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Old 07-22-2011
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Accepting help while docking

Hi SNers,

I'm looking for some advice on when and how to accept help from ashore while docking.

First some background. I back my 36' Hunter into a nice wide slip. There's a 41' Hunter on my starboard side, and a finger dock on my port. This is my first full season of sailing.

My usual technique is to head for the end of the finger dock at about 45 degrees (did I mention there's a very wide, generous alley between docks?), which takes me past the Hunter 41, keep up just enough speed to maintain steerage by feathering in and out of reverse gear, and slowly turn as I approach the finger dock. I have one crew member standing at the gate on the port side (which is astern of the shrouds at the widest part of the boat) holding the bow line. My instructions to that crew member are to step onto the finger dock when it is easy to do so. If I misjudge and don't get close enough to the finger dock, they are to stay on the boat. As I approach the main dock with the stern, I apply a little forward thrust to prevent a hard impact with the dock (there are lots of fenders at the stern, both on the boat and permanently attached to the dock), then quickly put it back in reverse to hold me on the dock and prevent the stern from moving to either port or starboard. I then step off the stern and if required (in cases where my crew member could not or did not step onto the dock), move quickly forward on the port side finger dock, take the bow line, and secure the bow. Now I can position and tie up the boat at my leisure. The most difficult (for me) conditions to dock under are when the wind is blowing from the port side, which tends to push me away from the finger dock (making it more difficult for my crew member to step off) and towards the Hunter 41 (making me very nervous).

The only times I have had trouble docking are when one of my friendly dock-mates comes over to help. Generally I wave them off as I prefer to practice docking unassisted (side note - is this considered rude? I'm friendly about it and explain that I prefer to practice without help, but I certainly wouldn't want to offend anyone). I've accepted help two times, the first was a bit of a mess, the second a near disaster.

The first offer of help I accepted, the person on the dock grabbed the stern line from the rear cockpit seat where I leave it for easy access, tied it around the middle cleat on the finger dock, and used it to stop the boat when it was only 3/4 of the way into the slip. Fortunately my crew member had stepped ashore with the bow line and held the bow from drifting into the other boat. Once my 'assistant' left, I had to untie the stern line and walk the boat back into it's slip. No real problem, but I would not call what this person did 'help'. The docking was going very smoothly without them (I don't think there was any wind to speak of), and they caused a potential problem when they stopped the boat that way, if my crew member had not been ashore with the bow line, the bow would have swung to starboard and right into the Hunter 41.

The second offer of help I accepted was yesterday. The wind was blowing around 10 knots right across the port side, so I was pretty happy to see someone standing on the dock waiting to help. As I approached, I instructed my crew member to hand the bow line to the person waiting on the dock, meaning he wouldn't have to step ashore. Unfortunately, I guess I didn't communicate that clearly to the person on the dock. They grabbed the stern line (same as the first time - maybe that line is just in too convenient a position?) and went to secure it to the rear dock cleat. This is where the trouble starts.

First, I'm paying too much attention to what the dockside helper is doing, and not enough to steering. I realize I'm coming at the dock pretty fast, apply some forward thrust (too much), and start to move forward. Meanwhile, my crew member has not stepped off the boat, thinking he was going to hand his line to the person on the dock. Now the wind has blown us off the dock and he can't step ashore. I ask the person on the dock to grab the bow line. He sees the problem, jumps up, grabs the bow line, and holds the bow. In the mean time, I've put it back in reverse and am headed back to the dock. But now with the bow being held (and even pulled in), the stern is swinging towards the Hunter 41. Wasn't the stern line secured already? I thought so too, but my dockside helper was in such a rush to grab the bow line that he didn't secure the stern line, just gave it a couple of wraps, so it's rapidly slipping. Fortunately we're close enough to the dock now that I can jump off the stern, run over and grab the stern line. The boat stops about 8 feet from the finger dock, and maybe 2 feet from the Hunter 41. Thank goodness for those wide slips!

Obviously a lot of mistakes got made there. I really think everything would have been fine if I had waved the guy off, the docking was going smoothly to that point and I got close enough to the finger dock for my crew member to easily step off.

I think my big mistake was not giving clear instructions to the helper on the dock. I should have told him to take the bow line and told him what I wanted him to do with it. As a relatively new sailor, I just assume everyone else knows more than me and will just do the right thing. Bad assumption, even if they do know more, they don't know my plan, so don't know the best way to help.

Any thoughts or advice on how to avoid these kinds of issues in the future would be much appreciated.
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Old 07-22-2011
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Bow first is not an option? So much easier, and even easier to back out, plus you have more privacy from lookers in. It's somehow a blow to the ego to ask for help, when it's offered. the mindset of the person wanting or needing help almost always takes on "I can do it myself" posture.
When walking by "help" offers, Be clear and concise what you want them to do if anything. Most will honor your orders.
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Last edited by deniseO30; 07-22-2011 at 10:21 AM.
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Old 07-22-2011
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Sooner or later you will need help getting on a dock. Maybe you need more practice communicating with the person who wants to help?

