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“Spring lines cure a lot of evils.” When coaching docking, I say this often. I confess the phrase has a loose sense of meaning. Better said, spring lines can save the day. A sail boater can arrive at a pier “way screwed up”. But, once a spring line aft is set, all is right with the world. Spring lines work best at a wharf slip. Although, sometimes I like this technique in a slip, especially if the winds are howling. Anyway, when arriving alongside a wharf slip, I prefer the first line off the boat to be an aft spring line. The further aft off the boat, the better. On our boat, the amidships cleat is forward and the beam is wide. Therefore, our boat doesn’t spring well using the amidships cleat. So, I use the aft spring line off our winch. So, when tying to a wharf slip, get an aft spring off the boat. Yes, easier said than done. How? I put the eye end of the line on the boat cleat. Then, using a long boat pole, I take a wrap around the first piling I can reach. The bitter end of the line comes back aboard the boat. The piling is wrapped by the spring. Take up tension to stop the boat from moving forward. Be careful. Don’t “bounce” the boat against the spring line. Bouncing the boat against a tensioned spring might slam the bow into the pier. Gently, idle forward (transmission/throttle) with the wheel turned outboard. The boat will snug over against the pier. The wheel controls the alignment of the hull with the pier and the throttle controls rate of closure with the pier. If the boat is moving too quickly against the pier, reduce the throttle; maybe neutral for a couple of “potatoes” then back into idle forward. If windy/current, more throttle may be required to snug the boat against the pier. Once against, leave the boat in gear to keep it pinned. Make fast the remaining lines. Once you’re pleased with all the lines, neutral on the transmission. I’m convinced this is the best way onto a wharf slip, especially into a tight spot. When parking between two boats, angle into your intended spot. Get an aft spring off the boat (dockhands can assist). Remember, the further aft the spring runs the better. Take up tension when your stern clears the boat behind. Once clear, it’s the same technique. Use the minimum throttle required, motoring forward against the aft spring to get the boat moving toward the pier. Remember, the throttle controls rate of closure. The wheel controls alignment. Keep an eye on the boat forward. Some reverse and re-tensioning of the aft spring may be required to keep your boat centered in its spot. Magic!
When given the choice, choose the downwind/down current side. Spring lines can also get you out of a tight spot. Motoring aft against a spring line forward will swing the bow out. Good also when you’re pinned against a wharf by wind. Fenders on the stern please! In summary, a little practice with an aft spring will give you another docking technique that transforms your arrival into a very boring non-event! Practice makes perfect.
Fair Winds, Captain John
The coming home must go well. Collisions at the dock are a good way to ruin an enjoyable day on the water. Poor docking will undo a positive day and turn a good boating experience sour. However, there is prevention. With some focus on a standardized routine and a little practice, docking can become a non-event in your boating day. Even though every docking event is different, a standardized routine will facilitate teamwork and a smooth arrival. Here’s the standardized routine I use when coaching:
The helmsperson must predict and anticipate how the wind and current will affect the boat. Step 1: Get the boat between the pilings. Step 2: Stop the boat. Step 3: Retrieve and secure the dock lines. The helmsperson should not help with the dock lines. The helmsperson must devote her/his entire attention to driving the boat. Until a spring line aft is secured to the boat, the driver is the human spring line and must keep the boat from drifting forward into any bulkhead. Additionally, I prefer the human with the less upper body strength to drive the boat. The strongest should work the lines. Driving is the easiest labor. The helmsperson is in charge of docking. Type “A” husbands, if you are going to direct the docking while working the lines, you might as well drive. Husbands, if your wife does not drive the boat well, there is a training issue aboard. So, read on.
Returning is the opposite of departing. When returning to your slip, get the most upwind/up current line first. Yes, by-pass the easy dock lines. That’s what I’m saying. Don’t default to the easiest line first. Don’t always default to the spring line. The helmsperson is the spring line. Don’t drive the boat forward into a bulkhead, use reverse. Stop the boat in the slip. And, aim high. (old Air Force recruiting slogan) Favor the upwind side of the slip and get the most upwind line first. The most upwind line will hold the boat in the slip. It might be a bow line. It might be a stern line. Also, make sure the crew is in the proper place to retrieve the lines. If you’re backing in, the crew must be on the stern to get the bow lines. It sounds simple. But, I see this mistake often. So, after first retrieving the most upwind/up current line…
Second, is the line that keeps the boat straight in the slip. Normally, this line is on the same side as the most upwind line. Two lines on your boat should keep the boat in place long enough to work the other lines. If the wind is 90 degrees off and blowing, you will come to rest against the pilings. There is no getting around it. Boating is not like parking a car. If the wind pushes you crooked, take a breath. No worries. Some docking is just ugly. You will straighten the boat with some patient effort. Get that second line and straighten the boat.
Some docking “pre-effort” can help you succeed. First, the slip must be set up for success. I like the eye ends of the dock lines on the pier and bitter ends on the boat. This will put the excess line on the boat and might allow you to grab the lines early as the boat glides into the slip. A good example of this is spring lines. Leaving the slip, with the spring line stretched in the arrival direction, allows the crew to retrieve the spring line quickly, without the need for the boat to settle in the perfect position. Of course, the line must be marked in order to cleat it at the proper distance. I like a small piece of colored line woven into the jacket to mark the cleating distance. Dockmasters, on the other hand, like the eye ends on the boats so they can adjust the lines without boarding. I am mostly unsympathetic. How often do think dockmasters are adjusting lines? Discussion? Another measure to aid success is good positioning of the lines when you leave. Stretch the lines out in the direction of arrival. Don’t place them so they are difficult to retrieve. Do you have a long (the longest available) boat pole? Do you have two boat poles, one for each side of the boat/or crew member? Do your pilings need dock line hangers? Draping lines on top of pilings can be an exercise in frustration.
So, in summary, set your slip up for success. After that, practice. Pilots practice touch and goes in order to get the landing right. Boating is no different. Muster some self discipline, dedicate some time, and practice going in and out of your slip. Practice will develop confidence, another valuable attribute. Nothing highlights lack of skill like docking. So, develop your skills by practicing and implementing standardized routines. When docking, we rarely rise to the occasion. But always sink to the level of our training. Practice directly translates to expertise. More on spring lines in the next blog. Fair Winds.
The going and coming must go well. A collision when departing a slip can ruin the entire day. It is difficult to recover from a departure gone bad and still have a good day on the water. Likewise, a collision when returning to the pier can instantly ruin an entire day of fun and relaxation. Granted, docking can be difficult. Each docking event is unique. Even when returning to the same slip, conditions will have changed. Therefore, it is the process that is most important. The helmsperson and crew must utilize the same technique from situation to situation. Consistent utilization of a like technique or method will make docking routine and stress free. Here’s the technique that has served me well for many years and, in many different situations. When departing a slip: