Docking Tips

Published on Apr 21, 2016

So your in-laws are in the bow, your wife next to you and two small children in the stern, and there’s not a shred of nautical ability among them?

Compounding the problem is the dockhand sitting in the gas-dock shack talking to his girlfriend on a cell phone. You can expect to handle this docking situation by yourself.

Let’s explore some worst-case scenarios.

Outside the Box

I’ve docked 65-footers solo, so it can be done with the family boat. Most important is planning ahead. Stop well away from the dock. Look at the wind and tide to formulate your game plan. Then set your lines and fenders accordingly, remembering that you want bow, stern and one spring covered at the outset.

Say you’re coming into a T-dock with the wind and current blowing offshore -- away from dock. The most critical line will be your spring line. Tie the line to your midship cleat with a loop on the dock end. Before tying off to the cleat, guess how long you’ll need the line to be to give a modest scope. Now come up to the dock slowly and as you pass the dock cleat where you want your spring line attached, drop the loop over the cleat. Continue slowly forward with your wheel straight. When the spring comes tight, your boat will swing sideways right up to the dock and stay there. Quickly hop onto the dock and attach your bow and stern lines. Then act cool and casual.

Inside the Box

Let’s take the same T-dock but with the wind blowing onshore, and you need to dock inside the T. In other words, the wind is still blowing you away from the dock but if you screw up, you’ll be hard aground rather than drifting out to sea.

Tie your bow line to your bow cleat, leaving a length of line to the end loop about half the beam width of your boat, plus a foot or so (five feet of line for an 8-foot beam). Slowly nose straight into the dock bow first. Quickly move to the bow and drop the loop over the cleat. Let your boat drift back on the wind until the bow line comes taut. Then turn your wheel toward the dock (stern-drive and outboard boats) and put your gearshift into reverse. Your boat will swing toward the dock.

Next, drop your spring line over the cleat and gently drive your boat straight forward. Leave your boat idling in forward with the wheel adjusted to pin the boat to the dock: The bow and spring will hold your boat in place while you step onto the dock and tie your stern line to the cleat. Hop back aboard, put your gears into neutral, and surreptitiously look around to see if anyone witnessed your finesse.


By Dean Travis Clarke, the Executive Boating Editor for Boating Life.