Simple Tips for Docking Your Boat Like a Pro

Pulling into a marina without knowing exactly how to maneuver your boat is one of life’s least pleasant experiences. Guests of Van Isle Marina are able to simply give a call to our Front Desk or Fuel Dock to request some assistance but not every marina functions this way! By using these tips, everyone from a rookie to an old salt, can learn to dock like a pro.

  1. Mind the wind: If it’s blowing from the pier, approach at a steep angle, using reverse gear and prop torque to swing the stern toward the dock. If it’s blowing toward the dock, plan to come “alongside” a boat width or more away, allowing the wind to push you all the way home.
  2. Go slowly: This one goes without saying. The so-called cardinal rule of docking a boat is “Never approach the pier any faster than you’re willing to hit it”. Just in case, always approach solid objects slowing enough that if your docking job turns into a ramming, the results won’t be tragic.
  3. Reduce the sail area: Particularly on a small boat, this can have a dramatic effect on how easy or how hard it is to dock. A Bimini top or an enclosure can act like a sail on a powerboat, and throw you off.
  4. Never kill the engines until all the lines are secure: Many people who don’t know how to dock a boat well make the mistake of shutting down as soon as the boat is in the slip, but you never know if a crew member is going to drop his or her line(s), or when a piling will slip out of reach.
  5. Always look before you leap: Even if you have backed into your slip 100 times before. The biggest issue here is mooring lines. If any lines of yours or a neighboring slip fell into the water, current could stretch it out across your path. Tangle a mooring line in your propeller, and that docking job will go south in a hurry.
  6. Learn the pivot point: An outboard or stern drive will steer from the stern, while many inboards will steer from a point forward of the transom. Learn your boat’s pivot point to determine your turning ability in tight quarters.
  7. Don’t be afraid to try again: This is especially important for sailboats, single-screw inboards, and other boats with a limited ability to maneuver. If the approach doesn’t seem to be going well don’t worry about having to circle back for another try.
  8. Always turn the wheel before applying power: Not during – or after- that way, you won’t get a blast of forward or reverse before the blast of the port or starboard kicks in.
  9. Short bursts instead of steady power: This allows you to maneuver the boat without building up a lot of momentum, which can quickly get out of control.

Practice makes perfect: Much like when you practiced driving a car in an empty parking lot, nothing makes you more confident than repetitive practice!