Are you lines fixed to the dock or do you stow them on the boat when you leave? Having a set fixed to the dock can make things easy, then all you need to communicate is which one is the spring line and where you want it attached to the boat.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

If you need a back up set of dock lines, buy them in another color and mix them so your spring line will be easy to find for crew or dock hands.
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Old 07-22-2011
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I would imagine communication is the big thing... followed by lots of yelling and swearing Maybe a dock line at a mid-ship cleat just for the 'helpers' you encounter. That way they won't be pulling the bow or the stern in too far.
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Old 07-22-2011
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My first thought is to ask, if it's your slip, why are you removing the docklines when you leave?

My docklines are all set up and adjusted just the way I like them, so they stay on the dock when I leave for a day sail. I have another set of Docklines onboard that I can use if I stop somewhere else. Only if I leave for a trip will I remove my permanent docklines.

As far as shoreside help is concerned, if you leave your docklines on the dock, then they are tossing you the line that's already tied to the dock just where you want it, instead of the other way around. The loop end goes to the boat and on a cleat and is already the length you want.

I'm usually in neutral by the time I'm entering my slip at minimum speed. The Angle of approach depends on the wind direction. Wind off the finger dock - sharp angle

One trick is if you can leave your stern line or your forward spring line in such a way that you can easily pick it up when entering your slip, get that on a cleat...then if you put the engine in forward the bow will be pulled into the dock and you can work your other lines.

Another method with a crew member and no dock help, might be to have a mid-ship cleat and a breast line set up, that gets attached 1st. This should keep the bow and stern from moving away, while you get the other lines attached.

Lots of ways to skin this cat, but I think the starting point is to leave your docklines attached when you leave

Sorry, I missed the stern-to part... same process just pick up the bow line or after spring line 1st and back down on them
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Last edited by Tempest; 07-22-2011 at 10:32 AM.
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Old 07-22-2011
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I keep my boat on a mooring, but use the following technique when going into a dock. I have three lines handy - bow, stern and midships. If there's help at the dock, I tell them to grab (or I throw them) the midships line, not the others. Once this is cleated, the boat is going nowhere and the bow and stern lines can be cleated at leisure. I routinely tie up my 33 footer myself when coming into a dock using this technique
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Old 07-22-2011
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> then quickly put it back in reverse to hold me on the dock and prevent the stern from moving to either port or starboard

> I realize I'm coming at the dock pretty fast, apply some forward thrust (too much), and start to move forward.

It really sounds like you're using too much power on docking, at least IMHO. Using the engine to hold you onto the dock???
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Denise - bow first is an option if conditions are extreme, but I'm not the owner (shared/fractional boat through SailTime) and the preferred way to leave the boat is stern-in. All my practice has been backing in, so I'm actually more confident going stern first at this point.

Rob - lines are stored on the boat. As mentioned above, not my boat, and there aren't enough spare lines aboard to be able to tie up elsewhere if I leave lines on the dock.

Barquito - a line at the mid-ship cleat is a great idea. I forgot I did exactly that in October last year when the winds were high and had my crew member use that line instead of the bow line when stepping ashore. I'll remember that for next time, and also remember to clearly communicate to anyone on the dock that I want them to take THIS line please, not the stern line, and tie it to THAT dock ballard.
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Old 07-22-2011
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In hundreds (thousands?) of dockings I can think of two people ashore that actually helped. Communication is certainly key, but if you have had time to get your crew ready and trained over time there is little someone on the dock can do to help and lots they can do to mess things up.

Frequent singlehander's perspective.
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LauderBoy said:

>It really sounds like you're using too much power on docking, at least IMHO.
>Using the engine to hold you onto the dock???

Could be, like I say I'm relatively new at this. By the time I'm entering the slip, I'm coasting in neutral. I just use a quick forward thrust to slow me down as the stern gets close to the dock.

Using the engine to hold me on the dock was something taught to me when I took the CYA Keelboat course. I thought it was a pretty nice solution. It just takes a little reverse power to push the stern into the fenders, and that both prevents the boat from going forward, and prevents the stern from moving sideways even in a very strong wind. I use a similar technique to cast off, I put the engine in reverse to hold the boat on the dock, remove the stern and spring lines and have only a bow line (or sometimes no line depending on wind direction) which can be held then cast off by a crew member on the bow. I take it from your generous use of question marks in your comment that you don't approve? :-) Can someone explain the problems/drawbacks with this technique?
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