Docking Stories

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Jim Spence

Senior Member
Oct 6, 2007
Vessel Name
Sea Eagle
Vessel Make
Californian 50' Cockpit M/V
My wife found this on another forum and I couldn't resist posting it here. I think we probably all have some good docking stories so lets share em!

This one is so good I had to pass it along.* The name is withheld because I was sworn to secrecy.* A good friend of mine was on a summer cruise with his wife up to Lake Champlain.* Most of the trip went fine, my friend does get that "I'm the Captain" attitude sometimes though and tends to bark orders to his wife while docking.* At the end of a long day they were going to the fuel dock before docking for the night.* It was a little windy and the attendants were helping others, so he instructed his wife to step off with a line as he swung close to the floating dock.* She easily stepped off the swim platform as he swung near, but lost her balance a little and released the line so she wouldn't fall in.* Rather than taking*the*wise course of showing concern, he yelled at her for "screwing up his perfect approach".* She promptly walked up the dock and said "then do it yourself".* Ego of course causes him to make another perfect approach and dash from the helm to step calmly on the dock with the line.* Unfortunately he negleted to put the gears in neutral.* The boat continued it's perfect swing and began to leave.* He couldn't reach a cleat with the line and he couldn't hold back 2 Cat diesels.* There was only one thing left to do, he lept wildly for the swim platform.......and missed.* He was now treading water watching the boat power off slowly, his wife was laughing so hard she couldn't even call for help.* Luckily 2 young boys in a Whaler passing by, pulled him out and chased down the boat.* He was very reluctant to tell me this story, but he knew his wife surely would.*
Now one of my own.

I was taking a new girl friend out and decided to go to a little marina at the north end of Lake George on the St Johns River to get diesel. The wind was howling across the lake. I tied about a 40 ft line to one of the bow cleats and explained that I would be coming in at a angle to the dock and when I got close to throw the line to the guy standing on the dock waiting. I got within about 10 ft and told her to throw the line. As soon as she did it, I realized that I had never shown her how to throw it! It went about 2 feet and then straight down.
With line back aboard I make another approach but I'm really at the wrong angle. The dock guy catches the line, she pretty much handed it to him. he ties it off and I try to use the line like a spring line and bring the ass of my boat around. Well I'm at the wrong angle now and that wind is really howling now. I figure 1) I don't have a fender in the right place and 2) I'm about to tear his dock down pushing on it! I tell him on the radio to let me go that I'm going to back off and make a correct approach. Now I'm at 90 degrees to the dock. He comes on the radio and says hey the water behind you is only 2ft deep. I jam the gears in fwd and hit the throttles (a little too hard) now I'm about to tear his dock down for sure. He starts edging off the dock. I Swap back to rev and get stopped. I put port engine in rev and go hard on the throttle get her to buck the wind and turn and go backout. At this point I just started all over and got it right. Boy did I impress everybody. I learned several things. Be sure to teach your crew things they will need to know before you leave. When a docking goes to **** don't bother to try to save it. Get out reevaluate and start over.
The rule on my boat is that the forward spring line, from the mid cleat or forward mid cleat (depending on the boat) always goes to the dock first. Please put "always" in capitals, bold and italics. The mid line always goes to the dock first. Period. When that line is secured to a cleat or bullrail I can make the boat go where I want. I can pull backwards, power forwards, let the wind blow me into the correct attitude or whatever I need. The spring line always goes first.

We also like to tie with our starboard side to the dock, we tie either side to as needed, it's just a preference. The most conenient cabin exit is there, and that varnish is always the best kept. (ah, vanity shows its ugly head) So, once upon a time we are pulling into Des Moines (WA) and staying at the reciprocal Yacht Club dock. It's a narrow fairway with about 2 feet of clearance on either side when busy with boats. It also sits so that there is a convenient cross wind to blow you sideways if you have no forward motion or keel. Remember that my old 36 Chris has a flat planing bottom with a tapered keel which maxes out at 8". Virtually no sideways resistance.

