Whether you’re snuggling up at your own dock after a long day on the water or pulling into a slip at a crowded marina for lunch, docking your boat is never as easy as it seems. Every scenario is different, even if you’ve done it a hundred times. The wind, waves, and current always seem to conspire against you and unlike parking a car, there aren’t any brakes to rely on if conditions change.
So here are some of the most important things to keep in mind when docking so you don’t earn the title of “Captain Crunch.”
Make a Plan
This is where being the captain is important. Talk to your passengers ahead of time to let them know what you’re doing and assign them with tasks if you need some help. It’s better to over-communicate early than to start barking orders once it’s too late.
If you’re docking solo, don’t be shy about asking someone on the dock for help. Boaters are always willing to help other boaters – it’s like an unwritten rule.
Managing Your Speed
As the saying goes, “never approach the dock faster than you’re willing to hit it.” Your boat is designed to deliver way more power when applying forward throttle than reverse throttle, so keep that in mind as you approach the dock – it’s easier to speed up than it is to slow down.
Use short bursts of throttle to give you just enough power to change the direction of the boat without giving it too much forward/backward movement. Just remember to turn the wheel BEFORE applying throttle to prevent a sudden jolt of forward/backward movement when you’re only trying to finesse your approach.
Navigating the Wind and Waves
Knowing when to fight the wind and waves, and when to use them to your advantage, will make you look like a Jedi-level boat captain.
When docking AGAINST the wind and/or waves, take a steep approach angle to minimize the wind’s effects and use just enough throttle to keep the boat moving toward the dock. Once the bow gets close to the dock, turn the wheel quickly to swing the stern around and pull your boat parallel to the dock.
When docking WITH the wind and/or waves, your approach speed should be much slower and your angle shouldn’t be as steep. The idea is to pull up parallel to the dock, but stay about five or six feet away and let the wind push you over to the dock. It’s a good idea to equip your SENTRY Fenders before approaching the dock in case the wind picks up or changes direction.
Watch: Docking Your Boat with SENTRY Fenders
Leveraging Prop Torque
You may have noticed that if you barely engage your boat’s throttle the bow tends to “walk” left or right, depending on if you’re going forward or in reverse. That’s because the rotation of the prop influences more than just your boat’s linear movement. It also introduces a small amount of spin because of the prop’s corkscrew-like design.
If you have a single-engine boat with a right-hand propeller (meaning the propeller rotates clockwise when engaged with forward throttle), forward throttle will cause the bow to “walk” slightly to the left, while reverse throttle will cause the bow to “walk” slightly to the right.
You can use this to your advantage by understanding how a small amount of throttle, either forward or in reverse, will influence the rotation of your boat. Done right, you can slowly cuddle your boat up to the dock by alternating between forward and reverse throttle. Just be sure to accept the applause and accolades from impressed onlookers with grace and humility.
Deploying Fenders and Tying Off
Before you begin your approach, get your boat or docking fenders in place to protect your boat from small scuffs, scratches, and dings while docking.
If you have a passenger or two who know how to tie off using a cleat or post, have them jump out once you’re safely tucked against the dock while you remain at the wheel in case you need to reposition or manage the wind/waves.
Reset and Retry
Sometimes, even when you do everything right, it all goes wrong and you just need to swallow your pride, admit defeat, abort the mission, and try again. You might take a few jabs from your passengers and fellow boaters, but that’s better than having to retell the story about how you managed to fuse the bow of your boat with a dock for the rest of your life. Don’t be afraid to back out, turn around, and give it another go!
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