There is a saying: “Never approach the dock faster than a speed at which you are willing to hit it,” and if most skippers can remember that, their boat (and the boats of others) will usually remain undamaged.
Most of the issues around the docks can be summed up by one or two things. Either the skipper is #1 – applying too much throttle too fast or #2 – simply not applying enough throttle to steer clear of danger. Add current and/or wind to this equation and it could turn into a small disaster really quickly.
In this post, we’ll do a quick review on docking principles behind single and twin screws, then cover some tips that will make you better at docking in both strong current and windy conditions.
The Plan of Attack
Remember: Docking is a maneuver and all good maneuvers require a plan.
Tell them what you expect of them prior to getting to the dock. Docking in a strong current may require fast action by your hands. Waiting until you get to the dock to give your crew direction simply distracts you from what you should be doing in that critical moment – driving the boat.
Have them place the fenders out for the side you will be approaching. Train your crew in advance. A smooth command of “Fenders out starboard side please” should be all that is needed.
Have the crew call out your blind spots and how far you are from docks or piers. “10 foot to the pier, 5 foot, 4, 3, 2, aaaand 1.” This is much better than having someone tell you “keep going, keep going, (CRUNCH) that’s good.”
When lines are made fast, teach your crew to tell you which lines were made fast. If you have an order that you like – as in bow first, then stern – tell them in that in your pre-talk as well.
A Quick Review of Docking Techniques
Plan your docking maneuver in advance and rehearse it on a calm day with minimal current and wind. This will prepare you to handle more challenging docking maneuvers later. Your technique will vary based on your engine configuration.
- Normally use short bursts of power
- Enough to maintain directional control and steerage
- When a little is not enough
- Sometimes, when it is windy or there is current, you have to add and sustain power to overcome outside forces. In this instance, don’t be passive; you must control the boat.
- If it’s blowing hard
- Feel free to reduce your profile and windage. Take things down that can be taken down like soft biminis.
- Prop Wash and Prop Torque
- Most single screws have a right-hand turning prop. What do you care? Because with a little practice you can “walk” your stern over to port and slip right into a dock space. There are plenty of YouTube videos that will teach you more about this technique.
- Use shifters and throttles
- Remember to not use steering at low speeds
Winds and Tides
Now that we have done a quick review of docking techniques, we’ll go over docking in current and high wind. The simple truth is that most skippers don’t practice this stuff, but we should. A windy day with no traffic around your marina is the perfect day to practice.
Use Tide and Wind to Your Advantage
Good skippers have long ago learned that they can simply use wind and tide as part of their docking plan.
Three simple rules to follow are:
- Always dock into the wind and into the tide where possible.
- Know what the wind and the tide are doing.
- Know at every given moment which force is affecting your boat more.
First a word of caution: There is a lot going on when you add in either or both of these variables. If you haven’t near perfected docking in good weather, you have no business doing it in foul weather.
Now, when you are ready, take your boat somewhere that has either wind, current or both. This should be a safe place away from other boats and boaters.
Come alongside, close to a dock but not too close, and practice holding your hover (like a helicopter). Apply what you must to hold yourself in position. You will have to orientate your boat accordingly. This may result in either a bow or a stern toward the dock attitude and that is ok. This is one of the hardest parts. Do it until you are good at it.
Next, try the same technique from the opposite direction. What happens? Which force has a stronger effect? Now, make another approach. Crab in if necessary. Get close to the dock and then back away. Do this a few times and let your confidence build.
Let’s look at two wind variables that you often see at the docks. The key here is to know what to do before it’s too late. Set yourself up with the proper position before getting too close to the dock:
- Wind blowing away from the dock
- Requires you to come in at steeper angle than normal and with more power.
- Wind blowing toward the dock
- Requires you to keep a hover. Stabilize away from the dock then slowly slip in as you reduce power.
Finally, just like aircraft coming in for a landing, don’t be afraid to abort. The best lesson here is to think of your docking “attempt” as just that – an attempt. Be ready to abort and “go around”. Too many skippers try to fix a poor maneuver at the last minute. This usually leads to something going CRUNCH. It’s way easier to abort and try again than to absolutely commit to the first try.
Docking maneuvers aren’t easy and adding in wind and/or current just makes them that much harder. The key is to learn how to maneuver your boat and to perfect your handling skills in calm conditions. Then move on the training with current and wind. Understand the physics of the forces that are acting on your vessel and know what you must do to counteract them.
Finally, and most importantly, always give yourself the permission to abort a docking attempt rather than force the issue if you aren’t set up correctly. Your boat and your neighbors’ boats will thank you.