How To Dock A Sailboat


If you are just getting started with sailing, sailboat docking is something you may not be familiar with. It is not uncommon for new sailors to experience fear as they approach the dock.

Sailboat docking, however, is just like any other skill. All you need to do is learn how to dock a sailboat, pay attention to both the wind and your sailboat, and before you know it, you should find sailboat docking easy.

Although we will be showing you how to dock a sailboat in this article, we recommend that you don’t stop after going through the article. To improve your sailboat docking skills, practice is necessary.

How to Dock a Sailboat Under Power

If after wearing your sailing shoes you intend to board a sailboat featuring an engine, following the tips in this section should make sailboat docking much easier for you.

The first thing you will have to do is make sure that your boat is completely under control. If you have a boat speedometer on your sailboat, make sure it is reading a low speed when approaching the dock. Approaching the dock slowly and at a shallow angle is crucial.

You can make sailboat docking much easier if you approach the dock with the sailboat’s bow into the current or wind, whichever is stronger. The wind or current will slow you down as you approach the dock. If your boat is currently moving at a high speed, you should not trust the reverse gear to stop you when you need it to.

Before getting close to the dock, have one of the crew members tie the boat fenders in place on your lifelines. Make sure the bow dock line is tied securely to the anchor cleat and the stern line is secured to the aft cleat.

Once your sailboat is alongside the dock and already stopped or almost stopping, you will need to step down onto the dock with both ends of the dock lines. You must step down and avoid leaping.

Getting into the habit of stepping down to dock a sailboat is always a nice idea. You never know when you may have to wear your sailing shorts and pants and board the sailboat alone.

One of the boating safety rules you should never forget when planning to dock a sailboat is that you should never put body parts between your boat and the dock. Even small boats featuring a lot of momentum are capable of causing serious injuries.

It is not uncommon for people on the dock to offer to help you with the dock lines as you pull up. Let these people help. However, make sure you tie up the lines yourself.

Irrespective of the type of boat you own, you would want the boat to stay secure. It is not uncommon for helping people to simply wrap the lines around a cleat in a way that could easily slip off. Tying your boat yourself will help you ensure that the boat won’t slip off later.

How to Dock a Sailboat Under Sail

In some instances, you will have to dock under sail. This could be because the boat does not feature an engine or the boat engine is currently inoperable. If you are tired of using your marine binoculars and you need to dock a sailboat under sail, use the tips in this section.

When approaching the dock, your boat should be headed into the wind. This means that each approach will be highly dependent on the wind direction.

If the wind is currently blowing parallel to the dock, simply shoot your sailboat into the wind and ensure you come to the stop just alongside the dock. If the wind is currently blowing towards the open water, away from the dock, you will have 2 options:

  1. Make use of the dock end and ensure you shoot into the wind.
  2. Tack your sailboat to shoot into the wind at an angle. If you choose this option, you will have to luff the sails to slow down your boat.

Irrespective of the option you choose, you will have to make sure that the sailboat is coming parallel to the dock at the last minute.

If you have worn your sailing gloves several times, you probably know that if the boat is currently sailing slowly, immediately you turn the boat broadside to the wind, the sailboat will start going sideways. For this reason, you need to get the stern and bowlines to the dock as quickly as you can and then walk the boat along the dock as it slows down.

If by the time you decide to take off your sailing sunglasses and dock a sailboat the wind will be blowing from the open waters toward the dock, you should expect the sailboat docking to be more difficult. If the wind is too strong, you will have to approach the dock without any raised sails. If the wind is light, you can approach with the jib only.

You will need to round into the wind and then lower your sails. Next, you will need to drift into your dock.

It is important to note that not all landings will be perfect. One of the crew members may have to toss the docking lines to someone on the shore to ensure that the sailboat stays under control until you finally secure it.

If a line has to be thrown off the sailboat to someone on the shore, the line should be attached to your sailboat beforehand. This will ensure that all the line does not get thrown to the dock accidentally.

Also, before you reach too close to the dock, make sure that your fenders are already prepared. Similar to when you are docking under power, this will save you the stress of finding the fenders and installing them during the last second.

The dock lines you need when docking under sail include the stern line, bowline, and the forward spring line which usually leads from the fitting close to the stern. The forward spring line helps ensure that the boat does not move aft.

How to Secure Your Sailboat to the Dock


We are assuming that by now, irrespective of whether you are using sails or an engine, your boat is on the dock. In this section, you will learn how to make sure your boat is secure before relaxing and probably wondering why there is sand on the beaches.

If the wind may move the boat before it is completely secured, make sure you secure the end facing the current or wind first. To give you an example, if the bow is currently facing the current or the wind, tie up the bow line first before your sailboat starts moving backward.

If the wind or current does not threaten to push your sailboat away when docking, you can follow these steps to secure your boat:

Step 1: Tie both the bow and stern lines first.

Step 2: Adjust the fenders’ height to make sure that they are capable of protecting the hull. Take the movements resulting from waves into consideration when adjusting the fenders.

Step 3: Secure 1 or 2 spring lines. However, if you intend to dock a sailboat for a couple of minutes and someone will be watching the sailboat the whole time, you can ignore the spring lines.

Spring lines are supposed to come from the midships cleat both forward and backward to the dock. You can use additional spring lines in a real blow. When securing the dock lines to the cleats on the dock, make use of the cleat hitch.

When Sailboat Docking, Consider the Tides

The majority of saltwater areas, including rivers close to the coast and bays, do feature tides. As the water level rises and falls, the sailboat will also go up and down. If you tie your dock lines to a piling or dock featuring a fixed height, your lines should be loose enough to allow up and down motion.

In the majority of the docks featuring high tides, the docks themselves do float up and down. This solves the tide problem much more easily. It is, however, worth noting that if you will be away for a longer time, the water level change is capable of straining the dock line if it is too tight. If this does not break the dock line, it could end up ripping off the cleats and hence setting the boat adrift.

Globo Surf Overview

Learning how to dock a sailboat is extremely important. Apart from giving you the confidence you need when approaching the dock, it will help you avoid spending a lot of money on repairing damages caused by approaching the dock too fast.

You may not have the ability to get sailboat docking right during the first few trials. To make sure you and your boat are safe, having someone familiar with how to dock a sailboat is a good idea. He/she can offer useful tips. If you find that sailboat docking is too hard for you, you can have the docking expert take over.

More Sail Reviews:


Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!