Q&A — The Keys to Better Docking

By Eric Smith | Shining Waters Marine

How does one get better at docking their boat?

This is a tough question, but the simple answer is practice. Here are a few tips to help you improve your docking skills.

Boat characteristics: Know your boat and how it’s characteristics or design will impact how it will react when docking. Propeller rotation will determine the kick of the boat when reversing. Sail drive, straight shaft (centre or off set) stern drive and jet drive all react differently. Twin engine or single, rudder design, type of prop (fixed blade prop/folding/feathering) — all of these play an important role in how your boat reacts.

Thrust: How much bite does your boat have when going in and out of gear? A four-fixed blade proper versus a two-blade folding with have different thrust. If you have a stern drive, then your thrust direction can be changed which is beneficial.

Flow: This is probably the most important factor when docking, especially in sailboats. When your boat is moving through the water, underwater appendages act like airplane wings and when the flow of water over them stops, they no longer are effective and stop working. Therefore, if the flow of water over the rudder stops it won’t turn your boat. Generally speaking, boats are heavy and even though you start to reverse, your boat could still be moving forward. When it does stop and starts moving in reverse it will take a few boat lengths for the flow to move over your rudder and make it work again.

Environment: What kind of weather are you docking in? Wind direction and current can contribute to the challenge of docking. When returning, re-check the forecast, you will want to see what factors may have changed and adjust your approach.

Back-up plan: Always have a bailout plan. Even the most seasoned boaters have to make several attempts at times. Your plan could be to have bumpers on both sides of the boat so you lean on the boat next to you or if you don’t set up correctly on the first approach, come around and reset and try again. If you are at a marina and can ask for help, having a hand on the dock could be the difference in your success.

These are a few factors to consider, but I recommend going out in your boat and getting used to it. What does the boat do in full reverse, how quick does your bow catch the wind, how tight does the boat turn? Lastly, don’t be shy to ask for help, people at your yacht club or marina can be helpful as extra hands or offer advice.

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