Boats don’t park like cars. Cars have brakes and wheels that stick to the ground; it takes almost a tornado to get them to let go. Not so with boats. Was that a whisper of a breeze? Whee, says your boat! Let’s go that way! Unlike the ground under the car, the water under the boat loves to move. Brakes, steering, ground, and gravity, it’s easy to park between the lines without bumping into the car beside you.
“A boat is a solid in a liquid,” states Len’s Cove Lessons in Boating, an efficient four and a half minute YouTube tutorial, How to Safely Dock a Boat.
However, I think even Len would admit you could expertly dock a boat for four and a half lifetimes, and still one day, in the right conditions, get publicly humbled. Boats don’t even like cars.
One fine summer evening, I sailed into Lund Harbour.
The wharfinger directed me to the last free dock space, a sliver of wood left between a sailboat and a power boat. Slowly I motored past the dock-watchers.
Mentally, I rehearsed, “Slow is pro,” and “Go as fast as you want to hit something.”
I swung the boat around and turned too wide, too slow. Current from the incoming tide overpowered the boat’s momentum and pushed the bow away from the dock. I went out, turned around, tried again. On my fourth attempt, someone on the dock called out to ask if I needed help. I was going to dock that boat if it took all night. Or jump off the stern, swim to shore, and let it park itself.
On a Facebook group called Women Who Sail (and power cruise) the Pacific Northwest, someone posted: “I love sailing. It’s just the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes I hate.”
Sign up for a Canadian Power and Sail course, read boating magazines, or simply ask Google how to dock a boat and you’ll see sites like the 3 Best Tips, the 10 Easy Steps, the Beginner’s Simple Guide, a flood of advice all saying the same thing: How Not to Slam Your Boat into the Dock or Hit Another Boat. Here’s a few suggestions I found helpful:
• Practise where it doesn’t matter
• Prepare before you’re there, lines and fenders
• Pause and assess the wind direction and current
• Pretend no one is watching
Barb Thomson is a boating enthusiast who writes regular columns for the Comox Valley Record.