10 Tips For Docking a Boat

When it comes to docking, even the most experienced skipper can make a mistake. Anything from a deceptively strong tide to an unexpected watercraft getting in the way can make docking or berthing your boat a nightmare. 

Boat docking safety tips

A bit of common sense will better prepare you for those unwelcome surprises. Follow these 10 docking tips to help ensure you develop successful boat docking habits.

Docking Tip #1: Look Before You Dock

Identify where you intend to dock your boat, and monitor the situation and your surroundings carefully. Make a mental note of currents and tides, wind speed and direction, other boats in the area, and the docking space you’re aiming for. Never begin a docking maneuver until you’re fully aware of your surroundings.

Boat docking tips surroundings

Docking Tip #2: Know Your Exit

Have a bailout or exit plan ready in case things go awry. Even the best-laid plans can quickly unravel if the wind turns or another boat starts getting too close for comfort. Always be prepared to abandon your planned docking maneuver, and have an escape option ready to go.

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Docking Tip #3: Use Lots of Fenders

Set all boat fenders at the correct height, and strategically place them where they’ll be needed the most. If it looks like the bow might rub against a piling, make sure there are fenders in place to protect it. And if you have additional hands on deck, get at least one person to hold a spare fender that can quickly be put into action if something unexpected happens.

Boat docking tips fenders

Docking Tip #4: Reduce Wind Resistance

Wind can easily blow your boat off course, and will likely do so at the most inopportune times. If boating conditions are particularly gusty, reduce any surface areas that may catch the wind and make maneuvering harder. Bimini tops, helm enclosures, and even large flags can catch the wind and blow your boat off course, so make sure to take any such items down before docking in windy conditions.

boat docking tips wind resistance

Docking Tip #5: Slow Down

The rule of thumb is to never go any faster than you’d feel safe making contact with the dock. Try not to gain any speed because once you build up momentum, it’ll be difficult to come to a stop when you reach the dock. Keep the throttle at idle, and gently bump in and out of gear for minimal propulsion.

Boat docking tips slow down

Docking Tip #6: Brace for Impact

If things do go amiss and a crash becomes inevitable, lose as much forward momentum as possible and make sure everyone on board is braced for an impact. Ensure everyone on board has their fingers and toes clear of gunwales and are holding onto rails in the event of a collision course.

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Docking Tip #7: Keep a Low Profile

If possible, dock stern-to in rough conditions or at exposed docks that may encounter rough conditions. Docking or berthing stern-to presents the angular profile of the bow to any incoming rough water, whereas the stern presents a blunt profile. Rough water will break on the bow and dissipate without pushing the boat against the dock and damaging it. 

Boat docking tips stern-to

Docking Tip #8: Don’t Jump Onto the Dock

Never let anyone jump onto the dock, because a misjudged leap can lead to serious injury. Make sure everyone on board knows the only time to step off is when the boat is no more than a few inches from the dock. The safest way to disembark is to step from the boat to the dock, period.

Boat docking tips stepping off the boat

Docking Tip #9: Keep the Motor Running

Keep the engine(s) running until all of the mooring lines are properly set and the boat is fully secured. Never kill the engine(s) until you’re sure the boat won’t drift away from the dock.

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Docking Tip #10: Don’t Overtighten Lines

Don’t tie the mooring lines too tight, as they must have enough play in them to allow the boat to rise and fall with the tide. If the mooring lines are too tight, the boat will be dragged down by the moorings as the tide rises, and left hanging from the dock when the tide falls.

Boat docking tips dock lines



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