Chances are you’ve crashed into a dock at least once. Those with years of experience make not crashing look easy most times. It’s like backing a rig down the ramp — hard to explain, but experience makes it seem simple. For boaters with single-engine rigs, here are some tips that make docking easier.
1. Practice docking at a deserted pier, much as you practiced driving a car in an empty parking lot. Nothing makes you more confident than repetitive practice.
2. Heed the wind. If it’s blowing from the pier, approach at a steep angle, using reverse gear and prop torque to swing the stern toward the dock. If it’s blowing toward the dock, plan to come “alongside” a boat width or more away, allowing the wind to push you all the way home.
3. Reduce the sail area. On windy days, consider reducing your “sail area” by taking the Bimini top down, because it will catch the wind and take away a degree of slow-speed control.
4. Go slowly. Coming in fast increases your chances of making mistakes and reduces your reaction time.
5. Turn and burn. Always turn the wheel just before applying power — not during or after. Doing so inhibits the stern from kicking around while keeping the bow aimed at the target.
6. Ascertain pivot point. An outboard or sterndrive will steer from the stern, while many inboards will steer from a point forward of the transom. Learn your boat’s pivot point to determine your turning ability in tight quarters.
7. Ask for help. As in navigation, prudent boaters should use all the tools at their disposal. It might not seem macho, but in rough conditions, there’s absolutely no shame in asking the crew to fend off. Do warn them about catching hands and feet on the dock as you sidle up.
8. Consider prop torque. Most props are right-handed (they turn clockwise in forward gear when viewed from astern). While reversing, a right-hand prop pushes the stern to starboard and the bow to port. Use this “kick” to gain more control.
For more information about using prop torque, click here.
9. Turn straight. Backing a single-engine boat straight, or nearly so, requires turning the wheel to offset prop torque with the directional thrust of an outboard or sterndrive, or an inboard’s rudder-deflected prop wash.
10. Hot line. In many situations, the use of springlines proves helpful.