Develop your docking muscles

Capt. Katherine Redmond


In my next few articles, I’ll share information as though you have just completed your boating safety class and are gathering on-land, theoretical knowledge of the docking process.

Most boaters would agree that docking a boat is the most difficult maneuver in the sport. It’s amazing to watch adventurers who have crossed oceans become uncomfortable when docking their vessels. If we are to become proficient at docking, we should learn all that we can about the task through on-land lessons and on-the-water skill drills.

Start slow and build your skills

A common error made in docking is to attempt to control our boats the way we drive our cars, but the two skill sets are different. Roads don’t move like the water does, and wind and current rarely interfere with driving like they do with boating.

Many vessel owners never leave their slips because they attempted to dock without first developing the necessary skills, leaving them too frightened to attempt docking again.

If you want to strengthen and tighten your muscles, you might join a gym and begin lifting weights. You wouldn’t start with 100-pound barbells. You’d begin with lighter weights and gradually add pounds until you reach your desired level of fitness. The same is true of boat docking. Begin slowly, gather the on-land theoretical knowledge, and practice your skill drills until you know how your boat responds to your handling.

Next take your boat to the fuel dock and back into your slip with no wind or current. Only after you have mastered those skills should you attempt to dock in wind and current. When docking in wind and current, you need to act instinctively, as there’s little time for finesse.

Maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s your boat

While providing on-the-water boat docking lessons to various boat owners over several years, I noticed that many of the boats being used weren’t mechanically sound. The owners attributed their lack of ability to poor skills, but fairly often, their boats contributed to their docking difficulties. Unsynchronized twin engines, too loose or too tight throttles, erroneous rpm readings and other problems make it difficult to dock a vessel. After repairs, their skills improved remarkably. Be sure your boat is mechanically sound before you misjudge your skills. Ask a knowledgeable buddy or hire a professional to evaluate your vessel.

Many new boaters are under the mistaken impression that dock lines are brakes. The helmsperson brings the vessel to the slip and expects the crew to tie the line around the cleat on the dock to stop the boat’s movement. This is wrong and can be dangerous. The line handler could get his or her hand snagged between the boat and the cleat, or the line could slip off the cleat and the boat could slam into the dock. The helmsperson’s role is to put the boat in a position so that the line handler can step off the boat, which means that the vessel is completely stopped.

Capt. Katherine Giampietro Redmond of Palm Beach Sail & Power Squadron/8 is a NASBLA-honored boating safety instructor with a Six-Pack Towing Captain’s License. Author of “The Chartracker Navigation Guides” and “7 Steps to Successful Boat Docking,” she created to provide boating guidance for women.

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