Picture this: you’re out on your pontoon boat enjoying time with friends and family. You feel a slight breeze, but you think nothing of it. A breeze isn’t something to worry about. As the day goes on, that breeze gets stronger, and by the end of the day, it is very windy. You groan to yourself because you know you’ll have to brave the docks with these conditions. One wrong move and you’ll hit the deck, literally. You don't want to get any dings on your boat, and you most certainly don't want to embarrass yourself in front of everyone. If this has ever happened to you, you’re not alone. Whether you are new to the pontoon boating experience or a veteran, wind can always play an issue while docking. It is often viewed as an enemy to all boaters everywhere. But there is a way to overcome this enemy. Abraham Lincoln once said, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" and that is how you can win. Befriend the wind by making it do most of the docking for you.
The first thing you should do is test the waters (or wind, in this case). As you circle the dock two or three times, take note of how your boat handles in the wind. By doing this, it will first help you to better understand your boat’s abilities and what it can and can’t do in these situations. And second, it will allow you to understand where the wind is coming from so you can plan accordingly. Never should you try to dock on the first run unless you have had experience with the wind. Of course, even a veteran can benefit from knowing how the wind will affect his boat beforehand.
In situations like this, be sure you have your bumpers out to help you breathe a little easier if you bump into something. For those who have no bumpers, here are a few common docking techniques that are used that become more difficult as the wind increases.
The most common (and possibly the simplest) is approaching the dock with the wind on your back. Depending on how fast the wind is pushing you, you can approach the dock and then shift into neutral and let the wind do the rest. Approach the dock slowly using the reverse gear every now and then.
In situations where wind is bisecting, or at an angle to the docks, it is best to use a spinning technique. You can do this by approaching the dock at an angle adjacent to wind. You will need to come in at a little faster speed, since the wind will push your boat away if you don’t. Once you are almost there, turn your wheel a little before shifting into neutral or reverse. Your boat should begin to go into a spinning skid, which is the desired effect. Use that skid to glide right into the dock. The wind should then push you to your desired position. Again, if you are coming in too fast, you can always shift into reverse to slow down a little.
The third situation is possibly the most difficult: docking in a headwind, or when you are against the wind. The best solution is to face this head-on and give the boat a little more power than usual. This still makes this a difficult maneuver because the wind tries to pick up the bow of your boat and push it so that it starts to turn laterally. A boater’s natural reaction to this would be to turn the wheel sharply and try to correct it, but that usually results in the boat overcorrecting itself. If this happens to you, all you have to do is straighten out and try again. You’ll need to plan far ahead for this. The thing to do to prevent this is to once again face the wind and as it tries to push your boat, continuously steer, but in small movements. Big steering causes big problems. Once again, as you approach the dock you would need to use the reverse gear to come to an eventual stop.
You Can Do It
In short, docking in the wind may be a difficult task, but it is not impossible to master. The wind can be your friend, but all it takes is practice, practice, practice. Practice is what makes you better at it. All boats are different so you need to know what your boat can do in these situations. Now when you are with your friends and family once more on a windy day, you can impress and amaze them with your spectacular docking skills.