The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Coming Alongside (Docking)—Taming the Wind

Now we get to the tricky (and sometimes scary) stuff: getting alongside when it’s breezy.


The good news is that we have already covered all the base knowledge we need to pull off a great docking in adverse conditions, in previous chapters of this Online Book. Let’s revisit:

  • Prop walk moves the stern in reverse.
  • Prop wash moves the stern in forward.
  • Once stopped or moving slowly we can move the stern, but not the bow.
  • When in tight places, lots of power, not much speed.
  • Prop walk is dramatically increased if the boat is moving forward and a turn has already been started that moves the stern in the same direction as reverse prop walk just before going into reverse.
  • The wind causes most boats to pivot at a point well aft of amidships.

This is all we need to know. The rest of becoming a good close quarters boat handler in high winds is just applying these fundamentals to different situations.

That said, a high-wind approach is definitely final exam time, so it’s well worth our time to have a quick re-read through the last two chapters (start here) and make absolutely certain we are clear on exactly how each of these fundamentals work, just as I did, before going further with this one.

Not to worry, I will wait right here…

…glad to see you back. I have further good news.

The Goal

Since we all clearly understand how to rig our docking lines and fenders and how to use spring lines to bring the boat alongside in good order and keep her there without drama while we get fully secured, the goal for this chapter is super simple:

  • If we have a cleat or fairlead in the right place: get the balance-point aft spring on the wharf and secured.
  • If we are not so rigged: get the fore spring and bow line on the wharf and secured.

Once more, if the above does not make perfect sense to you, please read, or re-read, this chapter.

Also, I’m assuming for the balance of this chapter that there is no help available on the dock.

I Beseech Thee

One more thing before we get to the good stuff, if you have not already done so, please think seriously about installing the right gear to rig that magic balance-point spring. Yes, you can get away without it, but as we start attempting more and more difficult coming alongside situations, said spring becomes more and more important.

In fact, if we are (or are planning to) really get out there voyaging, far from marinas and floating docks, there are some coming alongside situations we will be faced with that simply can’t be accomplished safely without this magic spring. OK, enough preaching about that.

On with the show.

When we start thinking about all the possible docking scenarios in big breeze, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed—I should know, since I feel that way every time I sit down to write one of these chapters—so once again the key to success is breaking things down into manageable scenarios and then thinking about how we apply the fundamentals to each.

When we do that there are just eight possibilities (four for each side-to) that have varying degrees of difficulty—well worthwhile knowing since we can often turn a near-impossible situation into an easy one, simply by choosing a different berth or turning the boat around, which we learnt to do two chapters back.