Docking: Or, How You Can Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Marina

By: Safety

Once, while sailing in the San Juan Islands, I saw something I’ll never forget. A powerboater cruised into the dock at high speed with his wife on the stern, line in hand, ready to tie up. As they approached, he seemed to realize, far too late, how fast he was going, and turned abruptly in order to prevent the boat’s momentum from carrying it into the dock itself. His wife, expecting the dock to be there, casually stepped into thin air. She barely made a splash, and still held the line coiled in her hand.

ASA sailors at the dock at the Pine Island Sound flotilla

ASA sailors at the dock during the Pine Island Sound flotilla

We pulled her out of the water, shocked but completely fine. (Their marriage, on the other hand…I didn’t stick around for that part.) The incident left a strong impression on me. Roaring up to the dock might be some people’s idea of fun, but a true mariner approaches such things carefully and with respect for his/her craft, crew, and the sea itself.

A perfect day’s sailing might go something like this: blue skies, with some fluffy white clouds casting their deep shadows on the water, gentle, rolling seas, a steady breeze at around 15 knots, the skyline of some iconic city, or maybe the green cliffsides of a tropical island, as a backdrop. Good friends and a trusty crew along for the ride (all ASA certified, naturally). What could be better?

Member photo of St. Martin during ASA event

Member photo of St. Martin during ASA event

The best way to cap such an idyllic day would be to execute a perfect docking maneuver, earning the awe and admiration of your neighbors in the marina. Too often, though, we see other boaters (and sometimes even ourselves) giving what appear to be lessons in how NOT to dock. If it’s not the hotshot in his powerboat blazing in at high speed, it’s “The Drifter,” who knocks aimlessly into other boats, or “The Rammer,” who just plows into the dock and counts on it to stop his momentum. Docking is one of the most intimidating aspects of sailing for many newcomers – getting that giant boat into that (seemingly) tiny slip!

However, at its most basic level, docking is very simple: it’s about keeping the boat off of the land, while you step ashore, and it’s an essential skill for any sailor. If we keep that in mind as our baseline goal, obvious as it may seem, the more complex techniques in docking a sailboat will fall into line.

So how can you learn to dock like an expert? Get ASA’s Docking Endorsement (ASA 118)!

With this endorsement you’ll learn the most important principles of docking, and get the hands-on practice you need to master this critical skill:

  • Understanding the forces acting on the boat while docking
  • Learning which forces you can control, and how to use them to your advantage
  • How to handle the lines and tie the relevant knots
  • All safety considerations and procedures
  • Avoiding collision or grounding (keeping the boat off of the land)
  • Docking while dealing with different types of wind (wind pushing you onto the dock, cross wind, etc)
  • Docking in different attitudes (side-on to the dock, bow into a slip, etc)

So don’t be The Hotshot, the Drifter, the Rammer, or any other docking stereotype. Well, maybe just one: the Captain, that man or woman who guides the boat safely, confidently, and impressively into place, with a minimum of panic, pandemonium, and stress.

Contact your local ASA sailing school to see if they offer a Docking Endorsement!