Docking your boat will go from stressful to smooth as silk as soon as you make these docking tips habit.
Let’s face it: one of the most stressful moments of a day of boating is docking your boat. And if you’re a new boater, how are you supposed to learn how to dock a boat in the first place? While practice makes perfect, knowing these docking tips will help melt away that anxiety.
Tip #1: Pause and Take Stock
Pause before docking, and take note of the environmental conditions. The two big items to consider are current and wind. Either can knock you off kilter as you try your docking maneuvers, so knowing how they will affect your boat is key.
Start by monitoring the current—look at the water where it hits dock pilings or markers. This will tell you the direction and speed of the current. Then get a feel for what sort of breeze you may have to contend with, look at nearby trees or flags to gauge direction and intensity. Finally, let the boat drift for a moment or two, to ascertain just how quickly you drift and which direction you head in. This way, you’ll gain a full understanding of how these factors will affect the boat as you dock it.
Tip #2: Approach with Caution
Never approach a dock (or any other solid object) faster than you’re willing to hit it. Lickety-split docking may look neat, but you never know when a mechanical mishap will create a loss of control or an unexpected gust of wind will send you sailing in the wrong direction. If you’re going slowly in the first place, it won’t be a huge worry.
If you have an aluminum boat, you have an advantage in this regard, since the lighter weight of aluminum boats makes them easier to maneuver when you do find yourself too close to a piling. Plus, when the boat is moving at very slow speeds, aluminum will usually bounce harmlessly away.
Tip #3: Use Short Bursts of Power
Use short applications of power to control the boat rather than leaving it in gear at all times. With outboard power like you’ll find on a Crestliner boat, the thrust is directed, meaning you can turn the wheel all the way in either direction, then apply power for a short period of time to maximize your steering abilities.
If you leave the boat in gear while turning the wheel, the thrust will be applied in all directions, making it difficult to steer.
Remember: Start by steering out of gear, shift into and then out of gear, then steer and shift again.
Tip #4: Dock into the Current or Wind
When possible, dock with the bow of the boat heading into the current or wind (whichever force is prevailing). Just as an airplane takes off and lands while heading into the wind, you’ll always have more control when heading into the prevailing force as opposed to when you’re being pushed along by it.
Tip #5: Keep the Power On
Don’t shut down the power plant until all the lines are secured. This is a mistake many beginner boaters make—they’re relieved the boat is more or less between the pilings or close enough to grab lines, and they turn off the key to call the docking maneuver complete. But sometimes your deckhands miss a line or two, or a breeze blows you away from the pier. As long as the engine’s running, you can use it to correct the boat’s position, but if you shut it down too early, you may have to start all over again.
Will these docking tips ensure you dock your boat perfectly the first time? Maybe, but probably not. It takes practice and time on the water to become completely familiar with your boat and how to handle it when maneuvering in close quarters.
That said, here’s one final “bonus” tip for you: Relax and let go of that stress. As long as you remain calm and take things slowly, you’ll get that boat where it belongs without any major docking disasters. And before you know it, you’ll be docking like a pro.