So I'm sliding my way in like a crab about 100 feet into this narrow fairway. The spot I headed for is the only one, there is nobody around to help (or take pictures, thank goodness) and it has about 4 feet of wiggle room. Tight, but I think I can make it. I explain the plan to the wife. I'm going to get up to the spot, she'll loop the line over a cleat, hold it fast, and I'll power the stern in against the wind.

I get the pointy end just right into the spot, she hooks the cleat on the first toss, I start to power in and the bow keeps heading for the dock. Ooops, back up a little, some more rudder and we take another shot. The bow still wants to hit the dock and the stern won't come around. By now my stern is in serious trouble as the wind is wanting to put me sideways in the fairway. Remember of course that a 36 foot long boat does not fit well in a 18 foot wide spot. Quickly running out of options, I have to power forward and try to get the stern to spin around. No such luck. Finally I'm fending off and letting the boat blow sideways and rest against the boat on the other side of the fairway.

When I went to look and talk calmly with the wife about what we were going to do now, I find that the first line off was the bow line. As I gently inquired as to why the spring line wasn't used she explained that she thought that was only for the other side. She didn't know it mattered on the port side.

We are still married. Next time I'll tell about the fellow in Nanaimo that says "I've got it, go ahead and give it some power."

Ken Buck
We were checking into customs in Sidney BC, and I was on the phone with the customs agent. I saw a new 45ft yacht like boat headed into the dock directly infront of our boat. The husband was at the controlls, and the wife was on the swim step getting ready to step to the dock with a stern line. His approch was at a pretty good angle, and once the bow was touching the dock, the stern was still a couple of feet away. The husband yells at the wife to jump, which she does, but the line was so short that she looses it. The husband sees the wife on the dock, but she is trying to explain that she lost the line. He starts backing up twords my boat, when I told the customs agent that I had to go, and dropped the phone. I ran up and told him that he had a line in the water at the stern, while his wife stood silent. The husband then ran to the stern to retreive the line, but left the boat in reverse. By this time my wife and friends were ready with fenders for the impending crash, but just after I lost sight of the other boat on the outside of mine, I heard my wife yell "RUN, RUN" to our friends. The offending boat hit us with the inflatable dingy on his stern, and it was a very soft landing. The husband then dissapeared behind the breakwater for several minutes while he composed him self, then he returned for another try, by which time we had two long boat hooks ready to grab dock lines. The second try was far better, they said thanks for the help and all was well. It was rather entertaining for a while though..........Arctic Traveller

Trawler training and yacht charters at
If there aren't people on the dock to catch bow and stern lines we normally put the aft spring ashore first. By aft spring, I mean the line that goes from the midship cleat aft to the dock beside the stern. Once this line is secured to the dock, you can pin the boat to the dock no matter how hard the wind or current is trying to push you off.

Going forward against the aft spring will pivot the bow into the dock. So what we were taught to do is get the aft spring to the dock, go forward against it with the engine on the dock side of the boat with the rudder hard over away from the dock. The aft spring pivots the bow in and the thrust against the hard-over rudder moves the stern in, and the end result is that the boat comes in and sits nicely against the dock while you get the other lines secured. Then we shut the engines off.

The same technique is just as effective with a single engine boat. In fact we were taught to do it when we were chartering a single engine GB36.

We have a permanent aft spring line secured to the end of our home dock with the loop end hung on a PVC pole about a third of the way in from the end of the dock. As we angle into the slip, my wife simply lifts the loop of line off the pole, feeds it through the midship hawse and onto the midship cleat. I ease the boat forward to take up the slack in the line and then put the starboard (dockside) engine in gear and the rudder hard over to port. Even with the wind blowing us off our finger, which it usually does most of the year, the bow pivots in and then the stern walks right over to lie against the dock. We've done this in 25 knot winds with no problems.

