Better Boater: Dock Like A Pro

Six tips to avoid looking like a newbie

May 2023 Feature

Your palms are sweating, your knees are knocking, and your heart is beating like a tambourine in your chest.

Did you think this was a tribute to your first kiss? Nope! This is probably how we all felt our first time trying to dock a pontoon or deck boat. And maybe the second time…and hundredth time…and possibly even the last time you had the boat out.

No matter where you are on your boating journey, it has to be said that docking is one of the most stressful situations for newbies and veterans alike. What becomes routine in ordinary weather can suddenly bring you right back to shaking in your flip flops when the wind changes direction or the current is unusually feisty. Here are some quick tips to remind you that you can master the art of docking.

Docking Tip #1

Take it as slow as the conditions will allow. As you approach your slip, keep up enough momentum to pull in without getting hung up by the wind or current. You want just enough forward movement to get you into place with a smooth shift to reverse enough to stop your boat as soon as you’re in position.

Docking Tip #2

Don’t lose your momentum—or your nerves. A lot of docking efforts go bad when you get nervous and pull back prematurely. Once you lose that momentum, it’s easy for the wind or current to push you around. Stick to your guns and maintain that target speed. Remember, you can always pull out and start over, but don’t lose your nerve and cut the throttle before you’re in the right position.

Docking Tip #3

Get to know your prop. A common phenomenon that occurs, particularly in reverse, is your boat “walking” to one side because of the rotation of the prop. This is different for every boat and prop setup, so this is likely something you’ll have to re-learn with a new boat. Once you get a feel for how your boat wants to move sideways, you’ll be able to compensate and better work with it when pulling in and out of the dock. Don’t be afraid of the “walk.”

Docking Tip #4

Use your surroundings to your advantage. If you have the room for it, take a nice wide turn into the slip, and keep a tight corner on the side of your boat that’s closest to the dock. If you don’t, just make sure to turn that wheel like you mean it. If the current is tugging at you or a strong wind’s a blow’n, try to work with nature to get your boat where you want it to go. If possible, try to dock into the wind and current, even if it means changing up which way you approach the slip.  

Docking Tip #5

Practice makes perfect. The best way to get good at docking in every situation is to practice docking in every situation. It’s as simple as that. If it helps you focus, try to practice pulling in and out of the slip when there are no bystanders around to watch. With repetition, you’ll start to develop that muscle memory for where everything on the helm is in relation to your hands. As everything becomes more natural to you, you’ll be able to get a feel for how the wind and current manipulate your boat and what effect “walking” has on your maneuverability. Bring along a trusted deckhand to help you out, preferably someone with experience, of course. You don’t want this to be the blind leading the blind.

Docking Tip #6

Don’t expect to always dock perfectly. Ask that old salty sea dog a few slips over if he gets it right every time, and he’ll likely laugh in your face at the prospect. Nobody has a perfect docking record, so don’t feel pressured to get it right in one go. Just take a deep breath and try it again, as many times as you need to.

Hopefully, revisiting these pointers will help you feel more at home with pulling in and out of the slip. Let’s save those butterflies in the stomach for remembering your first kiss and not for docking.

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