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Guide to Dockline Handling

What you need to know about the docking

Docking a sailboat is one of the hardest parts of sailing! Docking can be incredibly challenging and result in lots of damage to your boat, to other boats and to docks. Watch the video to see some simple tips to do this right, and save yourself a lot of headaches!

  • Find out about the dock & area

  • Direction of prop walk

  • Prep fenders, dock lines & lifeline gate

  • Ideally, approach into the wind

  • Assign crew roles

  • Slow down!

  • Beam of boat should make contact first

  • Crew steps off and ties off

We already took notes! We have included all of the things we said in the video here, so you can just copy and paste what you need for your notes.

APPROACHING A DOCK Docking should instill fear, trembling, and extreme caution in every sailor. Every time I bring a sailboat into a slip or to a dock, my heart still beats faster, and that’s actually a good thing. Whenever you try cramming a beautiful sailboat into a tight space surrounded by millions of euros in yachts, and you add wind and current and prop walk, this makes for a challenging situation. We recommend when you’re working on your docking, find a nice long dock, and ideally practice your docking in calm conditions. We’re big fans of practicing docking at fuel docks. These are usually longer docks, not too many boats around, and it just gives you a little bit more room to maneuver. It’s really important, before you come into an unfamiliar marina, dock, or slip, you want to find out about the area. Four things that you want to know: Number one, you want to know the wind direction. Where is the wind coming from? Which way is it going to push your boat? Number two, is there any current in the marina, and which way is that going to push your boat? The third thing is hazards. Often, you might find yourself in an area where there’s an old dock, maybe a strip of wood coming off, maybe there’s a rock in the area. You want to know those hazards. The fourth thing is the height of the dock. This is really important, because we need to know the height at which to put our fenders so they protect our boat when we come in to dock. Another thing you want to know is the effect of prop walk on your sailboat. Most sailboats, when you put the boat in reverse, are going to pull the boat to port. Before we make our approach into the dock, there’s a couple other things that we want to get ready. We want to tie our fenders on. We then want to run our dock lines, one from the bow cleat, one from the stern cleat. Make sure they’re not going over the lifelines or around the stanchion. We also want to open up the lifeline gate, just so we’re ready to jump off on the dock. When you’re coming into a slip or a dock, really important that you plan your approach into the wind. It’s going to make things a lot easier, and just help slow your boat down. As you line up to come in with the dock, you want to be going slow. I can’t emphasize this enough. You really, really want just barely enough speed so that you have steerage. You want the boat going as slow as possible as you approach the dock. Talk with your crew. Make sure everyone is clear on their responsibilities and how they can help you dock. When the boat is one to two boat lengths from the dock, you’re going to want to go ahead and put the boat in neutral. What this is going to do is, it’s going to help you control your speed and just glide in slowly to the dock. As you make your final approach to the dock, it’s really important that you come in at as shallow an angle as possible. As the boat gets really close to the dock, you’re going to want to start pivoting the bow away from the dock. The goal here, when the boat makes contact with the dock, you want the beam of the boat, the widest part, usually near the shrouds, to gently kiss the dock. Right when the boat is about to make contact with the dock, the helmsman can feather the boat in reverse. This means just giving a little bit of reverse and go into neutral, a little bit of reverse, and go into neutral. You don’t want to slam the boat into reverse at this point, or prop walk can pull your stern away from the dock. When the boat has come to a full and complete stop, the crew with the dock lines can step off the boat and go ahead and cleat those lines off to get your boat attached to the dock. Warn you crew ahead of time you don’t want anyone leaping or jumping off the boat. As the boat comes in, if you have people trying to make flying leaps off onto the dock, it’s just a recipe for a disaster.

DEPARTING A DOCK The key to departing a dock smoothly is to plan and think carefully about how you’re going to leave the dock and talk through that with your crew. If you can, use the wind to your advantage to help blow you away from the dock. Spring lines can also be super helpful at helping you pivot your boat away from the dock. One simple trick is to shorten your stern line, have a fender right there at the back of your boat, and then put the boat in reverse. This is slowly going to pivot your bow away from the dock. The person on the dock can go ahead and release that stern line and hop on the boat. 1. Think carefully about your exit and discuss with crew. 2. Wind can help you. 3. Use spring lines to pivot away from dock. 4. Crew on dock releases lines & boards. So the key to getting good at docking is just practice, practice, practice. Like we said, practice this on a long dock, ideally in calm conditions. Just get to know your boat. Get a feel for how to dock. Get good at doing this with your crew. It’s going to make docking so much easier for you.

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