Top Tips for Learning to Dock Like a Boss

Not only does sticking your landing at the dock make you look like a pro to any bystanders or passengers, it also keeps your boat, the dock, and everyone else around you safe. But sometimes there are things that are out of your control when you’re coming back to the dock after a day out on the water.

boat docking at southport

There could be a weather issue, where the wind is blowing full force in the opposite direction that you need. Your boat could be experiencing some sort of mechanical issue, forcing you to manually maneuver into the marina. Or you could be unfamiliar with the dock that you’re approaching. 

All of these instances can make even the most experienced boater miss their mark, but there are definitely ways to prepare ahead of time to ensure you are confident in your navigating in any type of situation! Here are a few tips to consider before heading out on the water, so you can get your docking in tip top shape!

Know Your Boat

Here’s the thing: copying someone else’s technique in docking their boat won’t help you to do the same if you don’t understand your own boat! 

Powerboats can have a significant portion of their body above water, which increases windage — and the depth and shape of your keel can indicate whether you will experience more or less lateral resistance to the wind than other boats. Before going anywhere, it’s important to really get to know your vessel and the ways in which it moves in different weather patterns and environments. 

Slow Down!

The Golden Rule in docking is simple: never approach anything faster than you’d be willing to hit it. 

Reduce your speed, putting your boat in reverse as you get close to the dock to slow things down further. Let the water and forward momentum take you the final way into the dock — no extra horsepower needed! Seriously — no throttle jockeys to the docks, please. Slow is always best. 

Apply short bursts of power to expertly maneuver through the wind and current. Look up at nearby flags to gauge which direction the wind is blowing, and use that knowledge to your advantage. If it’s possible, choose the side of the dock that the wind is blowing towards, because it will help by pushing your boat towards the dock as opposed to away from it. You can compensate for extreme wind by overcorrecting depending on the wind speed when you’re finally at the dock. 

At Morningstar Marinas, our experienced dockhands have been taught to never put themselves between the boat and the dock, especially at high speeds. You and your passengers would be wise to do the same! 

Number one thing to remember is: be slow and in control – that’s how the pros do it!

Approach at an Angle

Approach the dock at roughly a forty-five-degree angle: this will make it easier to aim for a particular spot when bringing the boat close to the dock. Once you’re about 100 feet out, turn the controls away from the dock, so you can swing your backend in toward the dock. Switch your gears again into neutral this time, using the boat’s momentum to push the boat along the dock. Then, turn the wheel toward the pier, allowing the momentum to push the backend into the dock without excess force. 

Always Have a Plan

Before you even head out on the water, you want to have a plan for your return. Prepare your boat ahead of time, and communicate it with all the passengers onboard. Make sure they do their part by keeping all limbs inside the boat at all times. This will prevent any serious accidents from happening during the docking process. 

Always have your fenders and lines rigged before approaching the dock, aware of exactly where fenders should be hanging. Most of the time, they should be hovering right above the waterline, although not touching the water itself. You’ll likely need at least two or three fenders (if not more), and make sure that they are out on the side of the boat you intend to dock. 

It’s also important to note that a lot of newer boats come with a bow or stern thruster, which can be helpful for manueving into the dock. However, you should refrain from using a thruster for more than two seconds at a time or you can run the risk of burning it out. 

Practice Makes Perfect

At the end of the day, practice really does make perfect. Get out and practice steering your boat into the dock in a few different weather situations, and get to know your marina well. 

Morningstar Marinas Pro Tip: Did you know that a grocery shopping cart actually moves in a very similar way that a boat does? It might sound silly, but practicing your skills on dry land — or in a grocery store! — can help you understand the rhythm and flow your boat will take on the water as you’re trying to dock. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! If you’re part of the Morningstar Marinas family, our experienced team members are more than happy to lend a hand, offer some tips, and help get you out of a sticky situation! All you have to do is ask. 

After all, we want you to enjoy boating to the fullest extent: you worry about getting back into the dock and we’ll take care of the rest!

Morningstar Marinas is Here to Help

At Morningstar Marinas, we pride ourselves on the community of boaters we’ve created across the Southeast’s top boating destinations. Our facilities and services paired with our friendly and knowledgeable team members will help you quickly and efficiently get out there on the water, so you can start having fun! Morningstar Marinas is more than just a place to store your boat — we’re your home away from home.