Survey any group of boaters about what they like least about boating, and 9 out of 10 will say docking. That’s everyone from twin-screw cruiser pilots all the way down to the tiller-handled outboard jon boat fisherman. It’s kind of like when hacker golfers step up to the first tee, and there’s a crowd behind them. Your heart starts pounding, your palms start sweating, and you are desperately trying to remember all the “advice” you’ve ever been given about how to do it properly.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Nope. There are a few things to remember, sure, but the main thing is to take it slow (or as slow as the prevailing current and boat traffic allows) and keep your cool. Many good and experienced boaters take more than one shot to back their boat into a slip. You shouldn’t feel too much pressure to get it perfect every time. Life’s too short, and that sort of self-imposed anxiety flies in the face of everything that boating should be about. So there you go. Read these tips, and remember to take your time. You’ll be fine.
• Practice. I know, it sounds crazy, but the folks that are really good at docking a boat have done it hundreds of times. Pick a time when nobody’s around (except a trusted dockhand) and take a run at it. Shoot too far? Cut the wheel sooner. Come in too fast? Slow down. You’ll get it quicker than you think.
• Use what you’ve got. Windy day? Let it push you where you want to be. Strong, ripping current? You won’t be the only one with docking problems. Plenty of room? Ahhhh….take a big, easy angle and work your way in slowly. Always cut a good tight corner on the side of the boat closest to the dock and turn the wheel with authority.
• Don’t lose your momentum. Most docking efforts go awry when you try to pull back too early. If you drop your momentum, you wind up over-compensating and making things worse. Pick a target speed that’s a little slower than you think it should be and stick to it. You can always pull out and start over, but don’t panic and drop the throttle before you get the position you need.
• Understand your prop. You may not know it, but your propeller is your friend. But like any friend, you’ve got to spend some time getting to know it…understanding how it ticks, so to speak. First, and this is where your practice comes in, you should know that your prop-driven boat will tend to “walk.” That means it will want to thrust toward one side more than the other. And it’s not uncommon for that to happen more in reverse than forward gear. If you’ve ever been backing up and felt like you were moving sideways instead of backwards, you know the drill. As long as you respect that phenomenon (it’s different for nearly all boats) then you can compensate and be that much closer to a stress-free trip to the slip.