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Boating Tips

DOCKING IN A CURRENT

Posted 7/31/2013

Everyone knows that close-quarters maneuvering can represent one of the most stressful times for most boaters. Whether pulling into a marina, shore- side restaurant or launch ramp, not wanting to look like a newbie can really turn the knuckles white. Add some adverse conditions to the mix—like foul wind or current—and you can suddenly feel every eye on shore staring at you – just waiting for you to make a mistake.

Of course, there are always boaters who, no matter the conditions, just masterfully grease every landing regardless of where or how tight the space. How do they do that? Is it simply a matter of years of practice? No, not really. It requires an awareness of the conditions and the dynamics of how any given force of Nature will impact your boat. With that information, you can effectively counteract or use those forces to make the boat do what you want it to. Here are some ideas of how to handle the most common adverse currents acting upon your boat.

Current on the Bow

Perhaps the easiest challenge comes with a current heading right toward you. Certainly pulling bow first into a slip offers no problem. But what if you need to dock alongside with a stiff flow? Add to that several boats in front and behind that you need to squeeze between, and you have a nerve-wracking situation. In reality, this has a very easy solution. At slow speed, pull your boat parallel to the space in which you want to dock. Adjust your throttle carefully so that you have just enough thrust to keep you stopped in place -- going neither forward nor back. In very small and gentle increments, turn the wheel toward the dock and then back straight again. Make sure to use small increments and straighten back out so the current doesn’t have a chance to grab your bow and push it down-stream. Once your bow gets caught like that, you have absolutely no control. Done properly, your boat will slowly slide sideways into your allotted space. Once against the dock, put your up-current docklines (bow line and forward spring line) on first. Make them tight enough so that when you remove the thrust from the engine(s), the boat won’t drift back into the vessel behind you. Finally, affix your stern and aft spring lines, and bask in the glow of all the admiring looks you’ll be getting from the spectators.

Current from Astern

If docking alongside, there’s no reason you should be docking with the current on your stern. Simply turn your boat around and perform the maneuver described above. In this particular circumstance, you have much greater control over your boat when heading into the current. There are situations, however, that require you to back into a slip, between docks or pilings with current coming from astern. You actually have quite a bit of steering control in this instance. As you come into the area where you plan to dock, realize that as you turn to align your boat with the slip, the current will be pushing you sideways across the channel, probably toward the bows of boats on the next dock. Start your turn close to your slip and don’t be hesitant. As soon as you have alignment with your slip, put your boat into reverse with just enough thrust to move you slowly backwards into your space. Avoid radical wheel turns and anticipate the force against your hull. It’s better to act than react. Once in your slip, don’t be afraid to gently rest your rub rail against a piling or fender while you attach your docklines. Again, remember to attach your up-current lines (stern pair and aft springs) first.

Current from the Side

Here comes your greatest maneuvering challenge. Let’s discuss the solutions in order of easiest to hardest. You’ll have the least difficulty docking alongside with the current pushing you toward the dock. As with all docking maneuvers, you must do two things prior to actually tying up: Stand off and look at pilings, flags, docks and other boats and determine what direction the forces are moving and at what speed. That allows you to plan your approach. Second, get all your lines, fenders and crew set where they need to be before you start your maneuvers. Advise all hands that under no circumstances should they insert any part of the bodies between the boat and the dock or piling in an effort to fend off.

Once everything has been set, pull your boat up parallel to the dock space about a half a boatlength out. Gently keep the boat parallel to the dock as the current pushes it right up alongside. In effect, you are letting the current dock you. Your fenders should protect your hull from any impact. Then attach your docklines and take a deep breath.

Docking alongside with the current pushing you away requires some different skill and the use of springlines. It’s also very helpful to have someone on the dock to drop the loop of your springline over the cleat. Never put the loop of your dockline over your boat’s cleat and then toss the bitter end to someone on the dock. Inevitably (in a misguided effort to be helpful), they will start pulling on the lines, manhandling your boat. As soon as someone pulls on one of those docklines, the helmsman loses all control of the boat’s maneuvering ability.   

With all your docklines and fenders set, pull up parallel to the dock as close as you can. Have someone place the aft springline loop over the dock cleat aft of your stern. Run the bitter end up to your midship spring cleat, and take a wrap so that your boat is just slightly behind where you ultimately want to tie up (to account for any dockline stretch). Put your engine(s) in forward and turn your wheel just slightly toward the dock, very much as you did with the current on your bow, adjusting your helm slightly toward the dock and then straightening out. Keep the springline tight. Do not let out any slack unless you need to move your boat farther forward. If it starts to slip, take another wrap around your cleat. Watch as your boat moves sideways against the current and pulls right up alongside the dock. Keep your engine(s) in gear while you attach your other bow, stern and springlines. 

Finally, the hardest maneuver of them all: Pulling your boat up onto a trailer in a cross-current. This takes planning, timing, (almost always) several attempts and some pure guts. Watch how quickly other boats drift down-current as they pull up to their trailers. Figure out about how far up-current of your trailer you’ll need to start your approach to have your bow meet the trailer at just the right point. Make sure that you have chosen a ramp (if possible) where you have sufficient room above to approach and below to back out and away if you need to abort your landing.

Line up your approach upstream of your trailer and head toward shore. Be prepared to either adjust your speed up (if you are close to making it and just need a quick spurt) or to hit reverse and try again. Once you see that you are really close to accurately placing your bow upon the trailer, commit. The trailer bunks will take over as soon as you are far enough onto the bed. This maneuver is not for the faint-hearted. But with practice and watching how other boats do it successfully, you can do it too. Once you ace a landing like this, all the others will seem like child’s play.

The Easiest Solution

Yamaha’s Helm Master™ system can make each and every docking experience a no-brainer. The joystick makes maneuvering so intuitive that anyone can dock like a seasoned professional. Current from the side? Move the joystick left or right and slide the boat in that direction even against the current and wind. With Helm Master, the entire family can feel secure enough in their boat handling skills to get the boat back in the slip. For that matter, this may actually create a different problem. You just might have to start making appointments to use your boat. In fact, the family’s newfound sense of ownership just might make trading up to that bigger boat you want much easier. As long as it has Helm Master, too, that is