Beginners generally find docking the boat one of the more challenging parts of learning to sail. It is worth the time spent in practicing, and when we sell someone a new boat this is an area we focus on. With proper technique anyone can learn to dock like a pro.
- Speed is the most common problem for most people—coming in too fast. It is easier to add speed than to try and scrub it off. The weight of your boat has a lot to do with the speed of approach. A large and/or heavy boat will carry its momentum for a long time, so you might shift into neutral well before coming in for a landing.
- Too slow can be another potential problem, though. You need some water flowing over the rudder in order to maintain control. Current and wind affect the speed required to dock safely. Before attempting to dock, size up the situation. Where is the wind coming from? Is it pushing from behind, or is a headwind slowing you down? A crosswind is generally the most challenging. A good rule of thumb is only enough forward speed to maintain control and the ability to stop without a panic reverse.
- We see people turning the wheel when they have not yet begun to move and are about to leave the dock, because they want to turn in a certain direction. The rudder should always be centered until you begin to move, otherwise it will simply act as a brake. Get some water flowing past the rudder and then turn the helm.
- I recently did a dumb thing while docking, despite knowing better. I jumped off the boat onto the dock to get ready to tie it up. I landed straight-legged instead of bending my knees and jammed my left knee. Never jump off the boat onto a dock! Slow the boat to a stop so you can step off. Also don’t toss a long coil of line to someone on the shore, too often it will end up in the water. Wait until you can hand it to them, or at most a short toss. If you must throw a line, divide the coil in half, with some in each hand. Toss the first half with one hand, letting the other half follow. If you do this properly there is much less chance of the line ending up in the drink.
- Finally, do not sacrifice any body part to fend off the dock if you happen to come in too fast or misjudge the distance and contact the dock. Better to repair the gelcoat than an arm or leg.