How to Dock Your Boat with the 'Crabbing' Technique

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Imagine that you need to dock your boat in a tight space between two yachts. And, you have a gusty wind to deal with that will make this a tough challenge. How can you combine rudder, throttle and crabbing angle for a smooth sailing solution?

Use this special docking technique when you have the wind on the bow (also called a wind that blows 'down the bow'), and not a lot of approach space. It's always nice to have a lot of docking space, but you'll often be restricted.

In the illustration, we need to dock between a boat ahead and astern. High, gusty winds blow almost parallel to the face of the pier. Let's take a look at this challenge one step at a time.

1. Brief the Crew Each and Every Time
I believe no other single factor blows more dockings than failure to communicate with the crew. It's best not to assume that anyone--new crew or veteran--knows what you intend to do. Give a short, simple brief to assign positions and describe the sequence of events.

Create simple hand signals that keep communications clear--and most important--quiet with no yelling. This will create less stress all around and make docking smoother and easier.

2. Stand Off and Face the Elements
Rule #1 will always be to wait to make your approach in a tight situation (top illustration - left side). Keep two to four boat lengths off the pier. Face the dominant element (wind or current) and use just enough throttle to maintain position. Here we point the bow into the wind and hold position with bursts of throttle as needed.

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3. Select a Path of Approach
Choose two points in-line (called a 'transit' or 'range') as an aim-point to guide you in to the selected docking spot. As long as you stay on this line, you will land your boat at the spot you picked.

In the top illustrations, we have chosen a piling and mountain peak that line up. We call this imaginary line an 'aim point'. As long as we keep this piling and mountain peak in line, we will 'sail' down the approach path (the wide gray line) all the way to our assigned 'Dock Space'.

4. Determine the 'First Line Over'
Set up the deck with fenders, docking lines and boat hook. Brief the crew on your intentions; assign positions. Determine the 'first line over' that you will use to spring the boat alongside. Make this choice based on the elements. Once alongside, how will the wind or current cause your boat to drift?

In this case, we will drift toward the boat astern. Our first line over will be a forward bow spring line (close-up spring line illustration). Make sure that all hands are familiar with springs. They are given different names, but I like to go with the two-part name because it always gives the crew two vital pieces of information.

Let's take the forward bow spring that we will use. The first part of the name--'forward'--tells the crew how to lead the spring line from the boat to the shore. The second part of the name--'bow'--tells the crew where to attach the spring aboard your boat.

5. Angle the Boat and Preset the Wheel or Tiller
When docking preparations are complete, turn the wheel or tiller just enough to angle the bow to the wind or current at a slight angle. Once the bow falls off, turn the wheel toward the wind or current (or hold a tiller downwind or down-current). This 'pre-sets' the rudder for use with the throttle (top illustration - right side). Use short bursts of throttle to maintain this bow-angle. Go to the next step.

6. Maintain Approach Angle and Position on the Approach Path
Concentrate on the 'aim point' objects so that your boat 'floats down' to your assigned dock space. In the two top illustrations, note how we keep the pier piling and mountain peak in line to stay on our approach path. Use the throttle to help you stay on the approach path and on your 'aim point'.

7. Spring Your Boat Onto the Pier
Loop the forward bow spring around a piling or cleat ahead of the bow. Bring the bitter end back aboard and belay it to the cleat (close-up spring line illustration). Here, the wind or current will take control--just what you want. Allow the elements to bring the boat flush alongside the pier. Use slow astern propulsion as needed to assist.

Realize that the point of attachment of a spring will be critical in the behavior of a vessel. Attach it too far forward and you may be unable to bring the boat flush to the pier. It's best to use a cleat farther aft--between the bow and beam. If unavailable, ease the spring as much as possible (watch that boat astern!) to help bring the boat alongside. Once alongside, put over the remainder of your docking lines. Adjust fenders and you're done.

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John Jamieson (Captain John) with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide. Visit his website at http://www.skippertips.com. Sign up for the Free, highly popular weekly 'Captain John's Sailing Tip-of-the-Week'. Discover how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles, videos, and e-Books!
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