Tips for Docking a Personal Watercraft
If you’re new to the world of personal watercraft and were sold on the high-speed thrills without being taught how to dock your PWC, you came to the right place!
Docking a personal watercraft can be a daunting task for any PWC pilot, regardless of skill level or experience. Here are some tips for learning how to dock a PWC safely and efficiently.
Learning to Dock a PWC
Like pretty much any skill, learning how to dock a personal watercraft takes a lot of practice. Obviously, the more you practice, the better you’ll be at docking your PWC. You’ll also reduce the chances of embarrassing mishaps and damage to your watercraft.
Get to Know Your PWC
Before you go joyriding out on the water, you should get a feel for the handling of your personal watercraft. Ride it at lower speeds and learn its strengths and weaknesses. Get familiar with how tightly it turns; how it accelerates/decelerates; how it handles tight turns; how quickly it comes to a halt; etc. Also, get to know its manufacturer’s/model’s specific operating systems.
Practice Docking in Varying Weather Conditions
Start by practicing at times when there’s no wind or current. As your skills and confidence grow in calm conditions, you’ll need to graduate to practicing docking when the wind is up and the water is moving. This way you’ll learn how the weather conditions affect maneuvering your PWC.
Try Docking in Open Water
Use a buoy or a similar stationary object in the water as your practice dock. If you can’t find a suitable object, tie a couple of life vests together, toss them in the water and use them as your floating marker. Approach and try to stop beside your floating marker to learn how much momentum your PWC carries, and to gauge its stopping distances. Once you’re adept at docking by a marker in calm conditions, try against stronger winds and currents. Approach the floating marker from multiple directions to see how varying weather conditions affect your PWC’s maneuverability.
Practice at an Actual Dock
When you feel comfortable with your personal watercraft’s controls and can bring it to a stop in open water with ease, it’s time to move on to the real thing. Choose a time when there’ll be as little traffic as possible so you won’t be getting in anyone else’s way. Not having onlookers may also help build your confidence. Have someone around who can help you prevent hard contact with the dock if you make a mistake. Come in against the wind, so if things go wrong you’ll be blown away from a dock rather than into it.
Approach at a shallow angle to reduce the chances of hitting the dock head on. Doing so also gives you a chance to steer away from the dock if you decide to bail out of the maneuver. Throttle back to idle as you near the dock, and shift in and out of neutral to further reduce your speed. If your PWC has reverse, shift between forward, idle and reverse for even greater control of your approach speed. Reduce the angle of attack as you approach the dock, and attempt to come in parallel to it.
Docking successfully a couple of times at a quiet dock with no traffic might make you feel like you’ve mastered the technique. However, docking at a busy marina brings plenty of distractions and obstacles for you to contend with. Make sure you’ve got your docking technique down before you advance to the next level.
Docking a PWC at a Marina
Docking your PWC at a busy dock or marina presents a whole new set of challenges. You need to keep your speed down and your eyes wide open when docking in a busy environment. Follow the rules when maneuvering through a marina, and keep a constant lookout for any boats or other PWCs in motion. Remember, your PWC is small and may not be visible to larger vessels, so be prepared to take evasive action.
Monitor Existing Conditions
Wind, tides, currents or wakes from other boats can make maneuvering your PWC a bit more challenging. They can also throw a moored PWC around and bang it up against the dock. Look for docking locations that are protected from adverse conditions.
Factor in Dock Height
Some docks were built solely with boats in mind, which means they’re relatively high. If a dock is too high, you won’t be able to safely exit onto it from your personal watercraft, and part of it could get trapped and damaged under the dock. Figure in drops and rises in tides, and if you feel the dock is too high, find another place to park.
Have Fenders and Lines Ready
Avoid damage to your PWC by attaching fenders before you dock. Also, have your dock lines ready to quickly secure your PWC before it can get bounced around against the dock. Always attach mooring lines from the front and rear of your PWC to the dock so it won’t drift around and hit against the dock. Finally, because of the risk of damage to your personal watercraft when moored to a dock, you may want to anchor or beach your PWC instead.