Monday, September 24, 2012

A Boater's Worst Fear - Docking!


Introduction by William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill

Next to fire, sinking and drowning you'll find docking a boat a major cause of apprehension and sometimes absolute, complete and utter fear, especially for new boaters.  I've heard affirmations such as, "I'll drive the boat, but please, please don't make me dock it!"  Some owners won't even take their boats out if the wind is blowing over 5 knots; they become "dock sitters" and remain" landlubbers". 

To be sure, docking a boat requires skill and finesse, especially in a stiff breeze and accompanying swift current.  Most overcome their trepidation with practice and experience.  This post addresses the tentativeness about docking we have all experienced at some time in our boating experience.  The video reminds us that docking a boat is never as easy as it looks to the uninitiated; the article by Tab Hauser how we can overcome lack of confidence with determination, daring and drill.

Stay tuned.  In my next post, I'll show you what artful docking looks like...  

Tab Hauser of Boating Times magazine, Long Island is one of many who has experienced the boat docking jitters. Here he offers a relatable story and some thoughtful advice.

In my first season as a boat owner, I found that after a perfect, stress-free outing with friends, I’d become anxious once we neared the marina. My anxiety arose because my lightweight 35’ Carver was so tall that it mimicked a sail in any wind. My slip was fairly narrow to my starboard side (less than four feet of room for error) while a consistent summer southerly breeze battled me at my beam. I envied those with a north side slip where the breeze carried them in.

I learned that I was not alone in experiencing docking jitters; many boaters with varying years of experience avoided venturing out in breezy conditions for fear of playing bumper boats in a tight marina. Capt. Ken Lavin saw the worst of it when he took a day off work to test out a boat he intended to buy. When he got to the marina, the owner would not take it out, despite the beautiful weather, because the winds were 5 to 7 knots and he would not dock it. (Ken was furious about this, but understood why there were low hours on the motors).
What Ken’s seller lacked was confidence, and the key to gaining docking confidence is practice. To overcome my skills deficit, I sat at the helm with the dual throttle and transmission shifts and just practiced in place.  Then I would take the boat out during the week when the marina was quiet and no one was staring, and run through docking maneuvers (when I upgraded to my 46′ Viking, I practiced early in the season on empty slips, docking stern in on both sides without fear of damaging other boats).  I then ventured out in a prevailing wind coming from the opposite direction.   As I practiced, I learned how tightly my boat could pivot; I practiced without the bow thruster, only using it as a helper at the end.  I found that the wheel is of no use at slow speeds with a twin screw, and all steering is done using throttle controls.
The general rule is “slow is good,” as you shouldn’t come in any faster than you want to hit the dock. However, there are exceptions, such as docking in wind or against a current. On our first big cruise, I was forced outside my comfort zone when the dockmaster told me to tie up on a slip that had a four-knot tide with a 15 mph wind in the same direction. I practically pleaded to stay at the outer gas dock for the night, but he would not allow it!   To get into the channel between the docks as the tide and wind pushed me on my port side, I had to keep the boat very close to the slips on the left and not be pushed into the boats aligned on the right.  As a novice boater, I was instructed to go slow, but my instincts told me that I would drift off course. So I summoned up my courage and goosed the throttle to keep on track rather than blow to my starboard. When I got in position, I did a hard tap on reverse starboard while doing the same forward to port, spinning me fast. Then, with another hard tap on both reverse throttles, I was in! I appreciated the hooting and accolades from the extra dockhands sent to help, and as they cleated the boat, I understood why there are bars in marinas.
That memorable situation showed me that the only way to gain boating experience is to get into difficult situations and learn to master them. Docking a boat can bring out the worst or best in any captain. With time and a willingness to practice, I eventually overcame my unease about being mocked at the dock and now look forward to seeing how close I can get to the side of the dock while reversing. While I nail it most times, I still totally blow it on an odd occasion. Of course, that is when there is no wind and everyone on the dock is watching!

Story & Photos by Tab Hauser of Boating Times, Long Island 

William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill, webmaster of this site, is the author of the book Lubber's log, published by Llumina Press; a boating journal and adventure story of the author's first time experiences in the preparation, maintenance and piloting of a new, unfamiliar boat. You can visit his website here. 

1 comment:

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