Monthly Archives: June 2014

Let’s talk about docking technique

Ok….so I’ve been boating since the mid-seventies and except for going to a school for my Coast Guard captain’s license, I have never had any formal training on how to pilot or maintain a boat. That being said, I am pretty anal about proper seamanship, especially when it comes to safety.

I also believe strongly in the “Black Box” theory. For those that are unfamiliar with the “Black Box” theory here is the cliff notes version: There is an imaginary black box where a sailor deposits credits for every act of good seamanship and/or preparedness, whether it is needed or not. Preventative measures are high on the list of credits. There will be times where you screw up, forget something, or bad luck will befall you, and a credit will be taken from your black box in place of having a bad experience. Because of this you never want to have an empty black box, so you practice good seamanship, preventative maintenance and preventative measures to keep the box as full as possible.

Docking is probably the hardest thing to do in a boat and provides many opportunities to have bad things happen, usually with a crowd of onlookers just waiting for an entertaining experience. It is a common courtesy to help someone into a dock when you see them coming and we always make an effort to lend assistance if they are ok with it. There are some “standard” techniques that are usually applied and several variations that are used based on wind direction and water current. Here is the most basic standard for docking:

1. Tie dock lines to the forward, aft and mid ship (breast cleat) cleats before you approach the dock (so you are ready to tie the boat securely to the dock – duh!). If approaching your home dock there are usually lines secured to your dock permanently that you will grab so this step is unnecessary.
2. Approach the dock going into the wind or current if possible.
3. Use a spring line (dock line that is a bit longer than half the size of your boat) attached to your breast cleat as the first line that is secured.
4. Use the boat’s motor with the spring line attached to bring the boat alongside of the dock.
5. Attach the bow line (forward cleat) and then the stern line (aft cleat).
6. Adjust the lines as necessary and put fenders in place to protect the sides of the boat.

So we were sitting in Florida at a bar on the intracoastal waterway that had almost 50 docks for visiting boaters. There was a little bit of wind (8-10 knots) and a tidal current of 1-2 knots. This is a popular place and there was constant docking activity. They had a dock master and a dock hand to help people get in to the docks and secure their boats. I call it “Boating Lifestyles of the Lame and Clueless”. Here are some of the typical scenarios we saw as people came in to dock:

1. First approach…go straight for the dock unaware of wind or current…the boat drifts off past the docks before they get half way there. Second approach…same as the first…there must be something wrong with the steering? Third approach…aim up wind/current of the dock so they can drift down…oops not far enough up. Fourth approach…pick a different dock that is parallel to the wind/current…current rams the front of the boat into the front of the dock.

2. Same as scenario 1 except after 6 attempts…forget it, let’s not go to this bar.

3. Slam the boat into the dock…make the dock hand hold the boat in place by the rails (and risk falling in or pinning a limb between the boat and dock) while you get the dock lines out of storage.

4. Dock lines out and ready…throw the dock line to the dock hand…oops, the line isn’t attached to anything on the boat. (This is a frequent scenario believe it or not.)

5. Dock lines attached and ready…a person standing next to the dock line on the deck of the boat…never throws the line to the dock hand until after the dock hand wrestles the boat to the dock by the rails.

6. Absolutely no spring line…boat drifts away while trying to secure the bow line.

7. Dock lines attached to railings instead of cleats…railing gets pulled out of the deck.

We watched this go on for days with more than 3/4ths of the boaters having no clue how to properly dock a boat. We see it all of the time in our home waters as well, especially Put In Bay. It just amazes me that people have 40, 50, 60 foot boats costing hundreds of thousands of dollars that don’t have even a basic understanding of good seamanship. The worst part is that they will probably be the one that docks next to you and use your boat to stop theirs!

A dog chasing his tail


A boat is a constant maintenance project with enough pleasure interspersed to keep you motivated to maintain it. We all have that list of stuff that needs to be done, and typically when you cross one thing off as completed you get to put something else on the list. If you are lucky you get a one-for-one exchange.

Commissioning Island Bound this spring was not lucky. For everything we completed we added 3 projects to the list. Fortunately none of it is major or safety related. For example…we ordered a dinghy outboard engine lift to install on the transom of the boat. Kato Marine has records of what our previous owner had installed which he took with him when the boat was sold, so we order that exact same thing thinking that this should be the easiest boat project ever. When I install the lift in the same exact bolt holes with the same exact mounting bracket, it is not perpendicular to the cap rail. I call Kato and they are like “I don’t know how he could have installed it that way and actually used it, but you have exactly the same thing as he had installed” So repair the old screw holes and install correctly. A typical boat project, taking 3 times the effort and time that you expected.

Example number 2…we wanted to inspect the anchor chain before we launched the boat. As we start pulling the chain out of the deck pipe Tricia sees evidence of the chain chafing against the windlass motor as it moves in or out of the pipe (for our non-boating friends, a windlass is a mechanical device that grabs the anchor chain and as it rotates it pulls chain out of the pipe or puts it back, thus lowering or raising the anchor – saves a lot of manual labor). This is really not good! Using my inspection scope I can see that the paint is worn off a bit but no major damage is done. So we start racking our brains as to how we can alter the path of the chain to avoid the windlass motor and finally come up with a possible fix. Problem is, to get into the small space of the anchor locker you have to be able to detach your arms from your body, climb in, and reattach them so you can do the work while you are crammed into something the size of a trunk of a Ford Escape. Sounds like a job for Super Tricia!

Today is another prime example. Last week we tried to put the dodger and bimini canvas on and several parts of the stitching around the zippers ripped out. A couple of months ago we took the new dinghy outboard motor in for a recall and when we picked it up there was damage on the engine cover gasket from where they put another outboard next to ours and screwed up the gasket. They ordered a new part and we could pick up the outboard in the mean time. So Tricia was sewing the bimini and dodger while I went to pick up the outboard, and the truck won’t start. So I use the charger that I have (thank goodness) and get the truck started enough to go and get a new battery. Then I pick up the outboard, and magically the gasket is back to it’s original state. So good news!

Meanwhile, all day the wind is blowing 15 knots and the sun is shining and we don’t get to push off the dock until 4 PM. Such is the life of a boat-a-holic. It is very characteristic of a dog chasing its tail…you figure that one of these days you are going to catch up, but you never really get anywhere. I guess that is why happy hour was invented!