DOCKING MAKES BOATERS nervous. Throw a little wind and cur- rent in the mix, and you can find yourself overwhelmed with things to worry about. Your technique shouldn’t be one of your worries. Coming alongside a dock or bulkhead can be accomplished in just four steps. But first, you need to know a few things about your boat.
This procedure is for outboard- or sterndrive-powered boats. Hopefully you’ve had enough
time at the helm to know how your boat pivots when you throw the wheel hard over in either
direction. Many beginning boaters are surprised at how much the stern swings or slides out
when they initiate a turn. If you’re not familiar with your boat’s tendencies, to get a feel,
practice by approaching a buoy or crab pot marker as though it were the dock. Once you’ve
got that down, choose which side you want to tie up, deploy fenders, and you’re ready to
make your approach. These instructions are for a portside tie.
Step 1 — Line Up YoUr ApproAch: When approaching the space on the dock where
you want to come alongside, first judge wind and current. If the wind or current will be pushing you toward the dock, a shallow angle will help you keep control and not strike the dock
with the bow of the boat. If the wind and/or current are conspiring to keep you off the dock,
as so often seems to be the case, you’ll need a steeper approach to carry enough momentum
to get you into the dock. Start with a 30- to 45-degree angle as you learn what works best for
your boat. Aim your bow toward the center of your landing point.
Step 2 — come in SLo WLY: There’s an old saying, “Never approach a dock any faster than
you’re willing to hit it.” Bump the boat in and out of gear to maintain slow progress toward
your chosen spot. On twin-engine boats, use one engine at a time to creep in.
Step 3 — time YoUr SWing: When your bow is within, say, half a boat length, swing
the wheel over hard to starboard (away from the dock). This is where knowing your boat
becomes important, particularly regarding where it pivots. Turn too soon, and you won’t end
up parallel with the dock. Too late, and bang. With the wheel hard over, bump the engine
into gear for an instant to kick the stern to port. This will also swing the bow away from the
dock (to starboard) so you won’t hit it.
Step 4 — the FLoUriShing FiniSh: As the boat glides toward being parallel with the
dock, swing the wheel all the way back to port, and kick the engine into reverse (on twins,
use the engine farthest from the dock for maximum effect). This will simultaneously stop your
headway and pull the stern of the boat to port and closer to the dock. When the boat has
stopped moving forward, put it in neutral. The boat should continue side-slipping right up
to the dock, allowing you to simply reach out and grab a line or piling.
Michael Vatalaro, BoatU.S. Magazine’s executive editor, has a 24-foot center console Pursuit.
4 STEPS FOR COMING ALONGSIDE A DOCK
Too fast and BANG. Too slow and you lose control.
Here’s how to dock an outboard with finesse
76 | BoatU.S. magazine DECEMBER 2013
Learn to Dock: michael takes you
through the four simple steps in our
exclusive video. See this story online.
BOATER TECHNIQUES & BEST PRACTICES BY michAeL VAtALAro
StepS 1 & 2
Wheel to starboard,
engine in forward
Slowly approach center
of desired berth