Three Sailing Tips for Sailing Up to a Dock

If you are anything like me, you want to know the best sailing tips that put you in command of your small cruising or racing sailboat. Forget the iron genny. Turning on an engine won’t increase your sailing skills. Use the main propulsion your boat came with–the powerful mainsail–and become the true master and commander of your boat–under sail!

Prepare before You Enter

Sailing seamanship means being prepared to change your planned docking side in an instant. Better prepare now when you have time. That means fenders on both sides. Docking lines on both sides. Boat hook out on deck, extended all the way, and ready to use in an instant. And don’t forget to have a small, “throwable” anchor, attached to a light, small diameter line. Attach the anchor line to a stern cleat. This gives you an emergency anchor to use in an instant if you need to put the “brakes” on.

There are some that say you can use a roller-furling headsail to make an easy docking. While that may be true, it also adds unnecessary complexity to this maneuver. More than one furling unit has failed just when you need it the most. And, the headsail gets in the way of the sailing crew on the bow. They need a safe, clear area without the clutter of sheets or flapping canvas to get the docking lines over right away.

So, for this article, we will discuss how to use just the mainsail–your “main” propulsion unit. For best control, make your landing with the bow pointed into the wind. This insures that the mainsail will luff and help stop the boat. Use just enough sail to give good control and minimum speed. Reef the main as necessary, or slack the halyard to de-power the mainsail as you make the approach. At all times, you must keep sailing speed to less than 2 knots.

1.Wind Blows OFF the Dock

– Approach the dock under close reach.
– Ease the mainsheet to slow down. Tighten the mainsheet to speed up.
– Let the mainsheet out all the way when within 2-3 boat lengths from the dock.
– Drift up to the dock with the bow pointed into the wind.
– Put over the bow line first to prevent the boat from drifting aft.

2.Wind Blows ON the Dock

– Approach with just enough mainsail for good control.
– Spin up into the wind when within 2-3 boat-lengths from the dock.
– Let out the mainsheet all the way to luff the mainsail and allow the boat to stop.
– Stop faster when you push the boom out against the wind (called “backwinding”).
– Drop the mainsail and allow the boat to drift sideways to the dock.
– Put over the bow and stern lines.

Some boats will “sail” without any sail up with a wind on the beam or aft of the beam. Use this technique in light winds when your speed can be kept to less than 2 knots. That way, you will be able to stop the boat once alongside the pier, without damage.

3.Wind Blows from Astern

– Use this approach in light air. You must be able to keep sailing speed to less than 2 knots.
– Approach with just enough mainsail for good control.
– Lower the mainsail as you make your entrance. Any amount hoisted will create enough windage for steerage. You may also sail in under bare poles as long as you keep speed to a bare minimum.
– Haul down the mainsail when within 3-4 boat-lengths of the dock.
– Put over the stern line first to stop forward momentum.

Use these three sailing tips to gain the confidence and skills you need to learn the art of sailing control. You will join that small percentage of sailors who are the true masters and commanders of their small sailboats.