Sailing 101: Avoid Pier Pressure; Dock Like a Pro

Ahoy Sailors, let's sail-a-brate! Now that you are well versed in the sailing part let's talk about how to get you and your sailboat back home safely. Stay tuned for the next lesson, which will explain how to sail in different weather conditions.

SOUTHERN CALIF.— What do you do with a sick boat? Take it to the doc! Now that we are all laughing, let’s break down how to dock your sailboat properly and safely. Docking your boat can be intimidating, but doing it well is the only way to keep you, your passengers, and your boat safe. There are six steps to docking your boat, and they go like this:


1.) Prepare dock lines on your bow (the front) and stern (the rear) and attach your fenders to the side of the boat that you wish to dock. This is an excellent opportunity to ask your guests to help; docking a boat can be more than a one-person job. 


2.) Line up your approach through slow and controlled adjustments at the helm and survey the docking area. Remember that this is intended to be a gentle maneuver, so don’t pull into the dock any faster than you’re comfortable hitting it. 


3.) Judge the current, wind, and water conditions. The motor isn’t the only thing that moves your boat, so consider wind conditions, current, and drift when managing your position. 


4.) Take your time and proceed slowly towards the dock using intermittent acceleration. Never accelerate when driving towards the dock. This is where patience becomes important. Let momentum glide your sailboat into position. And again, never approach a dock faster than you’re willing to collide with it. 


5.) Pull toward the dock keeping the helm straight ahead and come alongside the dock. Boats don’t move as easily as cars, so always try to approach the dock in a sideways position, having your boat parallel to the dock. 


6.) Tie off your boat onto cleats, posts, or pilings using your docking lines. The reason sailors use the “throwing the loop” technique off the boat is because you won’t always have someone on the dock to catch your rope and hook you to the cleat. Throwing your looped dock line off the boat and around the cleat gives the person on the boat all the control. An important part of throwing the loop is that your dock line is coiled up nice and neat; therefore, when you throw that line off the boat, you get a nice sweep around the cleat. Once your line is wrapped around the cleat, piling, or post, and you already have the other end of the line attached to the cleat on your boat, at that point, you pull on the line to remove the slack and guide your boat in slowly towards the dock. 

Voila! Your boat is docked. It can also be helpful to have a friend or family member on board or at the dock to help assist you throughout the process. If you’re docking by yourself, remember to take it slow and to not be afraid to stop, pull back, and circle to try again. Place your fenders ahead of time and have your docking lines ready to tie off as soon as you’re near the dock.

Now, let’s discuss docking a boat in different situations.


Docking in a Slip


As a boater, docking in a slip is a common scenario you’ll often find yourself in regardless of whether you are docking in your own slip, a friend’s slip, or at a public marina or dockside restaurant (a slip is more like a single parking space for your boat). Before you begin, it is highly recommended to have your docking lines and fenders ready ahead of time on both sides of your boat. As in any docking situation, you’ll want to start by checking your surroundings—check for other nearby boats and be conscious of the wind, water, and current conditions.


Next, constantly maneuver at a slow speed. Within a slip, you have limited mobility, making you more likely to make mistakes. In most cases, you’ll want to position your boat so you’re able to back into the slip. Before you start backing in, you’ll want to center your wheel.


Slowly reverse your boat into the slip. Do your best to keep your balance and tell your passengers to stay seated during the process. This is not only for their safety, but it can help to keep the boat steady as it moves into the slip. Next, apply one last small burst of power forward to stop your reverse momentum. Then, tie off your lines to the dock. We suggest having two bow lines and two stern lines tied onto both sides of the slip—with the stern lines crossed.


How to Tie a Boat to a Dock


Docking your boat can quickly become second nature with a little bit of practice. So, along with the docking process itself, you’ll also want to familiarize yourself with how to tie your boat to the dock. But, first, let’s make sure you have the right equipment.


When it comes to docking equipment, you’ll want to keep an ample supply of docking lines on hand. These docking lines, also known as mooring lines, can be used in a few different ways and are sometimes referred to as bow, stern, spring, and breast lines. In most cases, you’ll only be utilizing your bow lines and stern lines. The final piece of equipment you’ll want on board are fenders, sometimes referred to as “bumpers.”


You’ll usually be docking in a slip or alongside a dock when tying off your boat. In either of these cases, you’ll find cleats or pilings. Cleats are small, t-shaped equipment, usually made of steel or some metal attached to the dock. You also have similar cleats on your boat that you’ll use to secure your docking lines. On the other hand, pilings are large wooden posts that you would commonly find on a pier or positioned recurrently along the dock. Whenever possible, you’ll want to tie off your boat to the dock using cleats rather than pilings for the simple reason that tying off on a piling can sometimes be more challenging.


When it is time to tie your boat to the dock, there are a few common knots you can use to secure your lines: the cleat hitch, the clove hitch, and the bowline knot


For more information on tiring knots, you can visit the Discover Boating YouTube channel to watch Boating Knots 101.

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One thought on “Sailing 101: Avoid Pier Pressure; Dock Like a Pro

  • Martin Murphy

    Be a good idea to mention prop walk.



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