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How to Safely Dock Your Boat for a Summer of Smooth Sailing!

Wind blowing all around you, the salt of the ocean on your skin, and the sound of your boat slicing through the water surround you and take you ito summer mode. Sailing a boat is a fun summer hobby and knowing how to drive a boat safely is key. Even if many of us can successfully parallel park with ease, docking a boat is a whole other story. If you're a new boater who just got their boating license, then this is a completely different world that you will need to get acclimated to. In order to start sailing and enjoy the summer boating season in Rhode Island, safe docking practices are important to note. Slips can be tight, but our boat safety tips are here to help you dock into your slip with no problem! So shift those gears and get ready to cruise into your slip with these helpful boat dockage tips.

Understanding Boat Dock Basics

Understanding the location and layout of the marina you will be docking your boat is very important due to the fact that there are many different ways to dock your boat. In a marina, boaters have the choice to either dock at the fueling slip, the repair slip of the dock, or the dock itself. The difference between docks and slips lies in their designs. According to Freshly Salted, docks are referred to as a space of water alongside a pier or wharf. They're not an actual structure and are open on three sides allowing boaters to move forward, backward, and to one side, rendering more freedom to move. The reason for this openness is because boats need to be able to come in and out of a marina with no problem in order to fuel their boats if necessary or pick up passengers.

A slip, on the other hand, is different. According to Freshly Salted, slips are not as open as docks. Instead, “ [...] they are outlined by a pier on each side of the boat." A slip is very narrow and only open on one end making it completely different from the openness that a dock provides. Slips are designed this way because they are meant to hold many boats at the same time. Boaters dock their boats in marina slips because they protect vessels from rough waters.

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What Does Docking Your Boat Really Mean?

Docking your boat is basically like parking a car except you're “parking" your boat. However, docking or mooring can have various different meanings based on what it is you need for your boat. As previously mentioned, mooring your boat into a dock means that you need some type of service done to your boat.

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Docking your boat into a slip means you want to leave it there in a safe place away from rough waters. Whatever the case, boat docking is considered the hardest skill for any boater that takes many years of practice before it is successfully mastered. Unlike drivers, boaters must take into account the various natural conditions around them such as the water, other boaters, wind, and much more. In short, docking a boat makes parking a car look like a piece of cake. Due to the challenge that boat docking presents, it is extremely important to be knowledgeable about safe boating tips. This includes step-by-step guidelines and practice, practice, practice!

Important Tips For Safe Boat Docking Practices

As with any task in life, there are certain things you should always remember when docking your boat. Below we have put together a little list to make the lives of all you boaters that much easier and stress-free.

  • Have the Proper Equipment for the Job: Docking is made easier when you're prepared, and in this case, that means knowing what equipment you need to have with you. When it comes to docking, you'll need docking lines/mooring lines so make sure you have a lot of them nearby and at your disposal. You will also need what is known as fenders or many call them “bumpers." These should be kept onboard your boat so they are easily accessible
  • Know Your Knots: There are a tremendous number of knots, however, each knot has a specific purpose. Make sure you know which knots are the correct ones to use to dock and most importantly, to tie off your boat. The last thing any boater wants is to tie the wrong knot and have their boat float away, get damaged, or cause damage to others on the water.
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  • Go Slow & Take Your Time: Don't try and rush the process; docking takes time, patience, and requires you to go slow to avoid any damage to yours or other's boats. If you're weary on making it into the slip, don't hesitate to stop and start over. Rushing will do nothing but frustrate you and make docking your boat an even more unpleasant activity and cause more mistakes.
  • Be Conscious of the Wind: The wind can either be your ally or your enemy, especially when docking at a marina in New England. No matter what mother nature decides to bring you wind-wise, be sure of which direction it's blowing and how strong it is. This information will help you decide how fast or slow you should sail into the dock or if you're able to use the wind to your advantage.

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If the wind is in your face, then Boater Exam advises you to move toward the dock, “ [...] at a steep 30-45-degree angle and swing your boat quickly. Secure the bow first, then reverse until the stern swings in." This is the best scenario because it gives you much more control.

If the wind is at your back, then Boater Exam suggests moving towards the dock, “ [...] at a shallow 10-20-degree angle, stopping the boat in order to allow the wind to drift the boat into the dock.