A technique we have yet to try is the system they use on the little passenger ferries they use in Vancouver, BC. These 20-something foot boats run a circuit and stop for a few minutes at various docks. The deckhand simply secures the boat with a short line from the midship cleat straight to the dock. The boat can move around a little bit but not very much. As the bow swiings out, for example, the stern comes in and contacts the dock and visa versa. Just one line keeps the boat against the dock quite effectively.
Marin wrote:

A technique we have yet to try is the system they use on the little passenger ferries they use in Vancouver, BC. These 20-something foot boats run a circuit and stop for a few minutes at various docks. The deckhand simply secures the boat with a short line from the midship cleat straight to the dock. The boat can move around a little bit but not very much. As the bow swiings out, for example, the stern comes in and contacts the dock and visa versa. Just one line keeps the boat against the dock quite effectively.

This is a "Breast Line". I use it all the time on the 22 foot boat I drive for work. In fact, it is all I use until I put the boat up at night.
The one thing I hated about going on yacht club cruises was the docking because by the time we arrive most of the member were already there, lined up in the dock with their score cards.* Nothing like having 50+ members watch as you dock the boat, and yes we won the worse docking award many times.* The usually reason was coming up against the dock hard enough that it created a MOVING EXPEREINCE for them.*

However, the most memorable was the first Trawler Fest we took the Eagle to and sort of our grand entrance to the Puget Sound. We arrive late Saturday morning and the fest was in full swing.* Being so late they gave our reserved slip away, and the only slip open in the whole marina was a 40 ft slip 1/3 down the main/center water way.* Almost right dap in the center of the Fest.* Well, what the hey, no problem? Right?

We let down all 12 fenders, and set the lines before entering, as it turn out it was good we did.* When we enter the marina the Fest sort of stop, wondering what is this big old ugly trawler doing.* Realization soon hit them that we were going to squeeze a 60 ft trawler into a 40 ft slip in a 50 ft wide water way, which seemed to cause some panic.* Ok, a whole lot of panic.
* We drifted into the marina until the stern as about 10 ft past the slip, came to a stop, turned on the bow thruster, put in reverse so the stern line could be secured, continued to bow thrust, which result in bow of the Eagle going over the bow of several new trawler.* I was told later, the brokers/owners almost had heart attacks as they watch the Eagles bow swing over their heads.*

Anyway, it sort of became a trawler fest event as people scurried to defend/protect the bright shine new trawlers.* *Since the stern line was secure I thruster the stern away from the dock, reversed, continued to bow thruster, and backed in to the slip. Please of cake. Ok so there was lot of yelling, a few heart failures, but hey nobody died nd no damage done.*So mericles do happen.* *


* ****
So I'm sitting at the outside bar at my marina enjoying a nice alcoholic beverage. A nice shiny new 20 ft cabin cruiser is coming in. It caught my eye because it was darn near on a plane in the fairway. Nice looking lady sitting on the bow. Boats heading in a little fast. Lady jumps off on to dock just before husband slams into reverse to keep from hitting it. Lady has no dock line in her hand and just stands there. After 3rd try husband gets boat close enough to shut it down and get off on to dock, still no dock lines in sight. (no fenders out either) Husband stands there with funny look on his face holding onto boats hand rail. Hmmm I think I'm supposed to do something to make my boat stay here.

We ended up rounding up some dock lines for them and tied the boat up. Brand new boat, zero boating experience, not a clue.

