The Art and Artistry of Docking

Docking a boat is an art, and a person who easily and smoothly brings a boat up to the dock or into a slip is generally a good boater overall. But docking should not serve as a litmus test to discern someone’s boat handling abilities, nor should boating skills serve as an indicator of one’s docking ability. In fact, there are plenty of skilled mariners whose boat hulls sport the dings, chafes and marks that serve evidence that docking skills may be less than stellar. And there are also plenty of skilled boaters who consistently depart and arrive at their own dock with ease, but who can utterly bollox things up when confronted with someone else’s dock.  

Kind of like aircraft take-offs and landings, boat docking can easily be as tense. There are currents, tides and the wind to consider, angles of approach, perhaps other boats and obstructions, not to mention distraction from passengers. Even the most familiar dock can present differently every day. While docking with the prevailing southwest wind at high tide might always prove a breeze, docking at low tide in a strong northeasterly might be like trying to climb a greased flag pole. Different day, different potential challenge.

Every dock, pier and wharf, anywhere you can tie your boat, whether public or private, presents its own unique challenges borne by location, weather, tides, currents and preferred style of mooring.

Oh yeah, that. How the boat is to be attached to the dock can play a role in the approach and landing. If not the SlideMoor system, then most likely with boat lines to cleats, rings, posts or other mooring attachments. Some marinas require stern-to slip docking. Add a bit of wind and current and those unfamiliar with this approach can struggle like someone learning to back a trailer for the first time.

And then there are the boats. The various styles and models generally handle differently. The person who can effortlessly maneuver his 20-foot outboard motor-powered Boston Whaler along just about any dock or into any slip no matter what the conditions, might be hard pressed to do the same with a similar sized boat powered by stern drive, inboard, or twins. Size makes a difference, too, and many skippers of larger boats are truly thankful to have a bow thruster.

Of course, there is also the sailboat. Definitely handles differently than the aforementioned motorboats…especially when under sail. And those sailors who can bring their sailboats smoothly up to a dock under sail are truly artists.

M.J. Moye

M.J. Moye

M.J. Moye is an editorial consultant and sailor who lives in Chester, Nova Scotia.
M.J. Moye

One thought on “The Art and Artistry of Docking

  1. Kairi Gainsborough

    I’ve always enjoyed docking, whether it’s departing or arriving, when I go out on my dad’s boat. However, I’ve never thought about how much of an art it can be. It is interesting how the size and shape of the boat can make such a difference. I’ve been thinking about buying a boat for my own family, so I will keep this in mind when I pick it out.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *