Before leaving the dock, assess the wind and current—and anticipate how they will affect your vessel. If you back up out of the slip with a following current and there are boats in the slips behind you, don't wait until you are right on top of them to start your turn out. Once you're sideway to the current, its force will become amplified and, if running sufficiently hard, you could end up pinned against your neighbor's pride and joy on the dock downstream of you. Conversely, if you back the boat against a strong current, give yourself enough space to turn the boat and allow for the current to set you. Not sure which way the current is going? Look at pilings. If they are wet a foot or so above the water, the current is flowing out, or ebbing. If they are dry, the current is coming in, or flooding. More than likely though, you'll be able to tell just by observing the water's surface—sticks, foam, seaweed and other miscellaneous flotsam will indicate the direction.
By now you also have ensured water is coming out of the back of the engine, there are no lines hanging over the side, and there's no other traffic that could cause potential problems. Maneuvering in some marinas can mean blind turns and visibility limited by large powerboats or other craft. Keep a sharp lookout.
When preparing to dock, allow crew members ample time to rig dock lines and fenders, even if it means having to circle back for more time. If a change of fenders or dock lines must be made from one side to another, the earlier crew members know about it, the better. Make the approach to the slip with enough way on to allow steerage. Keep an eye out for possible alternative landings should the need arise due to wind, current, or someone else being docked in your slip. Avoid barreling into the slip at a high speed, followed by a tachometer breaking blast of reverse, since this invites disaster at some point in the future. Jumping from the boat to the dock should also be discouraged because the risk of a twisted ankle, or worse—like falling between the boat and the dock—is not worth the risk of marring the hull. Finally, never get fingers, hands, toes, or anything else between a moving boat and the dock. The momentum of even a modest-sized sailboat is no match for tender body parts.
Assess which line will be necessary to break the momentum of the boat—usually the stern line, but sometimes the bow line if backing in. It's advisable to let the boat coast into the slip in neutral, followed by line handlers stepping off, the stern line breaking the boats momentum, and tying the boat to the dock. A short blast of reverse can also help. When the prop wash reaches midships along the hull, the boat has stopped. If short or single-handed, a line midships affixed to a cleat will also serve well.
Remember that the only secret of good helmsmanship is to know your boat, and this is something that only comes with experience.
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