Come Up with a Plan
To paraphrase the old military saw, proper prior planning prevents poor performance. The adage applies to docking whether the boat is a dinghy, a 150-foot motoryacht or the USS Enterprise.
First and foremost, you must be aware of how your boat handles, particularly at bare steerageway. The more comfortable you become, the more confident you’ll be when trying to slip it into a tight space in a jammed marina.
How do you do this, you ask? Simple.
Seriously. The more time you spend at the helm, the better feel you’ll have. You’ll also become better at anticipating issues before they reach critical mass. I’ve gone so far as to create a “virtual slip” via polyballs and mushroom anchors in open water. It’s a simple matter to re-create your slip with exact dimensions in this manner, allowing you to duplicate a wide variety of docking scenarios with regard to current and wind and to see how your boat responds.
Although wind and current are often big obstacles for boaters, by thinking out your approach ahead of time and factoring them into the equation, you’ll be amazed at what an effective ally Mother Nature can be. Try to set your approach so that the wind and current (although not always possible) help you into the dock.
Other considerations, particularly in new surroundings, are the entry and exit areas to the marina. It’s important not just to know where you are going but also to know where other boats might be coming from, so you can anticipate any interfering traffic in your response.
How wide are the fairways in relation to the length of your vessel? Is that going to cause a problem when turning in or out of the slip? What’s the draft of the slip? Do you have to trim up when docking? If so, how drastically will that affect your boat’s maneuverability? Are there any bowsprits, railings or other structures hanging from vessels that might interfere with your maneuvers? What about dinghies or bait cages?
The more alert and aware you are of your surroundings, the fewer problems you’ll have.