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How to Dock a Boat Safely

How to Dock a Boat Safely

Learning how to dock a boat isn't hard; it's just a matter of practice, patience, and applying the right boating safety tips given the conditions.

One of the most important things to consider when learning how to dock a boat is how wind and current can affect your boat, and how to adjust your approach accordingly.

After considering wind and current, you should follow different steps to dock your boat depending on the type of engine your boat has. Once you are familiar with the steps to docking a boat with an outboard engine or inboard engine, you will be able to safely bring your vessel back to the lake docks or ocean docks after a day on the water.

Steps to Docking a Boat: Outboard Engine

If you have a boat with an outboard or stern drive engine, follow these steps when learning how to dock a boat.

  1. Make sure your dock lines are prepared (one end of each line secured onboard, one end ready to tie to the dock), and have your boat fenders ready.
  2. Line up your approach and reduce your speed as you approach the dock.
  3. Bring your boat approximately two feet away from the dock in a parallel position. If the wind is blowing toward the dock, this should help push your boat in closer to the dock.
  4. Pass the end of your bowline ashore and secure it to a dock cleat using a bowline knot or cleat hitch.
  5. Turn your outboard or stern drive engine towards the boat dock and put the engine in reverse. This will help bring your stern toward the dock, allowing you to easily secure the stern line.
  6. Once your bow and stern lines are secure, hang your fenders off of the side of your boat near the widest beam point and at the lowest attaching point.

Learn how to select the right boat fenders. Video provided by Westmarine.


Steps To Docking a Boat: Inboard Engine

If your boat has an inboard engine, the steps you follow when learning how to dock a boat will be slightly different. The main difference is that your boat's rudder will be used to bring your stern in toward the dock.

  1. Reduce speed as you approach the dock, prepare your dock lines, and have your boat fenders ready.
  2. Line up your approach, proceeding as slow as possible while still being able to maintain control of your steering.
  3. Push your stern in using the rudder, and attach an after bow spring line in order to prevent the boat from moving forward.
  4. With your engine idling forward, turn the wheel away from the dock in order to dock boat. Since your boat can't move forward and your rudder should be pushing the stern in, your boat will align itself alongside of the dock so that you can secure your lines.
  5. Once your lines are secured to the dock, hang your fenders to prevent your boat from bumping into the dock, pilings, or other watercrafts.

To learn more about the boating basics, sign up for a boating safety course in your state.