  • Stay in Your Seat & Stay Balanced: If you have a partner onboard or any other passengers for that matter, you don't want to risk them falling overboard. It is safe practice to make sure everyone is seated while you're docking. If you're alone, be careful not to lean out over the rail too far because you yourself could fall over.
  • Cardinal Docking Rule: This rule is perhaps the most important one that all boaters must remember. According to Boats.com, “Never approach the pier any faster than you're willing to hit it." That means if you don't want to crash into the pier while attempting to dock, then you shouldn't be speeding. Always reduce your speed while you are docking because you never know what could happen.
  • Turn the Wheel First, Add Power After: To make sure you go in the direction you intend to go in, turn the wheel in that direction before applying any sort of power to make your boat start moving. It could be disastrous to do the opposite and realize that you're not going in the direction you want to and cause damage.
  • Apply Enough Power to Dock: Believe it or not applying too little power can result in just as much trouble as applying too much. In order to dock, you need the right amount of power to get the job done. That being said, don't be afraid to let your boat have some power, just be careful not to give it too much. Know your boat and the balance of power you need or don't need to give when docking.
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How to Dock Your Boat Like a Pro

No matter where you decide to sail, hopefully a RI marina like East Greenwich Marina, docking your boat in a slip can be a challenge since slips are tight and narrow. Much patience and tranquility are required in order to successfully accomplish this maneuver. With that in mind, let's glide into our simple and helpful boat docking guidelines.

  1. Communication is Key: Many say that everything is easier with a friend; when it comes to docking this can either be true or false. If you have another passenger on board that is going to help you dock, don't assume they're a mind reader. Make sure you communicate effectively with them and explain everything you intend to do in order to safely dock. This includes letting them know where the mooring line (the cord/rope that holds your boat to the dock) is, where the eye of the line/eye splice (the loop at the end of the rope) is, which cleat (the two-ended hook that the mooring line is tied to keep the boat secure) the boat will be tied to, and that you want the line pulled tight. Communicating clearly with your partner will make for much faster boat docking and eliminate miscommunication.
  2. Slow Down: Make sure to slow your speed to the lowest speed needed for the boat to still be able to move around and react to the steering. In nautical terms, Freshly Salted states that this would mean to reduce the speed of your boat to what is known as “bare steerageway." You don't want your boat moving so slowly that it isn't moving at all while you're furiously steering and trying to maneuver it into place.
  3. Start Moving Toward the Pier: Make sure to start moving toward the pier at a 45-degree angle. If you're alone, guesstimate the measurement, however, if you're with a partner then it is best to have them take an exact measurement to know exactly where it is and if you're going in the right direction. If you're moving at this angle and notice that your boat is one boat length from the pier, now is the time to shift into neutral. If you're alone, move towards the pier at that 45-degree angle until you're about half a boat length from the pier, and then start steering the boat away from the pier shifting into neutral once more. After this, the bow (front of the boat) will start to turn away from the pier at a 45-degree angle. Once that is the case, you can start centering the steering wheel and shift into reverse so the boat is sufficiently stopped.
  4. Start Moving Away From the Pier & Cleat: Now start moving the boat away from the pier, or in nautical terms, start “shearing off." Stop right before the bow is about to touch the pier. This would now be the time to tell whoever is with you as your partner to drop the eye of the line over the cleat that's on the pier. However, if you find yourself docking alone then drop the eye of the line over a cleat and move about two or three feet away from the pier very slowly.
  5. Tie Off the Line: Now is the time for your partner to tie off the cleat on the bow of the boat. If you're alone you'll want to drop the eye of the bowline over a cleat that's located on the pier but tie the line off to a cleat that is on the boat deck. When tying off your boat to a cleat Discover Boating suggests using either a cleat hitch, clove hitch, or bowline knot to get the job done. And that's it! You have successfully docked your boat in a slip!
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How To Moor Your Boat on a Dock

Mooring in a dock is the same as in a slip with the added bonus of not being as tight with more free space to maneuver. That being said, the steps are the same with hopefully a little less pressure. With practice, docking can become second nature and a task that is quite easily accomplished. However hard it may be, remember not to become discouraged and stay calm while docking. Run through the steps above with care and attention and docking shouldn't be a problem when you tie off at a marina in Rhode Island.

Backing into a Slip

There are many different ways or maneuvers sailors can engage in to dock their boats and backing into a slip is one of them. Some sailors prefer to back into the slip to make it easier for them to exit whenever they choose to use their boat again to sail the beautiful Rhode Island waters. That being said, whatever way you decide to dock is completely up to you and your preferences. However, there is a correct and safe way to back into a slip and below are some helpful guidelines to remember when backing into a slip at a RI marina.

