Going Alongside (Docking) in Current—Backing In

In the first chapter on coming alongside in current in this Online Book, we explored how current has very different effects on close-quarters boat handling than wind.

And, in Part 2, we learned how to turn our boats in confined spaces in current and then added wind.

Now let's look at backing into a tight situation where there is no room to turn around. And let's make it even more of a giggle by adding some final approach and line-handling detail—more of that stuff coming in Part 4.

Once again, we will be applying what we have already learned in this Online Book about backing our boat and then factor in the current.

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Marc Dacey

John, would you recommend practising these maneuvers, say, on the side of a wharf with current but few if any boats? We have maneuvered in variable conditions next to the more benign type of plastic buoys just to get a sense of what a cross wind will do to our attempts to keep station. This has suggested to us which “stupid boat tricks” are either beyond our skill sets or beyond our boat to safely accomplish, particularly in tight situations. You have to know when to fold ’em!

Alex Borodin

John, I would be tempted to elevate the next to last point in the summary to the top: always at all times have an escape route. Also, I make it a rule that any crew member (not only the helmsperson) can call for a go-around and that go-around is immediately executed without discussion. The reason for the call can be discussed later when in open water.

Alex Borodin

Hi John,

this is something I have picked up from reading way too much about aviation industry and air accident investigations. As far as I know, it is SOP in all of aviation that both pilot flying and pilot monitoring can call for a go-around and that call is never penalized.

The other crew member may see something that the helmsperson does not see and in close quarters there is probably no time for a discussion.

Even if a crew member simply does not feel he can safely execute their job (e.g. step off onto the dock), I’d rather have a talk about that in the open water than pressuring them into endangering themselves. Hence, I repeat on each approach briefing that “You can always go around

Marc Dacey

When backing off a mooring, I rely on my wife and/or son at the bow to not only confirm that we are “off”, but also to let me know when we are clear of the trailing moorings/tender and I can turn to one side or another. I usually suggest my preferred actions prior to unmooring. We have found this helpful. Experience has given everyone involved the sense to keep quiet unless there is an obvious danger or concern.

Coming alongside on port (my preferred side due to favourable prop walk but the side with reduced visibility when I am helming from inside the pilothouse), I usually ask how my docking estimations went. It never hurts to see if one’s visualizations reflect reality.

Alex Borodin

John, that’s a funny analogy. I’ll have to rethink my SOPs next time I’ll have someone from outside my family as crew.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and Alex,
For me, the issue comes down to timing. Anticipating a proposed plan of say, taking a shortcut that takes one near shallower water or rocks, vs staying outside in deeper “safer” water: either of us has veto over the “riskier” plan. But once in the midst of a maneuver, the skipper calls the shots. We habitually, after a questionable event or when things go pear shaped, try to have a bit of a “formal” sit down post-mortem where we look at what went awry, what went well, and what we could have done differently.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy 

Marc Dacey

This is a good idea, of course, but many crew skip the “what went well” post-mortem. If I spot improvement, or am spotted improving, it’s a positive thing to point out.

Edward Scharf

To me it depends on the experience of the crew member. I would listen much more to someone with experience in doing the maneuver. Not so much to someone who had not.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I know some crews are wedded to their communication headsets, but I have never been a fan for just the reasons you mention (as well as the fiddling sometimes necessary to keep them working properly and in place on one’s head when working) at least for the size boats we are generally talking about.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Colin Bevan

Hi John, Interesting article as always, But surely it is easier to back towards the current, then the bow just hangs idle? In cases of backing with the current, and current is strongish – the chance of the boat pivoting round is more present, thus more risky ? – and backing towards the current – it is easy to stop once you have reached the desired position (keeping a light reverse) whilst moring? – ie and as you state, if things go wrong it is easier to motor out. – Thanks for interesting articles – Best regards from Norway – Colin

Alissa Winter

Hi John,

I got shivers of dread in a number of your described scenarios.

Slight typo in 2nd-to-last blue box:
This property of current becomes a big factor when dealing with situations where the current is running across floating docks, since the hulls of the boats moored to the up-current side will create lulls in the current, but the gaps between the boats will actually accelerate the it.”

Mark Ellis

Far be it for me to be critical, I’m hopeless at motoring backwards at the best of times. Especially given my prop-wash changes according to my boat speed, but……. I’m struggling to understand why you would ever want or need to back against a current. Certainly manoeuvring in a current is one situation when it is better to postpone any additional difficulty to tomorrow after you have had a good night’s sleep. A boat will sit better moored into a current, and it won’t be inclined to collect all the crap that often accompanies a current. (You know, bottles that go donk in the night). As for reversing into a berth Med style I never do it- pointing your delicate bits into the unknown is just too frightening. I mean, have you seen what gets dumped into the water there? Shopping trollies ain’t in it, I’ve seen a car lurking there, just below water level. Not to mention silting. And getting out of trouble, for me, it’s always better to be motoring into a current when you can be going slowly and gently.