How to Dock a Powerboat

Docking a powerboat side-to can be stressful, so here are some tips to make sure all goes smoothly.

6th September 2013.
By Lenny Rudow

When you come in to dock your powerboat, you can feel the eyes of the marina – all staring right at you. Will you end up looking like a competent captain, or a Gilligan? That all depends on whether or not you know these powerboat docking tips.

1. Prep your bow and stern lines plus all of your fenders ahead of time. Try to get all that stuff ready as you approach, and not only might you run out of time, you might also get flustered in the rush.

2. Never approach the dock faster than you’re willing to hit it. This is the cardinal rule of docking, because even if you do everything right, mechanical mishaps could ruin the experience. Your engine could stall, the steering cable could snap—who knows? Murphy’s Law is constantly plaguing boaters, so plan ahead for mechanical failure.How-to-dock-thumb

3. As you shift out of gear to slow your approach, turn the wheel to make course corrections BEFORE shifting back into forward. Otherwise, you’ll inadvertently apply power with the drive pointing in the wrong direction. Even if it’s just for a second or two, you’ll have to make additional corrections that shouldn’t have been necessary.

Bonus Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If someone’s standing on the dock, have them grab your lines or help fend off. And remember to never yell at a crew-member. As the captain it’s your job to make sure they have a clear understanding of what their job is, so if they flub it, the fault is really your own.

For more, especially on docking with different types of propulsion, read How to Dock a Boat: Our Top 10 Tips


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About the author:

Lenny Rudow

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Lenny Rudow is Senior Editor for Dominion Marine Media, including Boats.com and Yachtworld.com. With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, he has contributed to publications including Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design who has won 28 BWI and OWAA writing awards.
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2 thoughts on “How to Dock a Powerboat

  1. Good advice in the write up. Just this season I was docking a 27 foot sailboat in a strong crosswind. It was new to me but we had been out several times with no problems. In preparation for docking, I did everything right but … when I made my hard turn from downwind to hit my mark (the slip), the steering stop broke which caused the chain to jump the sprocket in the Edson Pedestal. As a result, the wind then blew me down too far and I reversed – of course, without any steering, all I could do was get back out into the main channel. I applied a bit of quick forward and reverse thrusts to try and keep the boat parallel to the dock that was empty and downwind. After a few applications of forward/reverse, the boat would no longer go into reverse, So, here I am, at the mercy of the wind, wheel stuck hard over to starboard and no reverse. Miraculously, we were blown down onto the empty dock and landed perfectly parallel without hitting anything. I would like to attribute this to my skill but we all know the truth. After some repairs we were able to get back in our slip before dark. In about 30 years of boating (power and sail) I have never had a problem – I think it all hit me at once on that day. The moral is, it is not what you can imagine that will get you, it is what you can’t imagine that you need to be worried about.

  2. Good moral, Alan. Sounds like Murphy’s Law had the usual effect, but Lady Luck stepped in as well!

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