A Strong and Simple Device Takes the Drama Out of Docking

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Docking benefits from well practiced routines and crew work

Docking benefits from well practiced routines and crew work. Photo by Patrick Roach

My wife and I have owned many boats over the years we’ve sailed on San Francisco Bay. Though we always have a lot of fun on the water, we are getting a little old for jumping off the boat onto the dock to secure our lines when we return from a sail. This, plus the alignment of our slip (the prevailing northwesterly breeze blows the bow of the boat away from the head of the slip), has made docking more demanding than we like.

To meet this challenge I have built a docking device, consisting of a piece of 4 x 4 timber with padding on one side, that catches and then holds the bow in place. Two large fenders go between the dock and the piece of 4 x 4, with two bungee cords holding the 4 x 4 in front of the fenders. When the device is not being used, I pick it up and put both it and the fenders on the dock. As we are getting ready to leave the slip, I deploy the fenders and the section of 4 x 4 in front of the dock, so they will be ready to go to work when we return.

The author’s padded bow fender system can be  retracted when not in use (left); How the system appears to an approaching helmsman (right)

The author’s padded bow fender system can be retracted when not in use (left); How the system appears to an approaching helmsman (right)

When we come back to the slip I put the bow into the slip first and then carefully nudge it up against the padding on the front of the 4 x 4 section. When the bow is resting firmly against the padding I give the engine a little forward thrust to hold the bow in place, then put the wheel over. The prop wash on the rudder walks the stern into the dock, making it easy for me, or anyone else, to step directly onto the dock from the walk–through transom at the stern. There’s no need for anyone to have to clamber over the lifelines or put a ladder over the side and climb down.

When docking with this system it’s important to keep track of where the bow is relative to the padding on the 4 x 4. It can be hard to see when I am standing at the wheel, so I’ve put a mark on the pier that lines up exactly with the wheel when the bow is touching the padding.

When the bow nudges the padding, applying a little more forward thrust on the engine will hold the bow against the padding (left); A mark on the dock tells the helmsman when the bow is going to make contact with the padding device (right)

When the bow nudges the padding, applying a little more forward thrust on the engine will hold the bow against the padding (left); A mark on the dock tells the helmsman when the bow is going to make contact with the padding device (right)

Once the bow is firmly against the padding and I’ve put the wheel over to move the stern toward the pier, I leave the engine in forward gear to keep the stern against the pier. If the tide is slack, I keep my 27-hp Yanmar running at about 1,000 rpm. When docking by myself, I lock the wheel and then get off the stern onto the dock at my leisure. Once I have rigged the bow and stern lines to hold the boat temporarily, I shut down the engine and then tidy up the rest of the docklines.

Turning the wheel to port moves the starboard quarter into the dock, and that makes it easy to step off the boat

Turning the wheel to port moves the starboard quarter into the dock, and that makes it easy to step off the boat

Different slip configurations may require you to come up with a slightly different solution, but the main idea is sound and has worked very well for me.

Photos by Chet Sandberg

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