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When it comes to docking, I believe that there are four kinds of boaters:

  1. those who hardly ever go to a dock
  2. those who regularly go to one dock that they know well
  3. those who dock regularly, but always at different places
  4. those who tie up to several different docks on a semi-regular basis

While initially cruising on ZTC, we found ourselves primarily in the first category of boaters. We hardly ever went into marinas, and when we did have to purchase gasoline or water from a dock, we found ourselves doing so using jerry cans via the dinghy. When we were running charters in the Virgins though, we were definitely in last category. We routinely tied up to various docks in both the US, and the British Virgin Islands. Today’s quick tip relates to those in the last category.


Frost safely tied up at Port Louis Marina

Yesterday, Rebecca and I docked at Secret Harbor Marina to top off our water tank (we presently have our watermaker pickled). This is the second time we have done so since returning to Grenada, and we were once again reminded of an idea that we had when we were chartering up island. As each dock is of a different height, and may also have some unique features, we came up with the idea to record this info so that we’d know at what height to set our fenders, and also anything else that we should watch out for (a strong cross current, for example, or a sharp object on the dock to avoid). Why record this info? Simply because it’s difficult to remember, and having your fenders set wrong adds a complication to a situation that is already stressful for many (most) boaters.


  1. Good suggestion….I have some notes that I keep in my paper based marina guide book. If I ever had an electronic version of that guide I would still keep those notes on paper as back up. For my home marina I have marked the fender lines with 2 lines using a permanent Sharpie. One is the position that I initially tie the fenders on when I temporarily hang them from the lifelines at the top of the stanchions for docking. The second is where I re-position them at the base of the stanchion once I am dock. With floating docks these positions never change.

  2. The older the boat the less frantic the bumper placement is. I can dock most boats when in a protected area. Out in the wind and current, its a matter of skill, crew action and just hitting the dock the least damaging way possible.

  3. I fall in categories 2-4, depending on when you ask. Last week was mostly category 3, which leads to the most standard tip:

    NEVER go straight in to the slip unless the tide is completely slack and the wind is zero. Even then it is best to circle around once or perhaps just hover for a few minutes and observe. You only dock like a boss when you have all of the factors in your head.

    I frequently ask for a different slip if I see a problem that I feel will make docking unsafe. A strong tide running towards and under a bulkhead is probably my least favorite; at some point the current catches the keel and you get slammed. Better have those fenders right.

    When single handing it can also be much smarter to anchor out. Much less to go wrong. Move to the dock when the conditions are truly in your favor. And remember that while they may send dock hands, you should not rely on them for anything critical.

    Finally, will the dock become unsafe if the wind shifts? Will you be able to get off?

    • All good advice, as usual.

      I have also, on numerous occasions, requested a different slip if I wasn’t comfortable bringing the boat in, especially for the first little while each time we started on a new boat (ZTC, Leopard, Frost).

      Getting the boat off the dock is another issue altogether. Given a consistent wind direction, I’d rather fight a bit to get on the dock than to fight to get off, especially if there are competent dock hands to assist.

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