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Be Careful With Your Docklines

Why you need to keep your docklines in the boat.

September 16, 2021
Boater quickly pulling in docklines
Don’t forget to bring in your lines after departing from the dock. Tim Bower

It was a beautiful June day on the California Delta. From our campground in Isleton, my girlfriend and I decided to boat up to Old Town Sacramento for lunch. It is about 35 miles one-way, with many no-wake zones, so it can take a while to complete the whole trip.

The trip couldn’t have started off any better. When we arrived, the city of Sacramento provided great courtesy docks, so we had no problem finding a spot to tie up our 21-foot Ultra and then ventured to enjoy the restaurants and shops in Old Town. The only minor issue was the current on that part of the river is pretty swift, so I tied off the bow in addition to the middle and stern cleats.

After an enjoyable time onshore, we returned to the boat. I started the engine, and everything seemed good, so I untied the lines and pulled away from the dock. As we made our way under a bridge to head back toward the campground, I said, “Uh-oh, something’s not right.”

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The boat felt sluggish, so I guessed that something had probably wrapped around the prop. I managed to maneuver around the bridge supports because I knew we would be drifting downriver for a few minutes. I killed the engine and lifted the outdrive. To my surprise, a 6-foot section of the stern dock line had wrapped the prop. With one foot on the swim step and a hand on the grab handle, I managed the get the line free. Phew.

Then I stepped back in the boat, only to discover we had a water leak. I went back out on the swim step and felt around the transom to discover the drain plug was missing. Apparently, when the line was whipping around the prop, it knocked into the plug and dislodged it from the drain hole. Thankfully, I had an extra plug on board, but I didn’t want to risk dropping it overboard in the deep water. Water kept coming in, and I had to think fast.

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I grew worried because the levees on that part of the river are mostly rock, with sandy beaches few and far between. Luckily for us, we managed to find a beach close by. I motored up parallel to shore and, in the shallow water, put in the spare plug. Now I had to contend with all the water that had come into the boat. I continued to run the bilge while we manually bailed water until we’d finally cleared enough to get up on plane.

The lessons learned? Always stow the dock lines before getting underway and be sure to carry a spare drain plug at all times.

Gary Lane

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