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June 24, 2021

How to Dock Your Boat with a Single Outboard

Docking can be one of the most intimidating aspects of boating, but it doesn’t have to be – if you follow Tom Rowland’s advice.


Docking a boat can be a challenge for many boaters, especially at a crowded marina. Yet, it’s an important skill that any boater needs to acquire for tying off at the ramp or accessing a fuel dock or other on-water facility.

In this short video, Mercury Pro Team member Tom Rowland, co-host of the “Saltwater Experience” TV show, gives you the basic tools that will put you on the path to becoming proficient and confident when docking your boat. It’s a simple process when done with careful steering and well-timed shifting from forward to neutral to reverse. With Rowland’s tips and some practice, you’ll soon be pulling into a slip or up to a dock as comfortably as you park your car at the grocery store.

Remember: No one is born knowing how to dock a boat, and there’s no such thing as an inherently good or bad boat driver. The difference between the two is knowledge and repetition. If you want to improve your skills, you need to set aside a little time to dock your boat repeatedly – at all angles and in various wind and current conditions – until it’s second nature. If possible, bring a more experienced boater with you to assist, or at least bring a supportive friend who can position fenders for you and help push the boat away from the dock when necessary. If you make time for some reps on several successive outings, you might be shocked at how quickly you’ll build your skills.

It’ll help to run through a mental checklist before you get anywhere close to the dock. A good list might include the following:

  • Be prepared: Get your fenders and lines ready well before you need them. That way you can concentrate on the job at hand and won’t have to scramble at the last moment.

  • Assess the conditions: What is the tide and/or wind doing? Is the boat going to be pushed into or away from the dock, or propelled past the desired slip? If possible, approach the dock heading into the prevailing wind or current. This will make it easier to control your speed while still using a bit of forward thrust so you can maintain steering. Whatever the case, be aware of which way the wind or current is going to push the boat so you can be ready to counteract it as needed.

  • Be patient: When it comes to docking there are no prizes given out for speed, so take your time and use only enough thrust to maintain steering and put the boat in the right position. If you need to back out or circle around for a second try, so be it. It’s much better to spend an extra minute or two than it is to risk damaging your boat or any other boat at the dock.

  • Keep safety in the front of your mind: Make sure your safety lanyard is attached to you. Never put a part of your body between the dock and the boat, and make sure your passengers don’t either. In fact, it’s best to ask everyone on board to stay still and quiet while you dock to eliminate distractions and unexpected weight shifts. And never leave the helm while the boat is in gear.

If docking doesn’t go well at first, don’t get frustrated! We’ve all been there, and every less-than-perfect attempt will teach you something. Once it starts to click you’ll find yourself looking forward to docking your boat just to see how well you can do it.

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

How to Dock Your Boat with a Single Outboard
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