Docking Maneuvers.

What you need to know to efficiently dock your boat in a marina:

This article, we hope, will help you understand what needs to be done before, during and after arriving at the dock.

There are a few techniques that you will need to master so that you do not find yourself in a difficult situation when it comes to entering into the marina when the weather is not favourable.

Controlling your motorboat implies reflection and advance thought and therefore understanding the different elements that can influence your boat such as wind, current, waterway characteristics, crew or equipment onboard. Very important to adapt to the conditions.

Learn to read the environment: the winds, the current, wake on the water. To do this, look around you, check the flags, buoys and even the water surface.

 So that you always enjoy boating, it is very important to invest some time to understand how your boat reacts at slow speed (less than 3 knots) in a restrained area. The key to becoming a great captain.

For starters, one of the biggest surprises of a new boater is that there is no comparison to driving a car to driving a boat.

In order to enjoy each and every day on your boat, you can’t be nervous about returning to the marina even if there has been a change in the weather. Practice, reading, observation and understanding are key to becoming a true captain that makes guests feel comfortable.

Normally, marinas are designed to be the perfect refuge for your boat, not a trap. Discuss with the harbor master possible locations that are favorable for your boat.


photo :  Old Port, Marina Port of Quebec

This article addresses new boaters owning a boat with two engines that have shaft propulsion.

The golden rule: There is no shame to result to a plan B when a problem arises. Almost 80% of the manoeuvers can be planned in advance. Anticipating what could happen can reduce surprises. Take the time to evaluate the best move taking into account the present elements.

Never improvise when you get into a predicament. Stop, go back and start over… always the best decision.

We all know that LOWER THE SPEED, LESS THE IMPACT but there lies the difficulty of the exercise. When a strong wind is blowing it is important to maintain a certain speed in order to keep control of your boat.

Be sure to place the fenders and adjust as necessary. Having one that is lose and ready to use as a buffer is always a great idea. When possible, secure the boat at the dock. It doesn’t have to be perfect there is plenty of time after to tie up properly.

Remember it is only fiberglass so should there be any damages small nicks and scratches are easily repaired.


photo: Bahia Mar Marina, Fort Lauderdale

Often we have friends onboard that are not boaters. It is the captains responsibility to explain procedures and delegate specific tasks prior to arriving and therefore making them « crew ».


You have noted wind direction and current now with the help of your GPS and paper map plan your route and are assured that you have draft clearance. Have your « crew » clear all the zones where they will be circulating, wearing appropriate foot wear and most of all…everyone should be calm.

The captain is the only person giving orders, is responsible for all manoeuvers, and this is made perfectly clear in his communication of same. The captain is aware of the competences and limits of his crew and will confirm with all aboard when the docking procedure has been completed.

A calm captain and a well-informed crew make for an enjoyable day for all aboard.


photo : marina Gaines, Lake Champlain


While keeping control of your boat, arrive at the lowest speed.

Stay with your plan. Listening to those (experts?) on the dock can lead to confusion for all.

Should it be necessary to abort the initial manoeuver, calmly communicate your plan B to your « crew ».

THE EFFECT OF WIND ON THE BOAT (2 engines with shafts)

A boat is much more manageable moving forward than backward as not only are the propellers not designed for reverse but the propellers while in reverse do not push water over the rudders. Water has to flow over the rudders to have an effect on the boat. Rudders are useless when the boat is at a standstill. But… there is always a « but ». When attempting delicate manoeuvers, always present the boat stern first into the wind. Not only does this facilitate the procedure but also should you need to abort your plan it will be easier to get back on track.


photo: Marina Lachine (Montreal)

This goes the same for when you are attempting to stay in one spot, for example, while waiting to enter into the locks.

Always remember that thrusters do not create miracles in strong winds but will help. The best results will come from using the port or starboard engines individually to turn the boat in the desired direction. Try to avoid giving too much gas, improvising and above all, remain calm.

Pods with the joystick also offers easy docking but even then help from the thruster can make docking even easier.   Pods are completely different from shafts, as Pods do not have rudders. To play it safe, practice docking without using the joystick just in case at one point the system becomes inoperable.

When purchasing your boat, pay special attention to the power of the thrusters, as this will become very important during poor weather. A thruster is to be used intermittently and take note that the thermal protection will be activated if over used. Hydraulic thrusters are extremely effective but only available on the very large yachts.

Making life even easier is if you have an easy to read indicator showing the positions of the rudders. If possible, hiring a professional can make all the difference when it comes to handling the boat. He will be able to explain first hand what we are attempting to teach you through this article. Nothing like learning the tricks of the trade from a pro. Ita Yachts Canada can put you in touch with a captain that comes highly recommended. A true investment.


Always be vigilant with the swing of the stern of the boat when turning away from the dock. At low speed the stern of the boat will be oriented towards the exterior of the curve. This can be compared to the same phenomenon as when a car on ice slides around a curve. The boat will hit the dock if you do not take into consideration this factor.

When you turn into the wind, the swing of the stern is not as wide therefore less speed is required. When the wind is at the stern there is a tendency for the stern of the boat to swing wider requiring you to accelerate to reduce the swing. Using your fenders when leaving the dock will not only help to protect but also to pivot the boat enabling safely to push off.

Learn to use the wind and current in your favor, it can often simplify your life.

Nothing beats practice. As in driving school they place cones and require you to go around them both forwards and in reverse. Do the same with your boat. On a calm day, in an area free of traffic, throw out a couple of your fenders and then with a plan in mind, practice manoeuvring the boat. Learn how your boat reacts at low speeds and different scenarios.

Offering your help when another boat is coming into dock is always appreciated but follow their plan, not yours.

Do take note that docking a boat in North America is totally different in Europe. Before leaving for Europe read up on the differences and observe the modus operandi

We hope this article will help make docking a true pleasure for both you as a captain and also your crew.   The key lies in practice makes perfect.


photo : Yacht Club Montreal

Leave a Reply