The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Introduction to Coming Alongside (Docking) Online Book

Over our years on the water, Phyllis and I have seen so many unhappy and stressful events unfold while watching yachties bring their boats alongside—yes, even more than anchoring, and that’s saying something.

These events go all the way from a little scrape on the paint work up to major damage and even personal injury. And then there’s all the shouting and the resulting hurt feelings—just not fun.

And that makes us sad, because it does not have to be that way. We have been bringing our 56-foot, 26-ton boat alongside, double-handed, for years—much of the time in challenging circumstances—with little difficulty. I say that not to boast…well, maybe a little bit…but to show that once you know a few simple techniques that we are going to share, docking is not that hard.

That said, to take the angst out of docking we do need a deep understanding of the geometry and forces at work. To that end we have written this Online Book on close-quarters boat handling that will explore each technique in detail.

We even have videos and diagrams to help make things clear.

I promise that, no matter how much you and your crew hate docking, if you read though all the chapters and practice a bit, you will join me in the “Docking Perverts Club”: A club reserved for those who actively enjoy close-quarters boat handling and even look forward to it.

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Frank Tansley

Looking forward to your online book regarding this. A request and a comment. For the request please include any pointers for docking boats with bowsprits which cause a lot of windage up front. For the comment we discovered that using our anchor riding sail helps neutralize the windage from the bowsprit and headsails. I realize it is adding windage overall but it allows me more control. In our case the vessel is a Hans Christian.

Pascal Cuttat

“Docking Perverts Club” 🙂

Gino Del Guercio

Bring it on John.

Steve Ord

I would say docking causes us a lot more stress than anchoring. I usually anchor without an audience but at the dock everyone is watching.

Well trained dock hands can make a big difference just as poorly trained dock hands can ruin a otherwise good docking. Problem is, you rarely know which you have until you hand them a line.

Looking forward to this discussion

Drew Frye

I trained my daughter, starting at about 8, to be the ideal dock hand. She would step off (not jump) with whichever line was required, with clear, simple directions to wrap it around a bolard twice and hold the tail. Easily done, with two turns. And time and time again, I watched a well-meaning but unknowing dock-walker come and take the line from her, bollixing up a perfectly simple plan. I think the part I hated the most, since I could dock anyway–was that it made my daughter feel bad to have her job taken from her. We still laugh about it. But the point is that docking is not about strength, it is about planning. A child is strong enough, if she is smart.

I look forward to your article.

René Bornmann

So nicely said!


Docking is an artform. Winds and waves are the brushes and paint. Too much speed and young testtossterrone ( sic ) prone manboys and grlmen can fail to take advantage of the wind and wave and tonnage and hp. A gently tossed loop around a pollard will do if all is drifting as in command of winds and waves etc hp and tonnage….AND … the spring line can make anyone look like Capt’ Ron. ( Artist at work…. when Capt’ Ron, motors up to the dockside pub then pulls full rudder and full reverse letting the heave ho of the boats tonnage secondary boat heaving wave settle gently beside the dock as the patrons flee in fear of disaster…_ witness an artist)


Mike Litzow recently published a delightful vignette about how not to be “assisted” while docking.

Brings to mind my experience on a new 2 million dollar Swan skippered by a certified 100 ton Yachtmaster. When he insisted— no demanded– that I remove the breast line I had rigged and throw the bow line ashore to a dock hand instead of stepping ashore with a midships line in hand, the results were predictable. When you singlehandedly dock your 24,000# full keel boat with a 5′ bowsprit and 20hp engine with a little two blade prop a bunch of times, you learn what works–.


I enjoyed reading through your docking book. We have a Southerly 42RST with twin rudders and thus no prop wash. Will your docking methods work, or are we destined to basically use our bow thruster?



Thank you for writing this fantastic book. Spent the winter studying it and today put some into practice for the first time in strong wind. I am no longer worried about coming alongside I know know what I can get the boat to do and not to do. More practice necessary, but a life changing moment for me. Thank you

Fredrick Kim

Do these techniques work the same for floating finger docks.
Thanks for your very helpful and insightful articles

John Cobb

I’ve found myself in a slip with 3 pilings to port and 3 to starboard with no cleats. Of course I need to back in for the power cord to reach. Oh and did I mention the current due to tides? First time into the slip I went bow first and it took 2 dock hands, my BIL, and myself to get it done. I can’t imagine how I’ll do it by myself. I didn’t see this situation mentioned anywhere in the Going Alongside book but maybe I overlooked it?

Marc Dacey

I have never regretted having a few extra shore power cables. We usually get put at the “T” at the end of a finger and have needed to use all aboard.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi Marc, I just wanted to add that chaining shore power cables is officially forbidden, at least in Europe, but I believe ABYC deprecates this as well. Of course anyone does it nevertheless if necessary, but it could be dangerous…

Marc Dacey

I certainly realize it is problematic and I have tried to avoid it. I restrict our power draw to far less than the maximum the “chain” can carry. Nonetheless, it’s a valuable reminder. Thank you.

John Cobb

Thanks for the tip.

John Cobb

Thanks. I’m not even sure where to put the fenders at this point. I’d like to stay at this marina for awhile if I can make it work but I’ll move if I have to.

Ironically the previous owner had the exact same setup at his own dock but after years of tweaking various hooks and extensions arranged on and around the pilings he could dock by himself while blindfolded. Plus he didn’t have to deal with tides and current. Unfortunately he wouldn’t include his house and dock with the boat. But I did ask. 😉

Rob Gill

Hi John, we are lucky to have our own marina berth, but with two wooden piles between us and our neighbour’s boat. I single-hand frequently and we have a 2->3 metre tidal range to cope with. And we don’t have rubbing strakes. Boat fenders DON’T work (tried) as they get tied up on the poles at the worst possible time.
The solution we have is marina mooring rings, with a cylindrical fender (in white) on-top of the mooring ring, supported by a piece of drain coil. Then we have the stern line (we moor bow in) pre-attached to the pile mooring ring ready to catch. A 2.5mm line runs from the spliced eye of the mooring line, to a “dinghy” block attached to the top of the outer pile, and then to the same set-up on the next pole, and then into the water with a heavy weight attached. Let go the line and it comes out of the water magically at hand for the return. We have a similar setup on the finger side with stern line and magic spring suspended ready. I only have to get one line on to be moored in our “box” – we can’t go anywhere!
I can single-hand in and out of our berth, no problem in winds to 30 knots. Haven’t tried it blindfolded though…! Spend the time to get the box berth setup (like your previous owner) and you will find it the best.
Picture shows the two pile fenders and suspension system for our bow line – you can just see the one for the stern line.
Good luck. Rob

Marina berth.jpeg
Rob Gill

HI John, already done! As posted above we have 2->3m average range, with max peak about 3.5 m. The mooring rings floats on the water:
On top of the ring is the drain coil with the white fender. The whole assembly floats up and down around the wooden pile, with the tide. This would work to around 4 m average tidal range (height of pole being the limitation), but then our mooring line system wouldn’t work (fouling the fender at the top). With that much tide, I think I would fit heavy duty plastic rubbing strakes on the boat (for some shock-absorption), not have the pile fenders, and keep our mooring line system.

Rob Gill

Hi John, the floating rings are standard on NZ marina piles. The pole fenders are a blessing for boats without rubbing strakes.

John Cobb

That’s great. Thanks for posting that.