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Docking a Boat for Beginners

Boat captain docking a boat

Many boaters are intimidated by docking, but it doesn't have to be that way. While it can be an understandable source of anxiety for new and seasoned boaters, with the right techniques and practice it will become a routine part of your boating experience. In order to become proficient and confident as you approach the dock, it's important to learn the necessary skills and helpful tools you'll need to maneuver confidently and safely.

If you're a new boater and haven't docked with your boat yet, there are many resources available to teach you the accessory skills related to docking. These includes things like learning how to tie dock lines, knowing some basic knot tying and seamanship, and understanding the pivot in your steering. Both of these can be learned before hitting the water and will help to ensure that when the time comes you won't be surprised by your boat's movement, but instead will be proactive in the docking process. Being proactive shows preparation, being reactive shows a lack of preparation.

To help guide you on your way to efficient docking, here are some helpful tips from Discover Boating.

1) Preparing for Approach

Prepare your dock lines at the bow and stern long before you need them. Get your fenders out. You should be focused on the docking itself, not the lines, as you approach the dock.

2) Line Up for Approach

Determine your line of entry and proceed slowly. Speeding up will never make the process go better. Follow the line as best you can Never pull into the dock any faster than you're comfortable hitting it.

3) Factor in Wind, Waves, and Current

Understand that the position of the boat will always be subject to the effects of wind, waves, and current. Understand the type of water you're in before you approach. As the saying goes, "it's an art, not a science." More practice reading the water will give you more confidence.

4) Proceed Slowly

Use intermittent acceleration. Many boaters will pop in and out of neutral on approach to regulate their forward progress. Never accelerate towards the dock.

5) Come Alongside the Dock

Your approach should always bring you alongside the dock at an angle. The degree of that angle will be affected by the dock's position in the water, as well as the expected effects of wind, waves, and current, which you should be aware will alter the boat's course independent of your steering input.

6) Tie Off the Boat

You or your crew should be waiting with lines in hand as you come within throwing distance of the dock. If there is no one on the dock to help with the lines, use the 'loop technique' to catch the lines around the dock cleats and pull the boat into its final position. Set the boat in the correct position and tie off before stepping off.

Check out the video below to give you a firsthand look at the 6 step process to safe docking:

Here are other helpful related resources for those looking to expand their knowledge:

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