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  #1  
Old 06-09-2007
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Family Docking Procedure/Roles

As I prepare to take my family out on our first sail with our Beneteau 311, I'm curious as to what others recommend for docking roles to give each family member a feeling like they are contributing and yet be within their realm of comfort.

My son is 12 and went through a keelboat class with me last summer. He is capable of taking the helm out on the water and knows the basics - tacking, jibing, trimming the sails, sailing a course. I don't know that I would want him on the helm when pulling into the slip though.

My daughter is 9. She's pretty much a newbie, but very excited and wants to learn.

My wife is pretty new to sailing as well and would be the first to panic of something went askew. But she does have a steady hand (maybe not so big on balance) and is strong enough to manipulate the boat.

I see 4 basic roles/jobs:

1. Helmsman - direction and speed
2. Stern quarter - use the boat hook to snag the dockline and secure it to a cleat to help control the stop
3. Mid-ships - watch the fenders to make sure things are secure and then step off to control the boat by the stay. Then hand over the bow lines & spring lines
4. Bow/quarter - take a fender (possibly secured to the lifeline so it can slide back and forth) and make sure that any impact is cushioned. Then take the bow lines from the #3 role (above) and cleat them.

I'm thinking that I should take the helm. I can read the boats movement best and ease her in. My daughter should take the bow, which seems like the least risky and with the fender secured to the lifeline she would be safely behind. My son could take the stern, but if he misses the line we lose our safety valve. (aside - would it be best to have the line on the boat and try to catch the post instead of trying to hook the line from the boat?) My wife might be best at mid-ships even with the lack of balance. My reasoning is that she has more body weight and strength than my son and could guide the boat better. Of course, I could teach my wife to take the helm and bring her in slow, which would allow me to take mid-ship. I could put my son at mid-ship, he's stable with great balance but lacks body weight to control the ship.

Who would you put where and why?
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Old 06-09-2007
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You need to do a number of dry runs before you even leave the dock. First thing is to have them each grab the boat standing on the dock and practice moving it around. This will give them a feel for it. Then have them move the boat around in the slip with the lines, first around cleats, then straight to the boat. Then have them practice making the lines fast. Do this for a long time until they are all comfortable with it. Then do a couple of dry runs at their stations with dummy lines so they can get the practice and feel. Then leave dock, turn around and re-dock while it is all fresh in their minds. Then go sailing.

I would also recommend spending a couple hours just practicing docking as a family. We spend about 4 hours practicing docking as part of my USSailing keelboat class, and it was extremely valuable for the newbies in the class and I appreciated the practice too.

However, to answer you question about what I would do.... I would have everyone sit quietly on the opposite side of the boat and watch while I brought it in by myself a few times. Nothing is worse than a newbie panicking and overcompensating because they think they have to _do_ something _big_ to get a boat docked. Show em how easy it is, and that one person can do it if they stay calm and focused, and how slow and relaxed you can do it. Then tell them that they can help, but only if they can be as slow, calm and relaxed as you. hahah. (this last paragraph is only half joking)

Last edited by tenuki; 06-09-2007 at 10:45 PM.
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Old 06-11-2007
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My husband and I frequently take friends sailing, and this generally includes people who have been sailing before but who need directions--they don't instinctively know what to do. Before we get near the slip, we give everyone a job and clear directions.

This past year I got new docklines for my birthday. We measured them and spliced them (actually, for the small price of a bottle of rum, one of our boat neighbors spliced them) and now all one has to do is grab the line and put it on the cleat--it's always the right length (yes, they are connected to lengths of chain so we can take up length or let it out if we need to).

I agree with the other poster's suggestions to practice with your family several times. Everyone will be much more comfortable if they know exactly what to do.

When we're coming in with friends aboard, I am at the helm and my husband is at the bow, ready to grab the windward bow line. Friend one (in this case, the one with more experience) is mid-ships, ready to grab the aft springline. Friend two is mid-ships on the other side, ready to fend off of the piling if necessary. Once the boat is secured with those two lines, we go about the business of grabbing and securing the other lines.

When it's just my husband and I, I am at the helm and his position depends on the wind direction.

For your family, if you haven't pre-set the length of your lines, I would do that. Particularly when we're coming in in less-than-ideal conditions, docking is MUCH easier--no having to take time tying the line--just drop it on the cleat.

I'd also encourage your wife to take a sailing class/learn more about sailing (Doris Colgate - Sailing: A Woman's Guide...excellent book, written in ways that make sense to women. Yes, women and men think differently). The more comfortable she is on the boat, the better. Plus, God forbid, if anything should happen to you, she needs to be able to maneuver safely. If nothing else, she should know how to drop the sails, start the engine, and radio for help.

Have a great time!
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Old 06-11-2007
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It's really incumbent on you, as the "driver", to put the boat against the dock and stop it so that no one has to jump, and they can simply step off the boat and secure it. This, as someone new to boating, requires practice to gain familiarity with how your boat handles, turns, stops, which way it will "walk" in reverse, etc.

Having someone watch the fenders is fine, sometimes they get squeezed out of you misjudge a cross breeze or current. Make sure you tell them NOT to try to "be the fender", though, if things go wrong. Quick way to some bad bruises or worse.

Practice against a floating log, or a remote dock so that there is no other interfering boats (or spectators!) until you're comfortable. Some boats back up quite well and so you may prefer to back in in new situations (because you'll likely have better "brakes")

One final thought. Discourage your crew from "handing off" lines to well-intended dock "helpers". If you stop the boat properly they won't be needed, and often they try to help by stopping the boat before you're ready. There's nothing like someone cleating a bow line to send your stern sideways and into a boat beside you. There's no need to be rude about it, just have your crew say "we'll be fine, thanks" as you impress them with your boat handling.

However, if you find yourself in a severe cross wind condition, or strong cross current you may need to avail yourself of the offers of help. But the more confident you are in your own boat handling, and the more aware you are of such conditions, embarrassing incidents should be minimal.

Remember to keep your EQ (Entertainment Quotient) at a minimum, whether docking or anchoring!

Good Luck.
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Old 06-17-2007
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Good advice posted here. Managed to avoid an "F-Troop" docking incident with the famkily today.

Only item I would add is to practice DURING THE WEEK. Fewer boats, etc.

BTW -is your boat on Lake Erie? I noticed you are from East Amherst. I'm Originally from Buffalo.
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