What’s The Big Deal About Docking a Boat? Part Two by Captain Paul Foer

What’s The Big Deal About Docking a Boat? Part Two

This is Captain Paul Foer “From The Foerfront” with more tips to help you safely and more easily enjoy your boating. In the first part of this three-part series, I focused on allaying the typical fears that a new boater might have when operating in close quarters. In this second installment about “What’s The Big Deal About Docking a Boat?” I lay out a series of helpful hints to avert collisions that may occur in close quarters.

1. Above all else—LOOK COOL AND DON’T GET HURT! Put people’s safety first. This should go without saying, but there is a reason why I am saying it as rule number one.
2. ACT COOL. My clients often chuckle when I coach them with these words, but the point is clear—be in control, be ready…and relax. When you look cool, you are cool and vice verse. Do not get hurt!
3. If the boat is going to hit—let it hit! Short of doing anything but putting a fender while keeping yourself protected, there is not much else you can or should do—and that means don’t use a boathook unless you are well trained and very careful, lest you become an “Unhappy Hooker”–the subject of another blog post one day. Boat Hooks can be very dangerous when used improperly. Think “Moby Dick” or light sabers in Star Wars, Olympic pole vaulting or javelin throwing…and remember Do not get hurt!
4. Insure your boat—there is a reason for insurance, so use it and rely upon it to protect you financially when necessary. Do not get hurt!
5. You can rarely be going too slowly – unless you lose steerage-way which is the ability to steer. The more the wind or current is affecting you, the more speed you may need, but you can go in and out of gear to control yourself. NEVER go faster than you need to go to steer or faster than you are willing to hit something. Do not get hurt!
6. Your boat is on the water, and unlike a car there is some “wiggle room” or ability to bounce or be deflected, especially off of many wooden docks or pilings and some floating piers that give way, but not likely off concrete docks, bulkheads, lift slips etc. Do not get hurt!
7. When using “prop wash” to make quick turns, make sure the wheel is turned in the correct direction first, and use just enough to swing the stern, not move forward. Know where the pivot point is on your boat—and don’t get hurt.
8. Don’t dig yourself into a hole. If you are going too fast because you applied too much throttle, you will need to apply a lot of reverse throttle to slow down—and you may just get into more trouble—again go slow as you can. NEUTRAL IS YOUR FRIEND. Remain in neutral as much as possible. Do not get hurt!
9. The boat likely has a rub rail—or you can make sure a free fender is ready at the contact point—and you are not that contact point, but are holding the fender by a line—or two! Do not get hurt!
10. Make sure the crew is ready and steady—do not act as a human fender or jump off the boat and do not step on to the dock without sure footing, a handhold and making sure the boat has stopped and is steady. Do not get hurt!
11. Know what lines must go on first or come off first depending on wind and current. Use a spring line as a “tailhook” or “arresting line.”, and know how to use them as necessary to arrest the movement of the boat. Do not get hurt!
12. Understand your approach, especially the wind and/or the current and use them to your advantage, rather than fight them. Ideally, you come in against the current and against the wind, but if they are opposed, you must be prepared and know how each will affect your boat. Do not get hurt!
13. Based on everything above, it is sometimes best to take the boat to neutral and stand by as you watch how wind and current will affect you, and then act accordingly. Do not get hurt!
14. Know how your boat behaves under power. How long does it take to respond, or “answer the helm”, to stop by reversing—or by going forward? Is the wheel centered and how many turns to full right and full left? Do not get hurt!
15. How will “prop walk” affect you? This is the tendency of a boat to move toward one direction, especially when reversing due to the torque of the screw. This generally applies only in single engine boats, and usually it means the tendency to reverse by swinging the stern to port. Know your boat and drive accordingly. In other words, in tight areas, if your boat pulls to the port, always try to go clockwise or turn to the right, so when you reverse, the stern swing to port (in most cases) and the bow goes to starboard. Do not get hurt!
16. Similarly to number 15, when backing to a slip, present the port side to the slip, so as you stop and then reverse, the stern swings toward the slip, rather away from it.
17. Always attempt to dock into the wind, or where appropriate, against the correct. Read and use the wind and current–don’t fight them.

In part three, I will attempt to lay out a “hierarchy” of what to choose to collide with—if and when you have a choice—when you know that a collision in unavoidable. But the goal will always remain that of NOT colliding–but remember LOOK COOL AND ON’T GET HURT. Meanwhile, if you need help with any aspect of boat handling, seamanship, or are thinking about purchasing a boat or have other boating questions, please contact me, Captain Paul Foer at paul@foerfront.com or visit www.foerfront.com. Stay safe!