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.


Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

16 comments… add one
  • Frank Tansley Mar 23, 2017, 1:02 am

    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.

    • John Mar 23, 2017, 8:00 am

      Hi Frank,

      I won’t be able to to specifically address boats with bowsprits, because I have never had one, or even sailed on one much. That said, I will be writing a lot about what to do when the bow blows off to somewhere you never intended, which is a problem with pretty much any boat, particularly those with rolled up headsail(s), of which we have two.

  • Pascal Cuttat Mar 23, 2017, 6:40 am

    “Docking Perverts Club” 🙂

  • Gino Del Guercio Mar 23, 2017, 8:59 am

    Bring it on John.

  • Steve Ord Mar 23, 2017, 10:14 am

    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

    • John Mar 23, 2017, 10:57 am

      Hi Steve,

      I will be spending a lot of time on how to manage dock hands…some of it without bloodshed. But I will also be showing how you can dock without dockhands and will actually come to hope they just stay in their little shack watching soap operas while we get on with it.

  • Drew Frye Mar 23, 2017, 5:13 pm

    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 Mar 24, 2017, 7:48 am

      So nicely said!

    • John Mar 24, 2017, 7:58 am

      Hi Drew,

      Great story. Your comment brought back many happy memories of double handed sailing Father/Daughter. As you say, a smart child is an amazing crew. My daughter was navigating (before plotters) and standing night watches alone by the age of 12.

    • monikatbeast Apr 4, 2017, 10:09 am

      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)

  • RDE Mar 23, 2017, 5:35 pm

    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–.

    • John Mar 24, 2017, 8:02 am

      Hi Richard,

      Great story, and today’s post will make both you and the guy you linked to smile.

  • Darren Oct 31, 2017, 5:10 pm

    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?


    • John Nov 1, 2017, 8:49 am

      Hi Darren,

      This has come up before in the comments, so I will do an FAQ post on it.

  • Jojo Apr 15, 2018, 5:01 pm

    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

    • John Apr 16, 2018, 7:49 am

      Hi Jojo,

      Thank you so much. That book was by far the most difficult we have ever tackled, so to hear that it really helps is doubly gratifying.