Have you ever gone to a waterfront restaurant by boat? Do you know that in a recent survey of non-boaters, they really, really envy people who arrive by boat at the restaurants? Many people have entered the sport of boating just so they can be among those who are envied.
Despite surveys pointing to boaters being happier, more content and better lovers, non-boaters slough off all that and concentrate on their desire to simply stepping off a boat onto a restaurant's dock as the main reason they might one day get into boating.
In effect, you as boaters have a responsibility to boat to more restaurants. Not just for the great food or the enjoyment of being on the water with friends but to preserve the boating lifestyle. A skillful landing is often more difficult than it seems to non-boaters. Observers often break into animated discussions about a less a skillful landing when the skipper misjudged wind or tide or the speed needed to make the smooth landing.
I asked the President of "Rub-Rails-Are-Us" what is the most common mistake made when coming into an unfamiliar dock. "Overconfidence is the cause of most damage in docking at a strange place. Most boaters just rush right in and misjudge the environment around the dock!"
I think he is 'right on' with that statement. I have seen many good landings, a few great landings and a whole lot of mediocre ones. The real bad landings tend to stick in your memory. A really bad landing has to hole the boat or knock down the dock. But even if the boat destroys the dock it can still be judged to be a mediocre landing if the pilings that support the dock have been eaten away by marine borer worms.
We all want to look good when we arrive at the dock and we are well aware of the envious eyes fixed on our boat and us. Some boaters feel a pressure to zoom right into the open space, hit reverse and toss a line onto a piling. Whenever I see someone attempt that maneuver I think they are transplanted lake boaters. When the lake is calm, the boat has very few forces working on it so the rapid landing can be accomplished.
Here in tidal saltwater, there is a mysterious force at work, tides which are the worst enemy of lake boaters. No tides on lakes. Even the Great Lakes don't have tides but they're so big that I always assumed they had. I would be great at docking in lakes because I'm pretty good at docking in tidal saltwater. Notice I didn't say great because I don't want to jinx myself.
"Doesn't it hurt the boat to hit the dock that hard," a fellow diner asked me after we watched a mediocre landing.
"Naw, that's how you're supposed to do it! Some places even buy you a drink if you hit the dock hard enough to shake the entire restaurant," I said.
"Oh yeah?" It took a full five seconds for him to realize that I was cracking wise. You should have seen the look he gave me.
The survey results about docking envy might be even higher if more of us did a better job at landing our boat. So how do you overcome the forces at work?
Understanding the art of docking starts with observing the forces. A great landing begins with the skipper allowing his vessel to settle in front of the slip he intends to enter. This pause usually confuses non-boaters and lake boaters.
"Why is he waiting," I've heard non-boaters ask their companions. I want to explain but why eliminate the mystery. I'd like to say they are stopping for a few seconds to determine the direction and speed of tide and wind is key. In the trucking business, the pull-up is said to be the truck driver's best friend. It straightens out the errant trailer that is being backed into a loading dock. A skipper backing out and repositioning the boat's angle and speed of the approach may appear hesitant to the uneducated but is the "docking skipper's best friend."
Sadly, the slow approach often confuses non-boaters who then rush down to the dock to help. It should be the other way around. They should scurry down and help pick up the passengers on the fast approach boats who were knocked off their feet by the collision with the dock.
So the next time you make a slow, skillful landing at a waterfront restaurant, congratulate yourself for creating more potential boaters. But don't get nervous knowing all those envious eyes are watching!
Boatguy Ed is a marine manufacturer, avid boater and past commodore of the "Dead End Canal Yacht Club." Boat safe and send questions and comments to boatguiEd@aol.com or this publication.