up to the buoy but not touch it.  Now, you’ve got to be quiet and let her figure this out.  Ask her think about how long before the buoy does she need to be out of forward to keep from hitting the buoy.  She should keep doing this until she can come up to the buoy with confidence.  Remind her to think about the wind and current and just learn the boat.  Have her bring the boat up to the buoy while going against the current so she can see how the boat handles.  (Ladies a point to think about is boats steer from the back, unlike cars that steer from the front.)


Ok, you’ve managed to get her to work on the buoy game and now you’d like her to try to bring in the boat.  Pick a super day, the kind with little to no wind and little to no current.  Try to remember how knuckle clenching it was for you the first time you docked your boat.  You get all the lines ready and the fenders out and then position yourself on deck in the best place you can.  On our boat, that amidships at the standing rigging with lines in hand.


Ok ladies, this is it…you begin to enter the marina.  Someone once said, “Only go as fast as you’re comfortable hitting the dock.”  So easy does it.  Take your time, no one has a stopwatch and points aren’t awarded for speed.  Feel the wind on your face and think about how it’s going to effect the boat, look at the current; do you have a keel under you that’s making a great big wall for the current to push against?  I know I do and I compensate for it by beginning my approach much closer to the side I want to end on and I let the current float me away.  You might be surprised to hear that unless I’ve a strong current running or a brisk wind, I’m in neutral for most of the way and all I do is steer the boat.


Think about your landmark and where it lines up on your boat.  As soon as you can, visually find your landmark.  Look at the landmark and then the spot on the boat it has to line up on.  As I make the slow last bit of my approach I start lining up the mark on its spot.  I remind myself the boat turns from the back.  Once the mark on the boat begins to pass the landmark I turn once again towards it.  I’m still in neutral and just float along.  If I get too far one side or the other on the ‘mark on the boat’ I correct it.  When I’m pretty straight on target (depending on wind, current and boat speed) I may bump into forward for a moment.  If however, I have enough speed to creep into my moorage…I’m good.  Once my hubby is on the dock, I’ll bump into reverse to help the boat stop.


Docked Boat Port Side tie up

Ladies please don’t think I never have issues.  I came back in a month or so ago and had a good strong current plus a very, very brisk wind.  I didn’t miss my slip, I didn’t ram the dock and I didn’t hit the boat next to me…well maybe that a bit too literal.  I was in the slip but the wind pushed us too far from the dock and my hubby couldn’t get off the boat to tie us off.  The wind pushed us over to the neighbors boat.  Thankfully, all fenders on both boats were out and zero damage was done.  We pushed off their boat and got my hubby on the dock and he secured the lines.  I used the helm to help ‘walk’ the boat closer by using the current and the rudder, steer to starboard and the stern comes closer, steer to port and the bow comes in.


Ladies I’ll let you in on a secret, we’re actually better at this than the men!  It’s all about finesse and zero about muscles.  Yes, there will be good and bad boat docking days.  The bad make you learn and the good make you appreciate how good it truly is!  Don’t be afraid, there is something to be said about docking a boat.  Keep at it in the good weather and then when you’re only really nervous; try it in the not so good.  You may find a new sense of pride in yourself. 

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