And then there is my exneighbor, 60ft house boat. (he hit my boat 5 times) just before the marina asked him to leave, he left the dock and took the power pedistal and water piping with him. broke off a 2 inch line and put every one on the dock with no water for the rest of the day. He stops in the fairway, looks at a couple of us standing on the dock, shrugs and yells "I'll call the marina" then leaves for the week end. Was really sorry to see him go!!
Jims story reminds me of something I have seen several times. As a matter of fact, I have had paid crew pull this trick (but they only get to do it once) The boat makes a perfect landing, and the crew then throws the dock line to the dock. After the line lands on the dock, they simply stand on the boat and wait for the line to self tie. Perhaps they think some type of magic trick will happen, but anyway, it's rather funny once you finally get tied to the dock. Perhaps someone should invent self tieing dock lines? Arcitc Traveller

Trawler training and yacht charters at
I've read your article in the past and it makes great sense. However...... the business of sending the loop in the dockline to the dock doesn't work in most places in the PNW, BC, and SE Alaska (as you point out in your article). Very few marinas and harbors here have actual dock cleats. And because of the wide tidal range, putting a loop of line over a piling is not an option if for no other reason than the top of the piling is usually ten or fifteen feet above your head.

Ninety nine percent of the time what you have is a bull rail. The only way to get a line onto a bull rail is to step off the boat and feed the line under the bull rail or give the line to someone on the dock to do the same thing. So virtually all boats in this region that use mooring lines with a loop in one end keep the loop on an on-board cleat and send the bitter end to the dock.

Here are two photos I have showing the typical dock arrangement you'll find from Puget Sound up the coast into Alaska.* The photo of the two GBs was taken at a club rendezvous to Anacortes--- normally two boats of this size would not be in such a small slip.


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To expand on what Marin has said about docking systems here in the PNW I have a little light "grapple hook" that is made of 3/8 steel rod and welded to form four hooks equally spaced. Our standard proceedure when docking along a wharf that has bull rails and no one in attendance to assist is for the "Admiral" to toss the hook onto the dock and pull it up so that the hooks snag the bull rail. I then dock in the usual way using this line as a mid ship spring line. As soon as we are along side the slip the Admiral steps off and feeds the regular docking lines under the bull rail and back on board so that we have full control on board of the mooring. It does not take much effort to toss the hook ashore and eliminates wild leaps to the dock by someone from the boat.
YMMV but it sure works for us.
John Tones "Penta"
Too much kindness;
About 8 yrs ago I was on my first overnighter w my 25 Albin landing at Otter Bay on Pender Is in the Gulf Is in BC. I thought I was OK with the single screw docking bit but I was glad to see that there was only one guy on the dock when I arrived ( got there early ). As I got close he ran out on the float waveing and pointing as to direct me. He yelled at me for the next several minutes as to what gear to use, what to do with the rudder and mostly how much throttle to use, or rather that I was useing too much throttle. When I got close enough he reached out, nearly falling in, to grab my gunnel and pull me in, much like a drowning man. He continued to beat on me about using too much throttle. I was so insulted I almost untied and left but decided he was only one of many. I later became very friendly with him but he is gone now. The Albin boat is capable of 7 to 9 knts cruising speed but most in this club seem to think it's sinfull to exceed 6.5 knts. I never heard of such a thing before but I learned to land my boat at an idle. I humored them for a few landings and then went back to my half throttle bursts. And most of the others reached out over the water most of the time to bring me safely alongside the float, and into the group. These warm and friendly folks are of the Albineers of British Columbia and are dear to me to this day

Eric Henning
30 Willard
Thorne Bay AK
The way I see it, any time you dock without tearing up yourself or the boat, it was successful!
There is docking & undocking.
Many years`ago I arrived home from sea after a long swing on a tanker run to SE Asia and being very keen to get out fishing grabed a good mate of mine`who also lived on the marina a prepared for a hasty departure.
Warm thru the engine & the electronics , let go fwd and let go aft, give her a gut full to clear the flotsam from the berth as I depart.
Hold her, Hold her, Hold her, too late, the power post is horizontal.
Plug let go and ended up with a kinky shore power lead until I replaced it some time later.
Sorted it out with the Marina manager when I got home a few days later and the incident had been slightly forgotten.
Mind you there were enough folks around who knew of the incident to remind me now and again.
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