Boating Tips


Posted 6/23/2011

Patience and Practice Pay Off

Docking your boat isn’t as difficult as you might imagine; take it slow and easy – and you’ll do just fine.

As with any other learned skill, docking your boat takes practice, and like the rest of us in the boating fraternity, you’ll make some mistakes along the way, but your boat handling skills will improve every time you pull up to the dock.
To keep things simple, we’ll go over two typical docking scenarios: parking your boat alongside of a dock, and backing into a slip. We’re intentionally omitting the dozens of real-world variables (weather, tides, the various types of docks, etc.) to focus on the fundamentals of getting your boat to the dock safely.

Boat Steering Refresher
Forgive us for pointing out the obvious, but your boat steers differently than your car.

When you turn the wheel on your car, the tires in the front of the vehicle move in the direction you want to go, and the back of the car follows obediently.

Turning the steering wheel on your boat actually turns the engine/gearcase – so the back of the boat moves first – in the opposite direction of where you want the bow to go. Of course, the bow eventually follows your command and turns, but be aware of the stern’s location, especially in close quarters.

Most boats pivot at a point about one-third aft of the bow – both the bow and stern move when you turn the steering wheel – a very important consideration during docking maneuvers.

Pre-Docking Preparations
Secure the lines to the cleats, hang the fenders over the side, and have a boathook readily available.

Assign the crew specific tasks, and explain in detail what to do when you arrive at the dock.

Docking Alongside
After determining that there are no obstructions, swimmers in the water, or other boats heading your way, slowly idle towards the dock at a 30-45 degree angle. (See following illustration).

As the bow nears the dock, place the shifter in neutral, letting the boat’s forward momentum carry the boat close enough to the dock to tie off the line closest to the bow.

Turn the steering wheel towards the dock, and move the shifter into reverse, letting the engine pull the stern to the dock. Secure the stern line, put the shifter into neutral, and turn off the engine. (See Illustration above)

If the boat doesn’t cooperate completely, use the boathook to grab the dock and manually move the boat to tie up.


Backing Into a Slip
(Paraphrased from U.S. Coast Guard Boat Crew Seamanship Manual, Chapter 10, Section D)
Once you’ve ascertained that the slip is clear – no swimmers, obstructions, or vessel traffic, idle your boat perpendicular to the slip, about one boat length away from the slip.

As the middle of your boat is even with the nearest edge of the slip, turn the wheel all the way to the left and “bump” the throttle forward to swing the stern to the right (the bow will swing to the left). Place the shifter in neutral and aim the outboard at the back corner of the slip. (See illustration above)

Shift into reverse and apply a small amount of throttle to stop the forward motion of the boat and start it moving towards the slip. Steer towards the slip, slightly behind where you want to dock the boat, shifting from reverse to neutral and back to maintain a very slow speed.

When you’re nearly alongside of the slip, tie off the stern line. Turn the wheel a bit to the left and bump the throttle forward to swing the bow around. Tie the bow line, place the shifter in neutral, and turn off the engine.

In Summary
Becoming proficient in the finer points of docking your boat requires plenty of practice and patience.

Be cautiously confident, keep your cool, and over time, you’ll be able to dock your boat almost anywhere, in any conditions.

Department of Interior Motorboat Operator 
Certification Course (MOCC)

U.S. Coast Guard Boat Crew Seamanship Manual (COMDTINST M16114.5C)

Photo Credits

• Lee Boyt
• Department of Interior
• U.S. Coast Guard