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  1. Make Sure You're Good to Go: Make sure to check that you're all set to begin backing in. This includes taking a good glance around at your surroundings and ensuring and all of your equipment, boat included, is ready. Check your docking lines, your fenders, and most importantly take into account the wind and current before beginning.
  2. Adjust the Angle of Your Engine: Now is the time to adjust the angle of your engine or in nautical terms, “trimming the engine." To back into a slip, you'll want to trim the engine up which will cause the bow of the ship to go up a bit above the waterline.
  3. Start Approaching the Slip: You'll want to start approaching the slip from one side, but make sure to leave enough room between your boat and any other object that needs to come and go. Boat U.S. recommends to next position the boat so its pivot point (the point at which the boat will begin to turn once you apply the force necessary for it to turn) is along the centerline of the slip.
  4. Facing the Boat to Back In: Now turn the engine either all the way to port (left) or starboard (right) , whichever applies to the direction you need to turn the boat in and apply forward power to begin the turning. Then shift into neutral and turn the wheel in the opposite direction that you first were in while applying power in reverse to continuously allow the boat to turn. You'll want to continue applying forward and reverse power as well as turning the boat to port and starboard as needed until it's aligned with the slip. These actions put together are what will allow the stern (back of the boat) to face the right direction so that you can fully back into the slip.
  5. Apply Appropriate Power: While you're positioning the boat, make sure to apply little bursts of power; not too much or else you'll lose control. However, there will be times while maneuvering that you'll need to add a little extra power due to the effects of the wind and the currents.
  6. Getting Ready to Back In: Once you see that the boat is parallel to the dock, bring the steering wheel back to the center and you'll want to stop the boat from moving. To do this, use some forward and reverse power.
  7. Back In: Now back into the slip... slowly! Once you're done backing in, make sure to deploy those mooring lines and tie them off on those cleats with the appropriate knots as noted in step five in the section above.
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How To Dock Your Boat on a Lift

Boat lifts can be helpful but are very tricky to park. Because boat lift designs and sizes are so different from one another, an exact step-by-step guide is hard to establish. However, safe parking practices are pretty similar.

  1. Taking the Boat on the Water: If you plan on taking the boat off the lift and into the water, not a problem! To take the boat off the lift from the suspended cradle that it's attached to, just make sure that the cradle is lowered so that it's below the waterline. This will allow the boat to float freely in the water.
  2. Returning to the Dock: When you return to the dock and want to put your boat back onto the lift, just make sure the cradle is lowered below the waterline. Once the boat is positioned over the bunk boards that it rests on, you can begin to raise the cradle.

Boat lifts usually come with instructions in order to assist in the docking process so make sure to refer to those if you do choose to use a lift to dock your boat. When positioning your boat into the lift, you'll want to make sure that it's in the center and the weight is positioned evenly in the front and in the back of the cradle. Lifts also usually have parking guides that are made from material that doesn't damage the hull of your boat if you happen to come into contact with it, so there's no need to worry about damage.

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How Much Does it Cost to Dock a Boat at a Marina in Rhode Island?

Docking a boat is already stressful and difficult, so marina slip pricing doesn't have to be. At East Greenwich Marina in RI, we aim to provide the best boating experience possible. Our summer season begins April 1st and goes all the way through to November 1st, leaving boaters plenty of time to enjoy our beautiful, scenic Rhode Island marina and all that it has to offer. While you visit, be sure to take a stroll downtown and explore the many things to do in East Greenwich. The pricing for our north and south yard docks start at $65 per foot and go up to $135 per foot based on the size of your boat. We don't just offer a scenic and happening location to dock your boat here in RI, but our marina is a fun, family-friendly place for boaters to make summer memories. In addition to this, we offer several marina amenities including valet service, free Wi-Fi, grilling areas, and much more. Not to mention, there are several waterfront restaurants nearby like BLU On The Water and Nautika, so you can indulge in delicious eats while you dock with us!

Dock Your Boat at a Safe Harbor Marina like East Greenwich Marina in RI!

In case you're wondering what a safe harbor marina is, since it sounds so official, not to worry, it's a good thing! A safe harbor marina is the guarantee of a safe place to dock your boat without having to worry about the rough waters. In a safe harbor marina, you can kick back, relax, and enjoy your stay at the marina without safety concerns. Lucky for you, East Greenwich Marina just so happens to be one of the few safe harbor marinas in Rhode Island. This family-friendly marina is located in the heart of Greenwich Cove, Rhode Island and is one of the few safe harbor marinas in the heart of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Our marina is nestled deeper in the cove, providing your boat with more protection since the current is not as strong and there is less wind. So if you're on the hunt for a safe harbor marina in RI, your search is over! Our New England Marina is not only a full service marina, but a safe harbor marina as well providing your boat with the utmost protection from the turbulent seas. So come visit East Greenwich Marina, where you're guaranteed a safe and fun stay! We promise not to disappoint, after all, we do have over 85 slips available for boats of many sizes.

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Reserve a Slip at East Greenwich Marina in East Greenwich, RI!

If you're looking to dock your boat at a safe harbor marina in RI East Greenwich Marina is the perfect place! Here you have the choice of docking seasonally or overnight during the summer months. Our incredibly scenic marina can accommodate boats up to 85 feet, and have over 85 slips available just waiting for you. Even if you're just looking for winter boat storage at East Greenwich Marina we offer in-water winter storage so you can store and protect your boat safely during the cooler months. Now you have no excuse not to come visit us!

Sources: Freshly Salted, Discover Boating, Boat U.S., Boats.com, BoaterExam, Deco Boat Lift, The Ensign

June 11, 2019