Charter Advisors' How To Guide
Now instead of a mooring ball with water all around and room for error you're faced with a solid platform with little to no room for error... actually error is not the right word. No room to be timid is more like it. Docking is a combination between both the left and right brain. You need logic and feeling to pull it off. And like most things sailing, it looks easy until you have to do it, then it looks hard until you do it, then you realize it is as easy as it looked in the first place. Make sense?
Let's start with the logical stuff first.
Call in to the dock or harbormaster (or marina) for permission and docking instructions. On channel 16 on your VHF announce the name of your vessel and who you're contacting (sailing vessel Arabellalafonte calling Sopers Hole Marina, over). You will get a reply and a new channel to talk on. Go to this channel and say, "Sailing vessel Aria on Channel X (whatever they give you), over." They will follow with a confirmation. At this point, let the harbormaster know why you are docking, instructions from the harbor master will follow.
You will be told which dock (depending on your need - fuel, water, etc.)
You will also be told where on the dock to put the yacht and what side to place fenders. All this must be repeated back to the harbormaster so they know you understand clearly. If you don't, they will help you repeat it.. so everyone can hear. And remember...dock on the side you placed the fenders.. duh..
You may also be asked if you require help. Say yes. By accepting help you're telling the dock / harbor master that it would nice if someone was standing on the dock when you arrive to catch and tie up your dock lines. These helpful folks can also give you hand signals or vocal instructions to help you swing in properly. If you're not asked this question you can still request someone be there to assist you. We always do. Why not?!
Note: A dockhand taking up and securing the bowline to the dock is a BIG help, especially if you're a bit short handed or sailing with your family.
Now, generally get things in order for the task at hand.
As you're pulling into the protection of the harbor get the engine(s) running, head wind, and drop sail.
Man the doc lines (attach to the bow and stern cleats at a min, you may also set a spring line on the amidships cleat to ready them). Make sure they are long enough and not tangled.
Pull out fenders and placing them on the side the harbor master told you.
Put one crew member up at the bow dock line and one on the stern. The bow "person" will also act as a look out to help cover any blind spots.
Gather up trash or anything else you might want to dispose of at the docks.
And, the most important? Locate the key. Not the engine key. The other one(s). The water and fuel keys. They look like a star shaped socket wrench... kind of... and the water tank key and fuel key can be different sizes. So they can't be interchanged. Docking is pretty pointless if you can't open your tanks. 99% of the time the only reason you have for docking is to fill water tanks or refuel. I guess bringing the yacht back to the charter base counts too.
Note: On some yachts the water and fuel key IS the winch handle. Before going on a treasure hunt looking for keys that don't exist, or if you were not shown a specific key, try your winch handle.
Picking the line into the dock
Once you have permission and the location to pull into you are going to need to find your line to the dock. Yes this means finding a safe way though a mooring field while coming into the docking area. There is one last factor we have not discussed, wind. You want the wind to help push your stern into the dock rather than push it away. Either have the wind abeam (on your side) or quartering over the bow where it pushes the nose of the yacht into the dock. If you have a tail wind or a quartering wind pushing the stern out, you're going to have to go around for an other try. And that's ok too.
Once you have tied up you can get to filling up. Treat the dock as you would a gas station pump. It's not really a parking spot. When you're done pull away. If you plan to stay a while, grab a mooring ball and clear the dock when you're done for someone else. Keep in mind when leaving the dock that you have room to maneuver once you're away and that you pull far enough away from the dock before turning away. Turn too soon and you may bang or rub the back end of the yacht on the dock... but hey... that's what fenders are for! As with anything sailing, do one thing at a time, don't rush, and you will be fine!
Reality check... dock space is limited. The chances that you are going to have the entire length of dock is rare as is the likelihood that you are the only one heading to the dock. In many cases you're going to have to dock up right behind or just in front of another yacht or boat. Or waiting your turn "in line." This can make things look very interesting. In the end it doesn't change anything. We'll start with docking up with another yacht already on the dock. Assuming the dock is big enough for both yachts of course. It's a mind trick.. but if you think about it, you would still put the yacht in the same place whether another yacht is there or not. It is more of a psych out than anything else. The up side.. after you "park" the thing you will take on a saint like aura and be bragged about to other sailors! Not to mention the story of docking takes on a life of its own. These are the little accomplishments that make life worth living and give others stories that tend to infect the imagination. The truth... it really isn't that hard! The hardest is your first docking with an unfamiliar yacht. Fear of the unknown if you will. But that's about all it is.. Go for it.. You'll do fine on your way to sainthood.
Now for the less glamorous kind of docking. A small dock with room for only one yacht at a time. In these cases there is almost always someone at the dock and one waiting.
You will be faced with 3 choices. If you're on a mooring ball, you can wait here till the dock is clear.
If you are underway you can drop anchor and wait.
Or, you can "get in line" with the "waiting" yacht and hold astern of them.
This last one requires a delicate touch on the helm. The up side, you don't have to race to get your anchor up or off the mooring ball before some other yacht takes you place "in line."
A competitive itch wells up when a line is forming for some reason.
When this situation arises we tend to shrug of the competition and either wait until there is space for us without having to line up, or head over to another nearby marina or fuel dock. Every time (literally, every time) we head to another dock we find that it's empty and everyone is competing for the same fuel dock. Something to consider...
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