Cassiopeia is a big boat with a mass of around 20,000 pounds.
That means she has a lot of momentum, so when approaching a
dock, care must be taken to control speed.
Before approaching the dock make sure you have good
visibility, your boat hooks and dock lines in place, and
your crew is briefed about your procedures. Warn
against being pinched between boat and dock and warn against
In calm conditions,
with little current, about one knot over ground (SOG) seems
ideal, but strong currents or winds may make require different
speeds and make docking difficult or impossible without
assistance from shore. Call for docking assistance on the
VHF or cell phone and circle until satisfied that you can land
safely or go elsewhere.
Have lines and fenders ready, a clear idea of the current and
wind, and your plan for docking.
Be wary of volunteers who show up on the dock to help. Most are
boaters and competent, but some may take a line and tug on it,
resulting in loss of control --
or fail to belay it as expected. Don't be afraid to shout
polite, clear, meaningful orders to these helpers. With both
crew and bystanders, if you have to shout, say "Please" and
approach speed is too fast, there is risk of damage or injury.
If the speed is too slow, the boat will lose steerage way and not
respond to the helm.
over water is
about perfect. Below one
knot, the rudder stops having any effect. Above that
momentum is excessive.
A sudden lack of
control can be most disturbing, so maintain that minimum speed
until docked or rotating into place. Once begun, rotation
does not require forward boat speed.
Currents and wind complicate matters, as the boat will drift
with the water and be influenced by the wind, but the docks and
other fixed objects will not.
Speed Over Ground (SOG) and boat speed in the water will be
different. SOG matters in terms of how the boat is
approaching the dock, but speed in the water will determine how
the helm responds -- or does not.
Confirm the presence or absence of current and its strength and
direction by looking at the water surface nearby and observing
the motion of the boat
Going forward: Although Cassiopeia responds well, and pivots
nicely around the centre going forward, visibility over the bow
can be tough if space is restricted. Add a cockpit full of
passengers and the distraction of children on board and seeing
what is ahead can be problematic.
The usual advice applies, though.
Assess the wind and current, then approach the dock
slowly at about 30 to 45 degrees. When the bow is
almost touching the dock, at the spot where you want the
stern to end up, turn the wheel over hard. The boat will
pivot around the centre, with the bow moving out and the
stern moving in.
When you arrive alongside, steer straight and give a
short burst of power in reverse, and -- when the everything
stops moving -- step off with the stern line and belay it.
Then do the bow line, or spring, as indicated if there is
current or wind. You should have a full minute or more
to do this if you did everything right.
In reverse: Backing Cassiopeia is easy, and as long as
you have a knot or so of speed, she will go right where you ask.
Since you are sitting over the rudder and have total visibility
over the stern, all you have to remember is that the bow can be
carried by the current or the wind and to look forward once in a
The amazing thing about Cassiopeia is how well she
responds to rudder and throttle. Most boats have "prop
walk". She has next to none.
Applying engine in reverse gear will send the boat
backing neatly towards wherever the rudder is set, once
the boat achieves enough speed to steer (about one
knot). Below steering speed, the boat will merely stop
or back up, but not respond to the helm.
Tip: Check the rudder indicator on the instrument panel
if you are not moving and you've forgotten where the wheel is pointed.
A quick burst of engine in forward gear -- pushing the
throttle forward a second or two, then back to neutral or
reverse-- will pivot the boat about the keel whether the boat is moving or not.
This is because a strong jet of water will back come from
the prop and deflect off the rudder even when standing
In reverse, a similar pulse when stopped or nearly
stopped will not pivot the boat, but slow forward motion or
cause the boat to begin backing up. No steering action
will be apparent in reverse until a speed of about one knot
is achieved, so short pulses of reverse power can be used as
Lines and fenders: If you don't know the dock your are
approaching, cruise by the dock and take a look at dock height,
condition, and the availability or lack of cleats.
Once you have taken a pass by the dock to assess the
situation, move out a safe distance, circle, and arrange
fenders and lines for the approach.
Hang fenders low, touching the water -- you can move them up
Have dock lines on deck or hanging on the lifelines, but
make sure they won't fall in the water and foul the prop.
If you have trusty crew, they know the drill, but if your
crew is inexperienced, be cautious as they can do unexpected
things, harming themselves or compromising the boat.
Ask them to sit it out.
Regardless, always warn people not to jump ashore or throw
lines to just anyone -- especially bow lines.
Warn people not to get between the boat and some hard object
when fending off. The boat has a lot of momentum and
can crush hands and feet, heads or bodies.
A 'helpful' bystander pulling on a bow line can really screw
up your docking. Rather, come alongside and hand over
a stern line.
Spin the Boat on a Dime
Cassiopeia can be spun 360 degrees around her keel in her own
boat length. That means turning to any point in a circle
without moving forward or backwards appreciably. This
manoeuvre is easy, but it seems counter-intuitive and until
confident, it is best to practice in open water, away from
obstacles. Later, when mastered, it comes in very handy in
Stop the boat dead in the water. Ensure that all
steerage is lost
Turn the helm all the way to either side depending on the
desired direction of spin
Advance the throttle quickly to about 2000 RPM in forward
gear for a few seconds until the boat begins to pivot.
