If you're anticipating a stop in an unfamiliar harbor or marina, the countdown for a proper docking should go something like this: Thirty minutes before the marina is in sight, give the dock master a shout on the VHF. Check where your slip is and remember to ask whether your fenders should be tied on the port or starboard side.
By powering slowly around almost any marina you'll get a good idea of the two basic arrangements available for docking. In most places, you'll either be able to park in a slip, or parallel park alongside the dock. Each can be tricky, so don't be deceived by appearances. And you'll want to be aware of any current activity that will affect your approach and any significant wind as well.
If you're wondering about the difference between backing or driving forward into a slip, here's the honest truth: Barring strong currents that mandate a tutorial on docking in reverse, backing into a slip is for sociable people. Backing is, of course, more difficult because not all boats track straight in reverse gear. But those sailors who back into slips usually don't mind the added challenge because they can easily host a dockside party in their cockpit once they have finished tying up the boat for the night.
|"There are some things you should know about those people standing by on shore to assist you— they may or may not know what they're doing."|
As you eye the target from a distance, you should intuitively slow the boat down. If there's one guarantee about docking, it's the fact that, even if you have spent the last six hours cursing a day of becalming winds, the breeze will always pick up as soon as you are within range of the dock. For this reason, you should drive up to the dock as slowly as possible while still maintaining steerage. If you feel that you're coming in too quickly, throw your engine into reverse to slow your boat down. Don't worry if people shout, "Is your engine even on?" (Honestly, this has happened to us.) You can never dock too slowly and you can never hit the dock too gently.
As an added bonus, if you dock slowly enough, most of the dockside hangers on will tire of the action and retreat back to the bar, leaving you go to about your business in peace. Usually, though, a few bored souls will stick around with the earnest hope of hearing either a curse or the sound of something popping off the boat as you squeak by a piling. If you do break something while docking, you can count yourself lucky if some old salt shows sympathy and offers to buy you a cold one afterward while you ponder your ill luck. However, if you have your dock lines ready, a well-communicated plan, and you come in slowly enough, your boat should settle into its space without too much drama. If so, this will allow your crew to step off and secure the lines while you direct them regaring the respective tension of the lines and the position of the boat. The dockside experts will then drift off and leave you to savor your fine seamanship in peace.
Now, if you arrive at a dock and find that you are clearly in over your head because of the logistics or the wind or current conditions at the time, slow down and give yourself a minute to assess the situation. Remember, you never want to come blasting into the dock under full power and you should never shout at your crew to take a flying leap at the dock. If you find yourself in this situation, just use your secret weapon—the dock master.
Dock masters can be wonderful people. They usually have a vast depth of local knowledge, and, if you ask politely, they will offer you a few hard-earned pearls of wisdom. A good dock master can talk you into almost any slip on a windy day. An excellent dock master will slip your bow line around a cleat at the dock and instruct you on how to work a two-knot current to your advantage. By preparing early, designating specific responsibilities to your crew, and availing yourself of the qualified help that's available ashore, you can keep the white-knuckle factor to a minimum, and dock your boat with confidence and grace on a regular basis. OK, now where is that post docking cocktail you mentioned?
Taking a BightWhen facing a dicey docking situation, rely on the following guidelines:
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