Monday, June 23, 2014

Docking the Boat

Boats don't have brakes. No, seriously, they don't. I have to admit that is one of our favorite things to say to non-boaters when they are out with us. You should see the look on their faces when they first hear it. Unlike a car, you can't stop in a specific spot, pull the parking brake, get out, and then expect it to be where you left it. Don't believe me? Try it sometime.

Yes, you can use reverse to stop forward momentum. But again, the boat is not going to stay in one spot.

Even when a boat is docked there is a little bit of movement.

All of that being said, you can imagine that docking a boat can take a bit of finesse. Winds, currents, tides, the number of people watching, and pride....everything plays a part in the movement of a boat when docking.

There are online games to help you learn how to dock a boat. BoatU.S. even includes some helpful hints for real life scenarios. But, believing that you "know" how to dock a boat after playing the game means you also believe an eight-year-old can drive a car after playing Mario Kart.

We've had the boat for a year and I've participated in docking the boat many times. Participation = giving verbal cues on the boat's location in relation to the dock, tossing dock lines to helpful marina staff and fellow boaters, and jumping off of the boat with dock lines in hand to manhandle the boat into place. I know what is supposed to happen. Knowing and doing can be two completely different things.

I learned how to dock our previous boats but this one is a whole different story. Part of the issue is the view from the helm:
Unless you have x-ray vision, you can't really see the dock in relation to the side of the boat. This is why I stand in the back corner constantly cueing Doug on our distance from the dock.

On this particular day, the winds were calm. As an added bonus, we had two friends on board that also own a boat. Part of owning a boat for a long time means that you have a "learned instinct" (how's that for an oxymoron) about how boats react. Doug and I knew our friends could expertly handle all of my typical docking jobs while he stood with me at the helm.

It was go time. I made my approach and we discovered two issues. 1) Doug was standing in the exact spot that prevented most of my view of the back corner of the boat. This was not his fault. As my mother would say, "You make a better door than a window." He was being a door and I wasn't communicating the issue. 2) There was a sudden gust of wind. Doug is practically a boat-docking expert. He is ready to handle sudden shifts. I'm not there yet.

Doug got us back out of the fairway, stepped onto the other side of me, and I tried again. This time, rather than depending on Doug's instructions (which were great instructions by the way), I followed my gut. (Quick note: most of what my gut knows is from years of watching Doug dock boats.) I believed I could do it. I lined up for the approach. Quick pump forward with the starboard engine, back to neutral, see how it handles. Quick pump forward with the port engine, back to neutral, see how handles. Repeat until I was alongside the slip and start to spin.

Quick note for land-lubbers. Our boat is a twin screw. That means we have two completely independent engines on board. I can put one in forward and the other in reverse and spin in place (again, pending wind, current, etc.).

I spun the boat and started to back her in.

For my first time docking this boat, and only second attempt, I did awesome! And by awesome, I mean that I didn't hit any other boats and I didn't ram the dock. Can't say that I'm ready to dock anywhere other than my home marina yet, but baby steps are still steps.


  1. Just practice during the week when no ones around ... An audience watching you maneuver in a 15 knot wind can be unnerving.... take is slow and practice.....

    1. There's a housing complex nearby that put in a marina. The marina isn't being used so we are thinking about practicing over there. No one around and no other boats to hit.

  2. I never even thought about this part of owning a boat! Congratulations on docking successfully!!!

    1. Thanks, Amanda. It's a whole different world on the water.

  3. Great job. You deserve a succesfull docking beer or wine or what ever. When no fiberglass flies = SUCCESS

    1. Exactly! The boat is in the slip + nobody and nothing was harmed = success.