My husband and I just purchased our first sailboat. It's a 25-foot Seidelmann. I'm looking for some advice/techniques on docking. We are docked in a marina on an end slip, on the starboard side. We went sailing for the first time on our own last week and when we came back to the slip we hit the dock (no major damage, a few scratches on the front of the bow). I jumped off the boat onto the dock thinking this would help and lost my balance, scraping my knees and elbows.
It was a terrible experience. Even though it was a calm day, and we were going faster than we should have. Now it appears that we are having some trouble overcoming the fear of docking. We are thinking about coming up with a new technique, and were wondering if you could give us some advice?
Thanks for the question. If its any consolation, youre not alone when it comes to the anxieties of docking a boat, especially if its a new boat, or if the whole boat thing is something of a new area for you. Theres an old saying that goes: 'dock as fast as you want to hit the dock,' and hearing that may help you.
The idea is to keep the boat moving fast enough that you have steerage, but slow enough that if something does go wrong, youll have time to do something about it. There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, no jumping. As you found out, theres an increased chance of injury with dockings that require acrobatics to get the boat into the slip. Second, never put any body part in between the boat and the dock or pilings. Even a relatively light and small boat like yours will out-match fingers and hands should an ill-timed boat wake send the boat against these permanent structures.
With the safety bit out of the way, there are two secrets to perfect dockings. These are anticipating what the boat will do before it does it, and practice. Ideally, youll want to dock bow first into the wind or current, and avoid downwind or down-current dockings. The boat is more maneuverable bow first. In a cross wind, youll need to compensate for the forces moving your boat. Sometimes the bow has to be pointed into the wind or the current for the rest of the boat to go straight.
My advice would be to practice docking in your slip during calm conditions. Have all your fenders out and at the right heights. Fenders should be high enough that they dont touch the water so algae doesnt grow on the bottom, but low enough that they offer maximum protection. Also, have a bowline, a stern line, and a midship line ready to go. If youre travelling into the slip and you run a bowline aft, it will pull the bow in toward the dock. A better move might be to try a midship line, or use the stern line first. The midship line will connect you to the dock and also stop the momentum forward. The bow and the stern can then be brought in. Go as slowly as possible, but fast enough that you can still control the boat. Good luck.
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