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Safe at Sea: The dilemmas of docking

By Staff | Jun 2, 2020

Here’s a situation all boaters have either witnessed – or worse yet – experienced: You and your fellow boaters decide to stop at the local marina for lunch. Between the wind and the current, you know it will be tricky, but you forge onward. Mistake! To make matters worse, there is an audience witnessing the bedlam you’ve created.

In a recent issue of The Ensign, the America’s Boating Club publication, Capt. Katherine Redmond with the Palm Beach Sail and Power Squadron wrote a terrific article entitled, “How to avoid trouble when docking.” The piece should be required reading for boaters.

Below are a few of the points that Redmond made:

– Watch your speed.

While it may seem logical at times to gun the engine to avoid a collision, statistics prove otherwise. It is always much better to slow down and gently glide into contact with the object.

– Power through.

On the other hand, there are appropriate times when a power surge is useful, particularly for single-engine inboards (and sailboats). When a sharp turn is required to enter a slip, this surge of power provides the additional force needed. The lesson Redmond used: As you head your boat own the aisle to enter a slip on the starboard side, put the boat into forward gear and then back into neutral (forward for 3 seconds; then neutral, repeating slowly); this allows the momentum to move the boat. As you reach the turning point to enter the slip, turn the wheel to the right and begin moving the gear ship quickly between neutral and forward, neutral and forward, using that additional power to sharpen your turn.

– Face the wind.

Whenever possible, face the bow into the wind when in the docking process. Even in a very light wind, docking is simplified if the bow faces the wind because the narrow bow reduces the wind’s ability of push the boat out of control.

– Turn first; power second.

Simple: When you change direction, always turn the wheel first and then add power. Practice this some time out on your boat: Compare the difference in how your vessel responds to powering first, then turning as opposed to turning first and then powering. You’ll be surprised at the substantial difference.

– Mind the slip.

Redmond reminds us: Not all slips are equal. So if you are inexperienced at docking, it would be smart to alert the marina personnel when requesting a slip. (Put your ego aside and be honest!)

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.