Boat Docking – Backing In!


A great Skipper coined the following words – unfortunately when they were sent to me credit was not then given. If you know who wrote them I would be glad to give him/her credit.


Slip Docking Backing into a slip is the most difficult docking maneuver of all, where it is imperative that you are constantly alert to wind and current. And to be successful, you must use these conditions to your advantage. I don’t have to tell you about the Chinese fire drills that go on all weekend long at crowed marinas, and I’m sure you’d like to graduate from these Keystone Kops routines. Everything you’ve done so far is going to help you become one of those guys standing on the dock with a smug grin.

BACKING INTO THE SLIP – There are two ways to back a boat into a slip: Straight in or pivot the boat around a piling, if a piling is available, which it usually is. Obviously, you can only back straight in when there is no wind or tide, or at least not until you become very adept. So let’s take pivoting first since its easiest.
Essentially, you’re going to do the same thing as you did when approaching a bulkhead dock, putting the bow up against a piling and turning off it. Only now you’re going to put the stern quarter up against the piling and pivot in reverse.

Now that you can move your boat nice and slowly into position, again using wind and tide to advantage because you’ve checked these conditions out BEFORE you started the operation, you won’t have any trouble laying your stern quarter up against a piling at the head of the slip.

This approach to backing into a slip is especially good in crowded marinas. Here the pivoting technique is used in reverse. Making contact with the outer piling, simply warp the boat around using the new control techniques your have just learned.

At this point, your boat is at some crazy angle to the slip with the stern against the piling. See what you are going to do next? Yup, with one engine in forward and one in reverse, you are going to pivot the boat around that piling just as nice as can be. Its going to go nice and slow and easy with no danger of losing control and hitting anything.

This is a far better method than attempting to back straight into a slip with a wind or tide running, where its like trying shoot a bullet at a moving target. Oh, no, far better to have something to steady the boat against than to be at the mercy of wind and tide.

Unless you know the conditions, then you can’t react properly. So what to do? Well, start your approach backing into the slip and when you get close, STOP. You do this very slowly because the objective here is to see how the elements are going to affect you. Now, once stopped, which way is the boat going? Okay, so now that you know how the elements are going to affect you, you make your adjustments.

I want you to do it this way a number of times so that you’ll get a feel for just how strongly these conditions will affect your boat handling. All boats are different, and how high your superstructure is and all has an effect. Once you’ve gotten a feel for this, you won’t have to stop and take measure of the conditions. You will be able to judge the conditions more quickly and reliably so that, before long, you will just maneuver into position and back right in. Then, if you miss and don’t get in straight,

PLAN B says that you will resort to pivoting off a piling again. So, you see, even if you do screw up, you’ll have the means to recover.

About trawlercat

Retired and now moving on from the cruising life jeeps, adventure bike, gardening, and travel. Always in search of the next great adventure!
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