The next few blog posts are going to be written by on of our instructors, Ken Jensen. He will be doing a series on docking, something that everyone can always learn and practice more.

Ken has been teaching with VSS since 2004.  A native of Minnesota (The Land of 10,000 Lakes!), Ken moved to Colorado in 1995, and took his first class with VSS in 2002.  Back in Minnesota, Ken and his dad sailed little dinghies like Sunfish and Sailfish, as well as Hobie cats back when they were the cool new thing.  Nowadays Ken teaches most of the VSS classes, but particularly enjoys teaching Docking on the J/30 at Chatfield, where you will find him on most Saturdays.


Welcome back.  Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I want to talk about two ways that we can screw up and one thing to up our game.  As you read this, remember, part of the fun of docking is that you have an audience.  There are always people sitting on the back of their boats watching.  Let’s provoke their envy, not provide their entertainment.

So in that spirit, here are a few of the things that can go wrong, and their preventatives.

One of the first things to avoid is allowing a line to wrap around the propeller.  This is easy to do if you let a line dangle near the stern.  I know sailors who are adamant about not having any lines in the water once the motor is started.  So look not just at mooring lines, but also be aware of the jib or genoa sheets, as well as any other line that can wrap around the propeller or prop shaft.  Outcome to this sad scenario might include a bent prop shaft, cracking the fiberglass of the hull at the shaft, and ruining the propeller itself.  And of course the chaos in the marina you’ve just created.  ‘Nuff said.

The second thing we need to talk about is getting on and off the boat.  Believe it or not, this is a skill, and an important one, since getting on and off the boat is one of the more dangerous things you can do on a boat.  Really.  So we teach a few things.

A) Always use your hands getting on and off.

B) Do not try to get on or off the boat while holding a heavy or bulky item.  Hand it a person on the boat/dock, and step on or off unencumbered.

C) If you are stepping onto a wobbly slip, try to place your foot on the center of the slip, not the edges.  This will minimize the wobble.

D) If there is a furling line or some line that runs along the toe rail, my practice has been to step on it.  When you do this, you run the risk of slipping on the line, so be careful, but I think it is safer than putting your foot near a line and risking being tripped by it.

Finally, one thing to up our game, let’s discuss dinghies.  Assuming you have a towable dinghy (not one on davits or stored in a garage in the transom) you have a few option on what to do with it in the marina.  

A) If the dinghy is inflatable, the best thing to do with it is deflate it and store it on the foredeck.  I know you’re not going to do that.

B) You can raft the dinghy to the sailboat.  (Rafting boats means the boats are tied together side by side.)  If you have the room in the marina, this is a great solution, but remember to use both breast lines to hold the dinghy to the sailboat and spring lines to keep it from moving back and forth.  You don’t want the dinghy moving against the hull of the sailboat.

C) Most likely, however, you will be simply towing the dinghy.  If you do this, remember to tie the dinghy as close as possible to the stern, so that it can’t swing and hit things.  It is a first class mistake to be in the marina with a dinghy trailing 10 or 15 feet behind the stern.  

Next post:  Motors- your best friend that seems to hate you.

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