Coming Alongside (Docking)—Backing In, Part 2

In the last chapter I covered the basics of backing in to a tight space to come alongside:

  • A boat is not a car.
  • You gotta come ahead to go back.

In this chapter I'm going to cover the all-important approach, and then provide four step-by-step recipes (complete with diagrams), one for each wind direction. And then we have a video to tie it all together.

But before we dive into the details, I'm guessing that many of you are going to get halfway through this chapter and start thinking:

I'm never going to remember all this in the heat of the moment.

Added to that, every approach situation is different, so while I'm going to give detailed instructions for each wind direction, you will need to tweak things on the fly to match the exact situation and your boat.

It's Not That Hard

So here's a bit of reassurance:

Learning to back in to tight spaces is a lot easier than it looks at first glance, because we don't have to get the approach right the first time. As long as we watch for one potential gotcha (more on that in a minute) we can always blow it off by going out forwards and coming around again—one of the great advantages of a back-in docking.

I have been doing back-in approaches with the same boat for a quarter of a century, and we still make two or more approaches about a quarter of the time. In fact, we often make a first approach purely as a reconnaissance to check the conditions.

An approach we blow off is not a failure, it's part of the process that leads to a good docking.

Given that, rather than trying to commit the rest of this chapter to memory and then applying it, I recommend reading it through and then going out on your boat and trying a few back-in approaches—preferably in less than 10 knots of wind—and then reading it through again. Once we have actually tried this in the real world the theory will become a lot clearer.


So given that we may go around at least once and maybe several times, what about the dock guy and all the other know-it-alls on the wharf yelling instructions at us?

Look, after reading this Online Book to this point, even the most inexperienced of us knows far more about what we are doing than they do. So just remember that. It makes it easier to tune out the noise.

The other cool trick is to cup your hand behind your ear and then shake your head in a pretence of being deaf. (It's not a total pretence in my case.) Makes 'em crazy, and they give up and stomp off, leaving us in peace to get the job done.

The black arrow represents wind direction. Click on this, and all, diagrams to enlarge.

Know When To Walk Away*

Having just encouraged you to get out there and give backing in a try, there is one potential situation we need to guard against: the bow blowing off to leeward coupled with being too close to the wharf or boats on the lee side as shown in the diagram.

The reason is that the only way to get straightened out (as we learned in the last chapter) is to go ahead, so if we get into a situation where there is no room to do that we are...let's see if I can put this politely...screwed.

Once again, the key thing to remember is that there is no shame in motoring out to try again—if in doubt, blow it off.

OK, with all that out of the way, let's get started.

Close Approach

A good back-in docking starts with a good close approach.

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