Docking & Undocking

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on May 8, 2021. In

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Docking & Undocking

It’s inevitable that when conditions are at their worst, you’ll have an audience. Prior planning and practice will not only keep you and your passengers safe and protect your boat, it will also help you avoid serious personal humiliation.

Undocking Plan

Prior to getting underway, you should implement an undocking plan with the help of your passengers. You should consider the traffic in the area, the direction of wind and current and the depth of the water.

(A Note from the Crew: Do not assume that your passengers have the same experience that you have or that they can read your mind. Be specific and give direction if you ask for their help. This not only protects their safety but their pride as well.)

When the wind or current is pushing your boat away from the dock the procedure is simple.

1. Cast off lines and pull in fenders as the wind blows you away.
2. When clear and safely away from the dock and other boats, shift to forward and depart at idle speed.
3. Be careful to make sure you have been pushed safely away and that the stern will not hit the dock as you motor forward and turn. Remember: A boat does not steer like a car, it pivots on its axis .

If the wind or current is pushing your boat toward the dock you will have to do some extra planning.

1. Cast off all lines except an after bow spring line. This line will keep you from moving forward and allow the stern to pivot away from the dock. (see illustration)
2. You may want to use a fender forward to cushion the bow of the boat against the dock.
3. Turn the motor or rudder to the direction necessary to push the stern away from the dock.
4. Shift into forward at idle speed. Slowly, very slowly.
5. The stern will swing away from the dock. When it is clear of all obstacles and traffic, cast off the spring line and back away from the dock.
6. When you are safely away, shift to forward and idle away from the dock.


Once you are clear of the dock, stow lines and fenders so they will not be in the way or pose a tripping hazard. Be sure to control speed when leaving the dock and check for other boats, swimmers or other obstacles.

Docking Plan

Before approaching the dock, one end of the docking lines should be secured onboard; fenders readied and speed reduced.

If the wind is onshore (blowing toward the dock), the boat is brought to a position parallel to the dock and about two feet off. The wind will blow the boat in. It can then be secured by bow, stern and spring lines.

If the wind is offshore (blowing away from the dock), you should approach the dock at a 20 to 30 degree angle. A bow line is passed ashore and secured. In boats with an outboard, or inboard/outboard engine, the engine is turned towards the dock and put in reverse. This will bring the stern into the dock. The boat can then be secured with the stern line.

The procedure is different for boats with inboard engines. The rudder will be used to bring the stern in. To push the stern in using the rudder, attach an after bow spring to keep the boat from moving forward. With the engine idling forward, turn the wheel away from the dock as illustrated below. Since the boat cannot move forward and the rudder is pushing the stern in, the boat will pin itself against the dock while you secure the other lines. All maneuvers are more easily accomplished if the boat has twin engines, rather than a single engine.




  • scott williams on August 25, 2019

    In the middle graphic (with the ‘After Bow Spring’ labelled), I am wondering how to best run that spring line so it can be released and retrieved from the boat, I guess if the line was tied at both ends on the boat, and simply looped over the dock cleat, a crew member could hope to flip the line off the cleat. But if the boat has backed up enough to tighten that line, flipping may not work. Then the crew member would need to scramble to untie one end of the loop, then pull the line around the cleat and back to the boat (and hope it doesn’t snag).

    Definitely helpful if others on the dock would help with lifting the loop off the cleat. Apparently there are fancy knots where a line back to the boat could be yanked to release a knot at the cleat?


  • Randy Chorvack on October 10, 2019

    I really love how you said to give specific directions to your crew so that they know what to do. This will make docking much more efficient and save a lot of tension. If you just assume they know what to do you’re setting yourself up for a lot of frustration.


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