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Docking A Yacht Or Boat Boating Articles
14th Jun 2011

Docking your Yacht or Boat - How to Guide - Boating Reviews Marine Articles Docking Yachts and Boats

How To Guide

Reviewed: January 2009

Author: Barry Tranter,
Photo: Daniel Tillack

Boating Review:

Real skill is needed for docking and mooring yachts and boats.  If you have any doubts about your wheel steering or driving technique when reversing, face aft (towards the back of the boat).

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Boating Reviews & Marine Articles

Docking Your Yacht

Boating Article by Modern Boating

"Docking Boats - Back to Earth"

As with life, mooring and docking yachts is both simple and complex.

It is a procedure best done extremely slowly unless wind or tide come into play, in which case you need to be fast, forceful and have perfect timing.  When wind and tide come into play, you need the judgment of an astronaut.

Yachts are heavy and have small props and engines compared with powerboats, so reaction time is very slow.  If you get it wrong, you have to reverse the momentum of a craft carrying a lot of lead (or cast iron or, in at least one case, depleted uranium) as ballast.  Slow is best.

One can’t cover all aspects of this complex topic in a single column—I don’t know them, anyway—so here are just a few points, all are from personal experience; I have gotten myself into enough trouble over the years to know what not to do.  Most of the time.

Speak Up - Communicate with your Crew

Tell everyone on board what you plan to do.  If you’re entering a marina berth, weigh up the wind direction and tell your crew which line you want to tether first; if the wind’s from ahead, get the bow line on first.  Don’t assume anything.  I once slid a yacht into a difficult spot on a jetty and lined up perfectly parallel with the wharf, only to discover that the crew were down on the bow, chatting.  I forgot to tell them that I wanted them at the point of maximum beam so they could jump off.

Fender Off - Use your Boat Fenders

Use every fender you have, one at maximum beam and the rest at what you judge to be possible points of contact.  Make sure they are at the height appropriate for the dock.  Practise the clove hitch (for the fender line) in front of the TV.  Before you leave the dock, observe where the fenders are on your boat, then hang them in the same spots when you return.  Buy more fenders.  European charter yachts hang 10 fenders each side and have a sort of bumper bar fender across the transom because charterers dock them like kids parking dodgem cars.

Reverse Swing - Face the Back of the Boat

If you have any doubts about your wheel steering technique when reversing, face aft because then the stern turns in the direction of the wheel.  With a tiller, remember that when you point the tiller to port, the stern goes to starboard and vice versa.  Make sure the engine is tractable.  I once found myself heading a big trailer sailer towards a launching ramp with a strong breeze
from behind, which put us on a lee shore.  We motored in, then threw the outboard auxiliary into reverse, at which point the brand-new motor stalled.  Result: mayhem.

Keep a Cool Head - Stay Clam, Think Ahead

When it all goes wrong, head back out to clear water, give everyone time to calm down and start again.  Don’t try to patch it up; you will only make it worse. When picking up a mooring, be sure that whoever has the boathook can reach the mooring buoy.  Nominate which side they should stand.  If you’re in a blow and you miss, go around again or else pick up from the cockpit, settle the nerves, then run a line from the mooring line to the bow.  It’s messier, but you get there.

Go Gently - Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Once, I was on an old-style, long-keel yacht and it was blowing at least 35 knots. The owner went forward to pick up the mooring while I took the helm, praying I wouldn’t get it wrong.  Using a lot of throttle, I edged the boat up to the mooring.  He got the line on and I slammed the throttle shut.  The bow payed off with such force that it could have dragged the mooring with it or torn the mooring cleat from the foredeck.  I should have eased the throttle closed.  Before you dock, check all lines are free to run and have no snarls.  If things get tense, get the line—any line—onto the cleat fast and tidy up later.

Be a Gentleman (or Lady) - Learn the Boating Etiquette

Learn line etiquette: how to feed the line through the cleat before making fast, how to lock the line onto the cleat horns.  The norm for husband-and-wife teams is for the big, burly bloke to steer while shouting instructions to the 50kg missus who can’t reach the mooring buoy or lift it when she does.  Teach her to steer.  She’ll appreciate it and you’ll make a much more effective team. 

Don’t shout at your crew.  Doesn’t work, never has, never will.

Review supplied by Modern Boating

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