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Three Defensive Docking Strategies for Sailors

by Captain John Jamieson on 18 Jul 2014
Captain John Jamieson
Keep emergency docking plans at the forefront of your 'what if' mindset. Just in case that boat pulls out ahead of you or your engine conks out in restricted waters. Practice these defensive docking strategies to be prepared for the unexpected in close quarters.

* Look for Empty Berths to Park the Boat

Imagine that you enter a narrow waterway, bound for your marina slip. It's been a perfect sailing day. Indeed, something out of a Winslow Homer painting. You're happy, content and your sailing crew thinks you just about walk on water. When all of a sudden...

You see another boat back hard out of their slip about three boat lengths ahead of you. Now, that might seem like plenty of time to react--but you'll need to act fast. What could you do right now--this instant--that might save the day and avoid a close quarters situation--or even a collision?

Your first reaction will be to back down, and that's an option. But there's another option that just may be even more effective in some circumstances--if you have planned ahead of time. Slide into an empty dock or slip space. If you see a clearing, get out of the channel and put a line onto the pier or piling.

* Use a Quarter Spring to Stop Momentum

Bare poles sailing? You bet. If your engine dies in a channel you might be able to sail your boat up to an open pier with the wind astern. Many sailboats sail quite well under bare poles. Realize that your boat will have lots of forward momentum if you need to slide alongside a pier with the wind astern. You will need to get a stern line secured to a pier cleat or piling without delay.

Practice in an open area. Lower all sail. Do not start the engine. Keep the wind well aft of the beam or astern. Become familiar with your sailboat's capabilities with the wind astern. Communicate with your sailing crew or partner so that they understand the steps to success. Line the side with lots of fenders. Rig an after quarter springline onto a stern cleat. As you come alongside, you must get the quarter spring secured onto a cleat or piling as fast as possible to stop the boat.

* Practice this 'Tight-Quarters' Technique

Scan to the left, right and ahead of your boat as you enter the narrow waterway. Do not wait until you are inside super restricted waters. Do it now! Lock onto those valuable 'emergency landing strips' or even solitary pilings that you could glide up to in case your engine quits or another boat threatens your safety. It just might save you lots of grief this sailing season. Sail safe and sail defensive--wherever in the world you choose to sail or cruise!


Captain John Jamieson with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide. Visit his website at Skipper Tips. 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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