How to Use Wind and Current When Docking

Make wind and current your docking allies.

Docking’s double-edged sword of wind and current gives skippers without the know-how fits. Yet those who’ve mastered some simple principles take wind and current in stride, often counting on an assisting push or a shove from the breeze or the water. Here are some personal anecdotes that prove the point.

Line-Loose and Fender-Free
The fellow boater approached me as I made fast my stern line. “Better tighten that up,” he intoned with friendly authority. Apparently, the slack that allowed my boat to lie four feet off the dock on the prevailing southwesterly bugged him.

I had tied off loose and fenderless because the wind keeping me off the dock provided the best protection against wakes. Fenders provide cushion but can damage striping and graphics. And since it wasn’t a long-term docking scenario, I could always re-tie if the wind shifted, though the sea breeze in the area is about as constant as the rising of the sun, so I wasn’t worried about it.


Go Against the Flow
While testing a Bayliner on what was then called Puget Sound (it’s now the Salish Sea), I needed to stop for fuel. The dock was full but for a 35-foot length between two other boats. I was running a single-engine 30-footer.

Now, I might have deployed a spring line to squeeze safely into the spot, though my crew consisted of a bikini-clad model whose skills were many but did not include tying clove hitches. So I used the current.

On approach, I put the bow into the current and the engines in gear, ticking along with just enough rpm to stem the flow and stay in one place. Then, using gentle throttle nudges, I eased up parallel to the space between the other boats. From there it was just a matter of alternately backing off and applying throttle while jockeying the wheel and zigging and zagging sideways into the spot. The model was impressed.


Any boat has better steerage when at speed because of the increased flow of water across its rudder — in this case a stern-drive. By using the current I was able to control a “dead” boat much as though it were moving.

The Slide
Now, when current or wind runs at right angles to the slip, that’s a different thing. I recently put a flat-bottom boat into a slip with an 18-knot beam wind. Had I waited until my bow was even with the pilings before turning, I would have been blown past the slip, and I’d have been jammed against the seawall downwind.

Instead, I began my turn earlier, allowing the boat to drift sideways on the wind. When I was lined up with the slip, I scooted straight in.


When docking in a tough spot, wind and current — coupled with knowledge of how they affect your boat — plus situational awareness can serve you better than an army of deck hands.