The bow will begin to rotate, but very little if any forward
motion will result.
Do not move the helm, but immediately shift into reverse,
stopping only briefly in neutral and give a similar burst of
power in reverse to counteract any forward motion. The bow
will continue to rotate from momentum and all forward motion
always ensure you are still dead in the water, not moving
forward or back
repeat the forward/reverse actions as required to spin the
boat and remain on the spot until the bow is rotated to the
when finished, centre the helm, add power, gain steerage
way, and proceed.
— by Barrie Jackson
This article appeared in the August 1996 issue of Pacific
They’re too fast! They’re gonna hit! Legs flail — hands frantically
claw the air. A head bobs down — a human fender! A boathook
jabs and pokes and prods menacingly….
Finally, a seagoing "Evil Kenievel" saves the day in a death-defying
leap from deck to dock. Except, he yanks on the bow line. The
stern swings into the channel….
Phil Kott, 44, a tall, sandy haired executive, cringes sympathetically,
"Docking used to be a big deal — a big monster. When I got into
a bigger boat I expected it to behave like a Cal 20." Like many
boaters, Phil believed good docking lay somewhere between luck
and an arcane art. Now he knows it’s easy. He understands the
handling characteristics of the boat and the reference points.
"I tried to dock like I parked my car," Phil adds. "I didn’t
fully appreciate that a boat pivots."
"A boat has three dimensions, a car has two," explains David
West. A bearded, soft-spoken veteran Canadian Yachting Association
Instructor-Evaluator, David explains that, unlike a car, a boat
pivots around a central point. On sailboats, this point is usually
just aft of the mast. When helm is applied the bow appears to
stay in one spot and the stern pivots around it. In reverse,
the propeller either aggravates this swing or negates it. "I
didn’t put this together with the pivot point," Phil admits.
Viewed from astern, a right hand propeller turns to the right
when going forward. In reverse it rotates counter-clockwise,
to port, throwing water up and out the starboard side, which
pushes the stern to port. A left hand propeller will do the
opposite. Use this effect to advantage and dock on the favoured
side. Any application of reverse power will swing your stern
toward the dock — where you want it.
Plan your approach with these manoeuvring characteristics in
mind, then assess the wind and current. Phil realized wind and
current either worked for or against him, but he says, "I thought
the wind was more powerful because I could feel it."
"Think about what’s happening under the water," David West cautions.
"Most of the boat’s reaction is to current." Water is denser
than air so a half knot current will have more effect than 15
to 20 knots of wind. The breeze, though, does cause the bow
of most boats to pay off downwind because the stern section
sits deeper in the water.
"Approach the dock head into the current and wind, if possible,"
says David West, "and use the slowest possible speed that allows
you to steer the boat where you want it to go." Don’t use excessive
throttle. Generally, maintain the speed with the engine in gear
at idle. Pop it into neutral to slow down and back into gear
if the speed gets too low. Avoid large blasts of power!
Approach the dock at a 30 degree angle. "At this angle the bow
is pointing about where midships will be when you are alongside
the dock," David explains. With this reference point you can
better assess drift from current and wind. Adjust your speed
and helm to compensate for the drift, to maintain the 30 degree
Prior to commencing your approach, rig dock lines and station
crew at the lifeline gates — not on the bow. Use sufficient
fenders and brief your crew about your intentions and their
duties for the docking.
Docking is easiest when you glide to the dock with the engine
in neutral. Turn parallel along the dock just as it disappears
under your bow. Once you’re nearly parallel, reverse your engine
and gently apply power. Presto — you’re alongside!
David adds, "You’re not driving a truck. You don’t have to sit
behind the wheel. Stand near the side of the boat that will
be on the dock."
"When I first started, I thought if I went slowly I would stay
out of trouble. I soon learned that key thing was to add some
power so I didn’t lose control. And, if I have a strong on-shore
wind, I turn parallel to the dock sooner," says Phil, who got
the knack of it. "With a strong off-shore wind I wait a little
Line Handling is part of docking. Once you’re stopped alongside
the dock, your line handlers should step off, through the lifeline
gates — not run, jump or vault or somersault. On the dock, one
walks forward with the bow line, while the other walks to the
stern. Don’t let the bowline handler pull excessively on the
line, the stern will swing out. Secure the stern line first.
The bow and stern lines hold the boat onto the dock. Spring
lines, leading from bow and stern to midships, prevent the boat
moving forward or aft. "The engine," David says, "doesn’t get
turned off until it’s cooled down, you’re on the dock, the spring
lines are set and everything’s fine."
Now you’re docked — in style.
If you can secure a stern line either by tying, lassoing, or
with a grapple, powering forward lightly will hold the boat
against the dock indefinitely, or until other lines can be
If only the bow is secured, powering forward will move the
stern out from the dock.
With a stern line secured, reversing the boat will power the
bow out, but there is danger of scrubbing the stern against
the dock unless fenders are carefully arranged to prevent
scuffing or the boat is held off with a pole.
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