Boat Berthing and Docking Tips, Techniques and Procedures

Sections: Using a Amidships Spring Boat Fenders Crew Considerations Wind and Tide Effects

Sailboat docking techniques and tips for docking a sailboat under power single handed. Procedures for marina berthing a yacht or boat

Boat Berthing or Docking

Boat berthing or docking involves the use of bow, stern and breast ropes, and bow and aft springs. A bow spring is a mooring rope led forward from the stern, an aft spring is one led aft from the bow. A warp keeps the yacht close to, but not tight against, the pontoon or quay. Follow these boat docking techniques and tips to dock a yacht securely and safely.

Using a Amidships Spring

When short-handed and entering a berth or dock, use an amidships spring to control the sailboat:

  • A line from a side deck cleat just aft of amidships isled to a cleat ashore, level with the stern or further back.
  • Engaging the engine slow ahead, allows the sailboat to be held in position, parallel to its berth.
  • If the sailboat has a tendency to swing towards or away from the berth it can be counteracted with the tiller.
  • All the lines are rigged as normal with the addition of the amidships spring when coming alongside.
  • When the sailboat comes alongside, the crew steps ashore with the spring only then makes it fast on a cleat or bollard.
  • The engine is put into slow ahead and the tiller adjusted to hold the sailboat parallel to its berth. The sailboat remains in this position as the crew make fast the normal mooring warps.

The amidships spring is used as a stopping spring when the yacht is moving too fast coming alongside:

  • To affect this, the crew makes one full turn around a cleat or bollard with the spring before strain comes onto the line.
  • When the line becomes taut, it is eased it under control to slow the sailboat while preventing the warp jerking tight.
  • Known as ‘surging a line’, it is an ideal way to stop even a large sailboat.

Boat Fenders

Use at least four marine fenders when lying alongside. Have some spare fenders for when another boat berths alongside with insufficient amount of boat fenders. Fender movement can damage the gel coat or paint on the hull so avoid this by hanging a fender skirt between the hull and the fenders.

Berthing a boat alongside an uneven quay wall poses a difficulty in keeping the fenders or dock bumpers in position; a boat fender board hung outboard solves this problem.

Marine fenders protect the sailboat from contact with whatever it is lying alongside and be concentrated around the maximum beam and not spaced along the hull at even intervals. Attach the boat fenders to the coach-roof handrails or the toe rail and not to lifelines or stanchions, which may damage them by the fender’s movement.

Crew Considerations

All members of the crew should understand the docking procedure and the level of competency expected of them. Leaving a permanent berth with an inexperienced crew is a rigorous test of the skipper’s ability to handle the sailboat in a confined space.

  • The primary lesson is to look at a person when speaking as the wind through the rigging creates noise making hearing harder and it has a tendency to redirect sound waves.
  • The second lesson is that any situation will change quickly and they should be paying special attention for revised instructions.

Wind and Tide Effects

A tip when approaching or leaving an quayside berth is to take into consideration the combined wind and tide effects on the sailboat. When handling a sailboat in close quarters, try to leave or arrive at a berth pointing into the strongest element. If there is doubt, assume the tide has the greatest effect.

A tidal stream usually has the strongest effect on the boat. Except in a strong wind and weak tide, choose to stem the tide in the final approach. With the absence of tide, head into the wind using the sailboat's wind resistance to help slow down and stop.

When berthing a boat under power or sail, aim to stop the yacht in the preferred position alongside the berth. This enables the crew to step and not jump ashore to secure the lines.

boat berthing techniques and tips