Taking the stress out of docking your boat

Taking the stress out of docking your boat

December 2023

The process of docking a boat is recognised as being a stressful task for some. So much so that there’s plenty of advice out there - tips, step-by-step guides and YouTube clips - on how to master the task and come to a realisation that it’s not so difficult after all.

First piece of boat docking advice…take it slow and don’t be afraid to stop, pull back, and circle around to try again. Place your fenders ahead of time and have your docking lines ready to tie off as soon as you’re close to the dock.

The highly regarded discover boating site includes a seven-step “how to dock your boat” guide that imparts wisdoms such as: prepare dock lines on your bow and stern and attach fender; line up your approach and survey the docking area; judge the current, wind and water conditions; use intermittent acceleration when approaching the dock; navigate into the boat slip or turn to come alongside the dock, etc. There’s the opportunity to absorb all these suggestions by watching a YouTube clip on this website.

Best practise around how to tie a boat to a dock is also outlined on the discover boating site.

Dock Boxes Unlimited offers 10 easy tips designed to make you better at close-quarters maneuvering and docking. Master these and chances are you’ll become an all-around better boater too. In abbreviated form the list includes advice such as…


  • Put safety first. Be sure to look around before docking and make sure that no hands are between bulkheads, seawalls or pilings… and that mooring lines aren’t wrapped around hands, legs or feet.
  • Communicate to the crew how you intend to dock.
  • Reduce your windage in heavy winds (particularly in a small boat)
  • Turn the wheel before applying power when docking a single-engine boat - not during or after.
  • Apply short bursts of power, instead of steady power. 


  • Approach the dock faster than you are willing to hit it. 
  • Kill the engines until all the lines are secure. Keep the engine on so you can manoeuvre as necessary.
  • Touch the wheel with twin inboards. 
  • Be afraid to stop and start over. 
  • Wait for a slip to open by blocking other through-traffic. Instead, find a place to drop anchor or temporarily tie up.

The Markel Insurance website says the key to successful docking can be found in a 45-degree angle - approach the dock at that angle and switch between gears. This will make it easier to aim for a certain spot and bring the boat in close to the dock. Then, when you are about 100 feet from the pier, turn the controls away from the dock, allowing your boat's back end to swing in toward the dock. Then switch the gear into neutral to use the boat’s momentum to push the boat alongside the dock. Next, turn the wheel toward the pier. Put the gear in reverse and give the engine a little throttle. This will push the back end of the boat to the pier. Put the gear back in neutral allowing the momentum again to push the back end alongside the pier. There you go!

Another tip from this source…Not sure whether to make your approach into the wind or current? Approach into whichever force is greater as this will help you maintain control. The team at Boating Magazine agree. “When docking in a tough spot, wind and current — coupled with knowledge of how they affect your boat — plus situational awareness can serve you better than an army of deck hands”.

It’s worth paying a visit to Boating Mag as this website link offers 12 docking (and securing your boat) tips. In a snapshot, this sage advice includes:

  • The first line to toss is the spring line, with the loop fed through the boat’s cleat
  • Learn how to make a reversing propeller your best friend
  • Minimal throttle, simply idling in gear, is the best speed for virtually every docking situation
  • Your boat can’t just be tied tight. You have to allow for the rise and fall of the water lest the boat be left hanging by its lines at low tide or pulled under by its lines at high tide.

The Sideshift website, meanwhile, takes a novel approach to the docking topic… practise in the supermarket with a grocery cart! Why? Because a boat moves more like a grocery cart than a car; boating is all about moving on an axis. Also suggested is clear communication with the crew and knowing your boat and the wind.

“The effects of wind when docking can’t be understated. They can be subtle or significant, and there’s no substitute for experience. A wind or current behind you can cause you to go over your mark. A wind or current against you can mean that you need more momentum to finish docking. Make a habit of noting the direction and intensity of the wind, and observing its effects on your boat,” the Sideshift team advises.

Sideshift has made it their business to know plenty about making docking easier. Available for purchase are the Sideshift bow and stern thrusters, designed as the ultimate in fail-safe control.

The Chubb website also has plenty of value to add to this topic. Pointers include approaching the dock against the current, if possible, as this will give you more control over the boat’s motion. Good communication is key.

“Approach the dock with a plan, communicate it to those onboard, and clearly delegate any tasks you would like them to perform. Assign these tasks - like who will handle each line - and the order in which you want them done well in advance. Ensure your crew can hear you from where you will be giving commands.”

Have a read of all the advice available on the websites mentioned above and chances are docking a boat will soon be a skill you master, on par with parallel parking.