How to Dock Using a Joystick

Tips to make joystick docking a breeze.

Joystick controls provide a new dimension for operators of most any kind of marine engine. In close quarters, they allow a skipper to perform some maneuvers that just aren’t possible with conventional controls. But they still require a learning curve, albeit this curve is shorter and shallower for most folks. In fact, “old salts” with lots of experience often take longer to get the knack. Be aware of these joystick foibles.

Roll Tide
The ability to move a boat sideways proves helpful in docking. But don’t just lean on the ‘stick. Use it incrementally. The sideways motion induces a rolling moment: The boat may tend to lean away from the direction it’s sliding sideways, particularly if sliding fast. When you lay off the stick, the boat rocks back toward the direction of motion. So lay off the stick before you actually get right next to the dock, lest you roll into it and ding the finish. Just as with conventional controls, use judgment, anticipation and the elements and allow the boat’s “way” to finish the move.

Twist and Shout
Joystick operation can be summed up by the phrase “push and twist.” Push the stick in the direction you want the boat to move. Twist the stick to point, or orient, the boat. While there are times when pushing and twisting simultaneously are the order of the day, caution is best exercised until experience is gained. Skippers new to joysticks often haven’t learned to twist without bending. So in attempting to spin the boat in place, they inadvertently move it out of position at the same time. Just like with conventional controls, it takes a little seat time to get the feel of things.


Hold Fast
The name may change depending upon which manufacturer’s joystick controls your boat’s engines, but some joystick controls offer “station-keeping.” This is simply the ability to hold the boat in one place at the touch of a button, thanks to integration of the control system with GPS. We have used it ourselves in some rough, windy conditions, with a variety of power plants, and can verify that it works. Compared with conventional controls, it’s a pleasure to use while waiting for a bridge to open, or lined up waiting to enter a lock or just “hovering” over a potential fishing spot. But station-keeping, like autopilot, still demands a vigilant captain at the helm. It is not intended to allow a single-handed skipper to leave the bridge and go to the bow, for instance. Enough said.

Quick Tips
A little-touted advantage of joysticks is that the provide a second, redundant set of engine controls and so enhance safety and reliability.

Just as the bow lifts while a boat accelerates and drops after speed is attained, so the side of a boat can rise and fall when it moves sideways.


The mere weight of one’s hand can cause the stick to lean while twisting. So instead of spinning in place, the boat spins and moves out of position.


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