Docking Boat in a Current

Learn to dock a boat like a pro when you make smooth and easy landings in current. Follow these fast and easy sailing tips and in no time, you will be “wowing” the folks at your marina with your docking skills!

Enter any marina and you will deal with wind or current. Face the current with your bow or stern for maximum control. You will start to lose control when the current strikes the boat on the side of the hull, nearer the beam. This vital factor will help you understand boat docking in any current or wind. In this article, you will learn how to dock a boat in an open space alongside a pier or seawall.

Look for Clues

Prepare your boat with docking lines and fenders on both sides before you enter your marina or any other marina. Why both sides? What if your engine dies all of a sudden and you need to slide over to a pier to port or starboard? Or the dockmaster changes your berth assignment at the last minute? Get your boat ready for the unexpected for peace-of-mind and worry-free docking.

Observe how the current sets when you first enter a canal or channel that leads to a marina. Look for “current tails”, or tiny streams of water that flows past pilings, day beacons, finger piers, boat hulls, or pier bases. Use that current direction to line up your boat for maximum control to approach the dock.

Stem the Current

Current sets–or flows–in one of four directions relative to the dock: parallel to the dock from ahead, parallel to the dock from astern; off the dock (perpendicular); onto the dock (perpendicular). In any approach, turn to face the current with your bow if possible. If not possible, turn to face the current with your stern.

Use forward propulsion to maintain control against a bow current. Use reverse propulsion to maintain control against a stern current. In both cases, use just enough throttle speed to maintain control.

Perpendicular current can be more tricky to deal with. Face the current with your bow if the current sets off the dock. Face the current with your stern if the current set onto the dock. Use your engine to regulate the speed of your approach. Use forward propulsion to maintain control against a bow current. Use reverse propulsion to maintain control against a stern current. In both cases, use just enough throttle speed to maintain control.

Parallel Approach with Current Ahead

Keep the current as close to the bow as possible as you approach.. Use forward propulsion to control the speed of approach. Keep your speed to a crawl. Allow the current to help keep speed to a minimum. As soon as you are alongside, put over a forward bow line first to keep the boat in her position at the dock. Then, put over the rest of your docking lines.

Parallel Approach with Current Astern

Approach the dock from down-current at a narrow angle. Use reverse propulsion to control the speed of approach. Reverse your engine to slow or stop the boat. As soon as you are alongside, put over a stern line right away to keep the boat in her position at the dock. Then, put over the rest of your docking lines.

Perpendicular Approach Technique

Approach the dock at a perpendicular angle for maximum control. This keeps your bow or stern headed into the current.

Before you approach, line up the boat so that your bow faces a dock piling or dock cleat. Your crew will loop a spring line around the dock piling or dock cleat as soon as your bow reaches the pier. Make up a spring line near the bow. Cleat off one end of the spring line. Coil the remainder of the spring line and assign one crew to work the line.

Use absolute minimum speed to approach the pier. If your bow faces the current, use forward propulsion to regulate your speed of approach. If your stern faces the current, use reverse propulsion to regulate your speed of approach. Protect the bow in both cases with fenders (or have a crew hold a large fender on a line to cushion contact points.

Stop the boat when one or two feet off the pier. Use your engine to maintain this position. Loop the spring line around the dock piling or dock cleat and bring it back aboard to a boat cleat. Turn the wheel away from the pier (or hold a tiller toward the pier). Use minimum forward propulsion to bring the boat flush alongside the pier. Remember to use fenders throughout this maneuver to protect the hull. Once alongside, put over the remainder of your docking lines.

Learn to dock a boat like a pro in current with these easy sailing tips. Gain the confidence you need to master the art of docking–wherever in the world you choose to go sailing!

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