By Capt. Chad Stewart for The Island Connection
Let’s face it, docking in the Charleston area can create a lot of anxiety and has caused more than a few marital spats. Below are a few rules to make docking easier.
1. Test your transmission BEFORE approaching.
2. Have a plan.
3. Have a “bailout” maneuver.
4. Always approach from down current and operate into the current.
5. Never approach the dock any faster than you are willing to hit it. Five simple rules. Let’s dig into each one a little deeper.
Rule 1- No matter your propulsion system, it’s quick and easy to test for proper shifting before you put the boat in a spot that it MUST work. Take 30 seconds, stop and try reverse and then back to forward before you get inside a fairway and discover a problem. If you run boats long enough, one day you’ll thank me.
Rule 2- If you don’t have a suitable docking plan, one that’s not dangerous, one that doesn’t require super human tricks of your crew and one that you, the Captain, are comfortable with, DON’T dock your boat there. Wait on different weather, go to an easier dock or even practice your intended maneuver in open water. Once you have a suitable plan, explain it to your crew and make sure they understand what you want them to do. Backing into the current? Perhaps the simple instruction of, “please make fast the stern line first.” Have a dockhand helping you? They don’t always know what’s best and may be standing there holding a bow line when it’s the last line you actually need to attach. Here’s where your plan and the discussion with the crew comes into play. The crew should instruct the dockhand to ignore the bow line and request they hand up a spring or stern line first.
Rule 3- There are some docking situations that would cause you to put the boat in a position that you cannot recover from if you fail to maneuver properly. If you don’t have a suitable way to bail out and start over, you should seriously consider the risk you are putting your vessel and crew under, and the prudent Captain would certainly choose to dock elsewhere or wait on the weather to change. Discuss your bailout plan with your crew. We’ve all had a crew member grab a line only to be forced to dangerously toss it back because the Captain failed to recognize the need to bail out and start over.
It’s confusing to the crew and they may do something dangerous like trying to hop off when the Captain is attempting to get away from the dock. Have a bailout maneuver planned and discussed and use it early. There’s no harm in trying again.
Rule 4- The nuts and bolts. ALWAYS maneuver into the current. Set up to dock DOWN stream and motor into the current. Every boat on the planet has far greater control into the current in REVERSE.
That’s right, the easiest docking is in reverse, into the current. Depending on the size of the vessel, the slip arrangements, and how you intend to board, you’ll be deciding if you want to be stern or bow into the dock. If you are coming alongside a dock and you have a choice of which side to tie to, ALWAYS back into the current. The key to operating in strong current is making small course changes across the current. Keep the bow or the stern pointed into the current and make small changes to the angle and you can “crab” the boat across the current in either direction. Practice this. Know what it feels like when you are about to lose control and stay away from that point when docking.
Take your time and cross the current slowly with small steering inputs. The better you get, the faster you can do it.
Rule 5- A fistful of throttle is almost NEVER the right answer. It generally results in increasing the impact velocity of a collision that was already inevitable.
Docking with strong current is actually easier than no current at all. Your boat can actually go sideways under 100% control.
You can’t do that in still water. Take your time and learn to “crab” across the current. You’ll find that idle speed is generally sufficient in most situations.
Practice in open water using stationary objects like an anchored fender. Learn how to remain “on station” in the current by making small steering and throttle corrections. Once you have it down, you can literally sit perfectly still in swift water with only minor inputs. Happy docking!Tweet