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How to Dock a Boat when Approaching from a 90-Degree Angle

With a little practice and gentle use of steering and throttle, docking becomes a no-drama exercise

How-To On the Water

We’ve all been there. The tide and wind are pushing your boat around, there are people watching and you’re about to try to dock in a challenging slip. It’s not a comfortable feeling.

Unless, of course, you know how to do it. And the best way to become proficient at just about anything is through competent instruction and a little practice. In this short video, Mercury Pro Team member Tom Rowland will show you how to ease your boat up to a dock that’s positioned perpendicular to your direction of travel. That is, for example, a dock that runs east and west and you’re approaching it from the north.

Rowland is co-host of the “Saltwater Experience” TV show, not to mention a legendary guide and angler. He’s also docked more boats than he can count in virtually every marina configuration and weather condition imaginable, so he knows more than a little bit about how to do it safely and gently every single time.

Rowland’s expert approach to docking revolves around judicious use of thrust and steering, and picking the correct line for your turn.

First, get your lines ready and attached to cleats on the correct side of the boat well before starting the docking process. You’ll want to approach the dock slowly, and you might need to alternate between neutral and minimal forward throttle to maintain that steady and slow forward motion. However, don’t spend so much time in neutral that the tide or wind starts to dictate your heading. Remember, a boat without thrust also has little to no steering, so you’ll want to maintain just enough thrust to allow you to keep control of the boat.

As you approach the dock at a 90-degree angle, you’ll need to start making your turn a little earlier than you probably imagine, as Rowland demonstrates in the video. The goal is to put the bow of the boat into position at the dock with your last bit of forward momentum. If you’ve timed it right, you’ll drift the last several feet in neutral, and the rub rail will just “kiss” the dock as the boat stops. To pull the stern in, simply turn the steering wheel fairly hard toward the dock and apply just a little reverse thrust for a couple of seconds. That will stop any forward movement and pull the aft end of the boat to the dock. Then – after making certain that the boat is out of gear – attach your midship line to the dock and secure the boat.

Once you’ve watched the video a few times, you’ll have the prescribed expert instruction, but the practice is up to you. Rowland recommends finding a marina that isn’t busy, but any wide dock that you can approach from a 90-degree angle will fit the bill. Be sure to practice docking to both port and starboard, and in different tide and wind conditions. With a little repetition, what was once something that you dreaded will become just another routine part of a day on the water.

Mercury Pro Team member and television personality Tom Rowland is co-founder of the “Saltwater Experience” TV program, which is in its 17th year of production. For more information on Tom Rowland, his TV show or his podcast, visit saltwaterexperience.com.

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How to Dock a Boat when Approaching from a 90-Degree Angle
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