Captain Howard’s Docking


Docking Fundamentals

Docking is a 3-phase process:  (a) planning/preparation, (b) approach and (c) landing


10 minutes or so prior to landing rig for docking

(at Shilshole Bay Marina do it inside the breakwater)

In unknown territory:  approach and slowly circle the area and then decide on your approach and landing.

Order of preference:

An upwind and/or up current docking

A cross wind being blown on to the dock

A cross wind being blown off of the dock

A down wind and/or down current docking

Adjust your planning accordingly and then announce “port-side docking” or“starboard-side docking”


In known territory:  make your announcement:  “port-side docking” or “starboard-side docking” with plenty of notice

Rig fenders appropriately

Have a dock hook handy

Uncoil bow and stern dock lines and run them through the chocks and outside the lifelines and stanchions back to(ward) the shrouds

Assign and clarify roles for each crewmember.

Roles may include (depending on number and competency of crew):

Look out

Step off at shrouds and secure the bow line

Step off at shrouds and secure the stern line

Fend off

Give your most agile/competent crewmember the most critical role

(often the stern line on a cleat)

Instruct crew not to jump on to the dock, only to step on to it.


Plan and visualize your approach.

Be mindful and compensate for the effects of wind speed and current

Longer approaches give you more time to gauge these effects

If you don’t like it abort it early.

Position crew at the shrouds and outside the lifelines, ready to step on to shore.

Instruct crew to take one wrap around the cleat, but not to cleat it off initially.

Docking Fundamentals (continued)


Remind crew:  not to jump to the dock.

Approach the dock at a 20-degree angle – or as appropriate for the conditions

If needed ask for help from anyone on the dock.

If offered accept help from the dock and throw them the dock lines.

Choose reverse gear early, and let the motor idle until you need a burst of power to stop

With the engine in reverse use power to come to a dead stop: then shift to neutral.

Hint:  you must look perpendicular to the direction of the boat  (not forward) to know your exact dead stop

Helmsman remains at the helm with the engine running until the boat is docked securely


Adjust and tie off the bow and stern lines with cleat hitches; tie off the two spring lines; adjust fenders and tidy up lines.

Finally, stop and take one long look at your handiwork, to see that everything is done with excellence and nothing is forgotten.

If the spirit moves you, thank you boat for bringing you to safe harbor!


At  SSC your “docking” may be straight in with boats on either side of you.

In this case motor to a nearby boat and “walk” your boat to its final docking.

Your “docking” may be rafting up to a nearby boat.


Key Points

Approach a dock at minimum necessary speed.

Don’t rely on your crew to stop the boat!

Don’t begin an approach until the preparation is complete.

A good landing is a result of a good approach.

If the approach is poor abort your landing.

There is no shame in a missed approach;

there is only shame in a collision with a dock or boat.

Asking for/accepting help is good!

You always have the option to dock nearby and “walk” your boat to its final location.

Under adverse conditions, you always have the option to dock anywhere.

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