I seldom plagiarize others writing about boating, but I was so taken with Andrews post on the Cruising Compass blog that I will quote him extensively. He is clear and precise. Although he writes about sailboats, power boaters can learn a lot from him. I've written extensively on the subject in my column but I think what he describes is as good, if not better.
"If you want to dock a boat like a pro, you need to think defensively. And that begins with three oft-forgotten tests before you approach any pier, seawall, wharf, slip or mooring ball. Put these three actions on your pre-docking checklist today for less stress and more success! First -Enter with a Visual Element Check. Look for telltale signs of wind direction and current on your way into the marina. Forget about what the wind or current was doing outside of the marina. That gives you a general idea, but elements can change direction and force inside narrow slots or spaces. Glance at the piling bases to check for current direction. Look aloft at the masthead flies (wind indicator arrow) on tall sailboat masts for the true wind direction. Find flags ashore for more clues. Second -Test Reverse Propulsion Now! Read enough reports of things going wrong with dockings and you'll see incidents of reverse gear failure. And you can lay money on it that those skippers more than likely failed to check the gear before they got into tight quarters. Get into the habit of doing thisright now. Before you enter any marina, narrow canal or tight channel, bring the boat to a stop. Shift into idle reverse gear for 10 seconds; then back to neutral; then into idle forward gear for 10 seconds. Repeat this sequence two or three times. Listen for clunking or excessive vibration. Watch your RPMs. You should have complete control where the engine answers each command smooth and easy. (If so equipped, check bow thruster several times before entering.)?Third -Check Drift Before the Final Approach. Make one final test of wind or current if you have the room. Stop the momentum of the boat a few boat lengths off the pier. Wait until she has no way on. Allow her to drift for 30-45 seconds. Now, you know just how the wind and/or current will affect your boat. If practical, point your bow into the elements and hold position. Look at the relative angle the boat makes with objects ashore. This angle tells you how you need to cant the bow to stem (point into) the wind or current. Remember, this single key puts you in total control in any docking. Once you begin your approach, you may find the wind or current setting you into the docking space a bit too fast. Use some rudder and throttle to turn the bow fast into the elements to slow down your drift and put you back in control."
That description is almost too succinct for a good read. If you, unlike our beloved members of the 'Dead End Canal Yacht Club named 'Crash Corrigan' or 'Run-aground Ralph' or 'Captain Crunch' follow such advise then your 'dock rash' expenditures will be cut to nearly zero. The aforementioned trio are famous for colliding not docking. There is one common failure among them: haste. They think getting in a dock or along a seawall needs to be done fast. No matter how many fellow boaters tell them to take their time, it doesn't sink in. Most of our members will not ride with them for that reason and even their wives balk at an outing that involves docking. The real expense comes in repairing the scratches and gouges that make up 'dock rash.' These guys try to hide the expense inside some other boat bill but the wives usually figure it out. We truly believe that Mrs. Ralph is a better at docking than her husband, 'Run-aground Ralph.' After someone mentioned her skill set, he sold his boat and bought a motor home. After several collisions with snow fences in Iowa and an updated pair of glasses, he's back to boating. But he's still in a hurry while docking. Part of the problem is people sitting dockside at restaurants. So, if you follow the three rules of docking, some good Samaritan will rush down to your intended landing spot and inquire if you are having problems. The skippers try to be polite, but it is difficult to explain over the noise of the restaurant and the motor that he is going through his checklist. I encourage a polite wave off but have seen irritated skippers give the unwelcome Samaritan the middle finger salute as a time saving gesture. There is a lot going on in the skipper's mind. So, watch and learn and only assist if someone falls into the water.
Remember, going slow is the professional way.
Boatguy Ed is an avid boater, past Commodore of the "Dead End Canal Yacht Club" (like them on Facebook) and manufacturer of Super Shipbottom Anti-fouling Paint (www.supershipbottom.com) the best paint for everywhere. Send questions and comments to boatguiEd@aol.com. Remember, never try to buy him a beer!