What’s The Big Deal About Docking a Boat?

What’s The Big Deal About Docking a Boat?

First of a Three-Part Series by Captain Paul Foer

This is Captain Paul Foer “From The Foerfront” with more tips to help you become a more competent and confident mariner. As are many boaters, you may be nervous about docking in a marina, or leaving a slip, entering a marina etc. Okay, but I must ask what’s the big deal about close quarter maneuvering or boat handling?

I ask this as a professional boat captain and coach who has operated hundreds of different power and sail boats, big and small, single and twin screw, inboards, monohulls, catamarans, outboards, stern drives, sail drives (even an Army tug boat and a paddlewheeler) gas, diesel and electrically propelled with and without bow thrusters and sometimes with stern thrusters, trawlers, cruisers, rowboats, canoes…you name it…… thousands of times—and have never had anything other than minor scrapes and dings (well there was the time in Florida…but oh never mind that…). So, what’s the big deal?

The answer is that in most situations, it’s simply not that big a deal, no matter who you are, and when I train my many clients, I remind them that airplane pilots say that any landing from which you can walk way is a good landing. The same is tru with landing a boat—which of course occurs only at a fraction of the speed of landing an airplane. This should become a mantra in my student’s mind when I remind them to:


Or, to put it a little bit differently,


And to take it A STEP further, I ask them to imagine what it sounds like and feels like if their boat hits the dock. Then I ask them to envision the same thing but with one difference—imagine it is their foot or their hand in between the dock and their 10,000 pound or 20,000 pound or heavier boat.

Then it turns from what would have only been a paint or fiberglass repair and perhaps down-time and maybe an insurance claim into a potentially severe medical emergency, loss of an arm or leg, a lawsuit, prolonged and painful recovery or death. Any of those things could ruin your whole day—or your boating season to put it mildly. Imagine being crushed by the boat AND falling overboard. It would be that landing that pilots talk about when you can’t walk away. This is just another example of why I remind clients all the time that the boat can always take more than the crew—in just about every if not all situations. Or to put it differently, boats come with rub-rails but humans should not attempt to act as one.

Sure, you’re probably thinking “Well this guy thinks it’s no big deal because he’s done it so much…..” and you’d only be partially correct. Of course docking is a challenge for many, especially newer boat operators, and even for professionals such as myself in certain situations, but in most boats, in most situations, in most slips, at most times when you are boating, I again ask what’s the big deal? I too had to learn and I recall a few incidents as an inexperienced boater which were worrisome, difficult and unnerving, but I survived and I never wrecked a boat. And neither will you, but you might get some scrapes and scratches—as have I, but mostly stubbing my toe or grabbing a splinter was the worst. Practice and training, practice and training….practice and training make perfect.

New clients often approach or ask me for help in docking more than in any other aspect of seamanship and boat handling. This still puzzles me, so I use the analogy of learning to drive a car. In school, my driving teacher was adamant that simple manipulation was the easiest and lowest level of the collision-free driving “pyramid”, as he described it. I think the same applies for boating—and docking. Why? It is because of a number of reasons, not the least of which is that when you are parking a car or docking a boat, you are, or certainly should be going slow…real slow, and so, if you collide, what are you likely to damage or otherwise result in doing? The real dangers about which you really should be concerned are “out there”, sort of like what Kurt Russell reminded us as “Captain Ron.”

(and there was also his infamous boat docking scene–more on that another time…)

In my next of this series of “From The Foerfront” I will describe the “rules” which you can apply to help you in all docking situations. 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!