Perform These Three Tests Before You Dock a Boat!

If you want to dock a boat like a pro, you need to think defensively. And that begins with three oft-forgotten tests before you approach any pier, seawall, wharf, slip or mooring ball. Put these three actions on your pre-docking checklist today for less stress and more success!

Arm yourself with confidence when you know how the elements will affect your boat, your engine will react to throttle and shifter, and your boat will drift when stopped with no way on. Make the three vital tests below standard procedure aboard your boat. That way, you will know that your boat will answer your commands when you need them.

1. Enter with a Visual Element Check

Look for telltale signs of wind direction and current on your way into the marina. Forget about what the wind or current was doing outside of the marina. That gives you a general idea, but elements can change direction and force inside narrow slots or spaces.

Glance at the piling bases to check for current direction. Look aloft at the masthead flies on tall sailboat masts for the true wind direction. Find flags ashore for more clues.

2. Test Reverse Propulsion Now!

Read enough reports of things going wrong with dockings and you’ll see incidents of reverse gear failure. And you can lay money on it that those skippers more than likely failed to check the gear before they got into tight quarters. Get into the habit of doing this–right now.

Before you enter any marina, narrow canal or tight channel, bring the boat to a stop. Shift into idle reverse gear for 10 seconds; then back to neutral; then into idle forward gear for 10 seconds. Repeat this sequence two or three times. Listen for clunking or excessive vibration. Watch your RPMs. You should have complete control where the engine answers each command smooth and easy.

3. Check Drift Before the Final Approach

Make one final test of wind or current if you have the room. Stop the momentum of the boat a few boat lengths off the pier. Wait until she has no way on. Allow her to drift for 30-45 seconds.

Now you know just how the wind and/or current will affect your boat. If practical, point your bow into the elements and hold position. Look at the relative angle the boat makes with objects ashore. This angle tells you how you need to cant the bow to stem (point into) the wind or current.

Remember, this single key puts you in total control in any docking. Once you begin your approach, you may find the wind or current setting you into the docking space a bit too fast. Use some rudder and throttle to turn the bow fast into the elements to slow down your drift and put you back in control.


Follow these simple rules of docking seamanship before you make the final approach. Learn to dock a boat like a pro for the confidence you need for success, wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

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