If you own a boat, one of the most important procedures to learn is how to dock the boat properly. You might think there is only one way to dock a boat, but there are actually many ways to do so. Securing your vessel in the water is important for a number of reasons. It ensures that your boat stays safe, stays put, and that no serious damage comes to it either by accident, theft, or vandalism. As you can see, knowing how to dock a boat is important–but what kind of docking techniques should you know? As mentioned, there are a number of options. However, docking your boat in a slip is one of the more common practices. For both new and old boat owners, this is a useful skill to learn and master. Fortunately, we can walk you through how to dock a boat in a slip properly. This knowledge should last you for years to come, keeping your boat or boats safe and secure when docked at a Lockwood Marina.

The Basics: What’s the Difference Between a Traditional Dock and a Slip?

When pulling your boat into a marina, you have a couple of options of how to dock it. You can choose the fueling slip, the repair slip, or the dock. The important thing to remember when talking about these options is that the water provides the context. Simply put, a dock is the water area that is directly adjacent to a pier or wharf. While a slip, refers to the water that lies between piers or wharves. To really tell a dock from a slip, we have to focus on the design of each:

  • A Dock: Docks tend to be open on three sides, meaning that when you park your boat, you can move forward, backward, and to one side without issue or restriction. Contrary to popular belief, a dock is not an actual structure. The dock actually refers to a space of water alongside a pier or wharf. With this in mind, it is important to remember that a dock is an open space, and must stay an open space. The openness of a dock is important for the functionality of a pier or wharf at large. Boats need to be able to enter a marina and pull up to the dock to board passengers, take on or unload cargo, and fuel up. They need to be able to do all this with ample space so as to avoid any tricky maneuvering that is required to board or exit a slip.
  • A Slip: Unlike the docks, a slip is not a very open space. While the dock is open on three sides, a slip is outlined by a pier on each side of the boat. In addition, a slip can accommodate multiple vessels at once, with the shore-sides lined with piers. A good way to tell a dock and slip apart is that the dock is open on three sides, while a slip is only truly open on one end. Surrounded by land and/or piers that shelter vessels from swells and choppy water in the harbor or marina, a slip is narrower, more focused area to dock your boat.

Most marinas and harbors are designed to hold various docks and slips. As a dock and slip come with different characteristics, it is best to have both “parking” options available. This is mainly because docks are used for boat service–fueling, loading and unloading cargo, and parking. Slips tend to be larger (though less open) and lead to docks. Slips that are smaller in size are typically used for parking a boat for a long period of time than most docks. Knowing the differences between a dock and a slip should help you next time your find yourself needing to park on a wharf, marina, or harbor.

How to Dock Your Boat in a Slip: A Step By Step Process

Before we begin, it is important to note that learning how to dock your boat in a slip may not be smooth. This is a skill that must be often practiced before it is mastered, if it is ever mastered. The truth is that docking is often a difficult task punctuated by confusion, frustration, and lots of groaning. We say this not to deter you from learning how to dock your boat in a slip, but to impress upon you that if you don’t get it the first (or second, third, or fourth) time, you aren’t alone. With this in mind, take care to read the steps carefully, do you best to follow them with patience, and have the strength to try again if things don’t go as smoothly as you would like the first time. Without further ado, here is a simple guide to docking your boat in a slip:

  • Step 1: If you are working with a companion, your very first step is to explain everything you’re going to do, exactly as you will do it. Communication is key in such a situation. This is primarily because docking your boat in a slip takes a lot of maneuvering. While it might be easier to do it with the help of a companion, you don’t want to assume they know what you’re thinking at all times. For this reason, you have to communicate clearly. Double and triple check that your actions and intentions are clear. It might get annoying, but it will get your boat docked sooner.

Make the following clear to your companion: Let them know where the mooring line is, as well as the eye of the line. Point to the spot that will be placed over the cleat on the boat and explain that you want the line pulled tight. If the line falls into the water a bit, your companion shouldn’t worry–this is natural because of the motion of the boat will

  • Step 2: Once you’ve communicated everything to your companion, you can move forward to our second step. (Please note that if you are docking your boat in a slip alone, you can begin directly with step 2):

Reduce the speed of your boat to bare steerageway. Go very slowly, but not so much so that your boat will not react to the steering wheel.

  • Step 3:  Once you’ve slowed to the proper speed, move towards the pier at a 45 degree angle. If you are alone, eyeball it as you go, as you may not have the exact angle without proper measurements. If you are with a companion, one of you should keep an eye on the situation, ensuring that a 45 degree angle is indeed being met. When your boat is about one boat-length from the pier, shift into neutral. If you are alone, turn your boat away from the pier once you have closed the gap to half a boat-length from the pier. Shift your motor to neutral again. As the bow turns away from the pier at your 45 degree angle, center your steering wheel and shift the motor into the reverse–just enough that the boat is stopped.
  • Step 4: As you move, shift your boat away from the pier. This move is called “shearing off.” Do this just before the bow touches the pier. If you’re with a companion, tell them to drop the eye of the line over the cleat onto the pier. If alone, you drop the eye of the line and move two or three feet from the pier, shifting your motor ahead slowly.
  • Step 5: From here, tie off to the cleat on the bow of your boat (if accompanied). If alone, drop the eye of the bow line over a cleat on the pier. Them, tie off the line to a cleat on the deck.

Now that you have the steps, here are a few tips and cautions to be aware of:

  • Always Go Slow: Docking your boat in a slip is never a procedure you want to rush. Going fast will only lead to trouble and careless mistakes.
  • Be aware of the Wind: You can use the wind to dock a boat in a slip if it is blowing towards the pier. Once you pull up alongside the pier, you can allow the wind to blow you easily into place.
  • It’s Okay to Stop: Stopping and starting over or stopping all together is okay. Again, this procedure requires much patience. If you feel yourself getting annoyed, nettled, or exasperated, it’s okay to take that as a cue for a do-over.
  • Stay Seated and/or Keep Your Balance: This is mostly for those working with someone else. You don’t want your companion standing up while you are attempting to dock your boat in a slip. Doing so could result in them falling overboard. Of course, if you are working alone, leaning too far out over the rail to let out the mooring line is not the best idea either. Be aware of your surroundings, stay seated, and keep you balance.

Docking your boat in a slip may not be easy, but it is really useful once you get the hang of it. We’ve put together these steps to help walk you through the process in a way that’s both effective and easy to understand. For those visual learners, a handy video might add an extra dimension of understanding to the whole process. Now that you know what to do, be sure to be careful, patient, and focused. Happy Boating!