“I’m really looking forward to sailing, but docking makes me nervous…

Okay, I got out of the slip, phew. It’s a beautiful day to sail, the wind is blowing, everyone is enjoying themselves… And now we have to go back. Ugh! That means I have to swing the boat back into the slip without hitting my neighbor or others in the fairway. The people with me are going to be no help.

What do I do?!”

Stop. It’s not wise to go sailing without a game plan of how you’re going to dock safely upon return. Review and practice with your crew before you go out.

Teach them to drape the lines so they don’t fall into the water, while still being easily accessible. Make sure they’re draped correctly (from cleat, to under the lifeline and placed on top of the lifeline) so when they pull them later, they’re not pulling it over the lifeline and causing damage or added stress.

As the skipper of your boat you should visually watch them or even check them as you’re coming down the channel into your marina. This is known to mess up a lot of dockings.

Also, make sure they know how and where to secure the fenders correctly, just above the water. Each sailor has different methods for securing fenders. We at the school use clove hitches and tie them to the stanchions.

And make sure your crew knows how to get off the boat safely. At the school, we don’t have students jump off with a line in their hand. Instead, we have them follow three simple steps:

  1. step off and walk to either the stern or spring line (depending on weather)
  2. grab the line and wrap it around with one cleat horn hooked
  3. wait for instructions from the skipper

Great! Now you and your crew have a game plan and you can return to your slip with ease. No screaming, yelling, hitting others, etc…

The Best Game Plan is to practice early in the season with at least one person; preferably in different kinds of weather. If you can, pick a slip at your marina that you’re comfortable with and practice a lot. Bow in several times, stern in several times and come back a different day and do it again and again. Docking with no drama is empowering – and just plain awesome!

Ready to learn more about docking? Check out ASA 118, the Advanced Docking class.