Slip and Slide (Backing Into a Slip) Degree of Difficulty: 3 Application: If you have dreams of owning a big boat, guess what? You're going to have to back it into a slip almost every time you use it. The perfect slip would have three to five feet of room on either side of a centered boat when docked and be sheltered from the effects of wind and current. Good luck finding one. Even so, with a little practice, no slip should be intimidating. And if you mess up, don't panic. Just pull away and start again.
Captain Gary's Lesson: The first thing Graham has to say about docking is, "Don't make the boat do everything itself." In other words, assess the state of the current and wind and make them work for you rather than against you. And instead of frenetically pumping the throttles and gears, sometimes it's better to do nothing. The wind will catch the boat's freeboard and push it in the direction it's blowing, so keep the hullsides out of the direct wind as much as possible. An ideal docking wind blows from directly behind the slip; a nightmare wind blows directly into it. The current is also a major factor; it will push the entire boat in one direction, so take its direction and force into account and compensate accordingly. If you work it right, you can use the wind and current to ease into your slip with minimal input at the helm.
Once you've established how to work with the elements, it's time to set the helm. On a twin-engine boat, turn the helm hardover one way and never touch it again. If you're aligned to back in to port, turn the rudders hardover to port. Let the engines do the rest of the work. When working the engines, avoid false commands. If the rudders are turned to port, for instance, don't put the port engine into forward gear. That would counteract against the rudders and the boat won't respond. To make the bow swing to starboard with the rudder so turned, engage the starboard engine in reverse. To get the bow moving to port, engage the starboard engine forward, using port reverse for correction.
Before you start backing, fix on a relative bearing - a nearby piling or moored boat perhaps - to judge if your boat is moving forward, in reverse, or not at all. Then use the engine controls to maneuver the boat. Don't engage the engines for long. Rather, use short, alternating bursts of forward and reverse to get the boat to back gently into the slip and to straighten it out. There's no set time that either engine should be engaged or disengaged. This comes through feel, so practice. One final tip: Don't forget about the swim platform. "Most people, when they're up on the flying bridge backing in, can't see the platform," says Graham. "They don't account for it and...crunch!"
Nancy's Remarks: You're supposed to put your bow into the wind before you dock. That's why I'm standing there like a puppy dog, turning my face to see which way my hair ruffles. Thank goodness Graham pointed out the flags on the bow and stern. Duh, they're not there for decoration. Hey, don't laugh. I came home from this adventure able to dock a 36' boat.