The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Coming Alongside (Docking)—Backing In, Part 1

Up to now in this Online Book, we have laid down a foundation of the basic skills, gear, and techniques we need to bring our boats alongside in good order.

In this chapter I’m going to share how we can apply all of this to one of the most intimidating of docking challenges: backing in and then coming alongside in a confined space.

And here’s some really good news: The techniques in this chapter will make it so we no longer fear backing in, but rather look forward to it because…oh, OK, I’ll admit it…it’s such a fun way to show off.

Now at this point I can hear many of you saying:

This is not going to work for me, because my boat does not steer in reverse.


Yeah, fine for you fin-keel boat owners, but I have a full keel, so none of this will work for me.

And yes, I know that’s general wisdom, and repeated over and over again on wharves, in sailors’ bars, and on the forums, but it’s just…dead…wrong.

Sure, some boats are easier to back in than others—our boat with her long fin keel and skeg rudder is about middle of the pack in difficulty—but if you shelve your scepticism, read this chapter and the next, watch the video—yes, we have visual aids—and commit to a bit of practice, you will be able to back your boat into confined spaces.

And yes, even with a crosswind.

As usual, I’m assuming no bow thruster. With one, much of the next two chapters won’t apply since backing in with a bow thruster is simply a matter of moving the bow back and forth with thruster bursts to steer the boat and is very easy. That said, thrusters do break, and many that are fitted to yachts are too weak to do their job properly when it’s blowing, so these techniques will still be useful.


Before we get into the details, it’s good to know that backing in well is simply a matter of applying the basic skills we have already learned in this Online Book, so please make sure that you are absolutely clear on:

  • Prop walk
  • Prop wash
  • And how we use them to put our boats where we want them.

(I will use, but not explain, these terms in this chapter.)