Docking vs Berthing a Boat: What's the Difference?

The terms "docking" and "berthing" are both commonly used to describe mooring a boat to a pier, quay or jetty, but the two words have slightly different meanings.

Docking vs berthing difference

The Definitions of Dock and Berth


When used as a noun, a dock is defined as: A structure or structures to which a boat can be moored, or the water adjacent to that structure or structures.

When used as a verb, a dock is defined as: To moor a ship to a fixture, such as a pier or quay.

Berthing vs docking marina


When used as a noun, berth is defined as: An allocated space within a dock in which to moor a ship.

When used as a verb, berth is defined as: To moor a ship to its allocated space within a dock.

When used in reference to non-commercial, personal watercraft, a berth is also commonly referred to as a slip.

Docking and Berthing Explained

As the definitions of “dock” and “berth” have shown us, a dock is the entire area used to moor ships, while a berth is a distinct space within that dock. 

Docking vs berthing differences explained

Docking is the mooring of a ship to a pier, quay or similar fixture, while berthing is the mooring of a ship within an allotted space at that pier, quay or similar fixture.

Think of a dock as an entire parking lot, with a berth being an individual parking space within that parking lot.

Boat berthing or docking

Docking or Berthing: Which is Which?

Whenever you attach a mooring line from a boat to a jetty or pier, you’re docking the boat. However, whenever you attach mooring lines from a boat to a boat slip that is specifically marked, you are berthing the boat.

Berthing and docking differences

Mooring a boat at a pier for a couple of hours while you go ashore for lunch would be docking, but mooring a boat at an allocated slip in a marina where it’s always stored when not in use would be berthing. To put it another way, a boat is docked for a short period of time and berthed for an extended period of time.

You could also compare docking to parking a car in front of a business such as a retail outlet while you shop, and berthing would be comparable to parking your car in a paid garage at an airport while you’re off traveling.

Docking and berthing boat difference

Language has a way of making words synonymous or interchangeable at times, so if you didn’t know the difference between docking and berthing until now, don’t be ashamed! It happens to the best of us. 



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