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How To Dock Your Boat By Yourself in Harsh Weather Conditions

October 31, 2022 Boating Accident Injury & Death

Docking by yourself can be a challenge even for experienced boaters. In harsh weather conditions, it can seem nearly impossible. But, there are tips solo boaters can follow to dock safely, and when a storm is approaching, it may be necessary to get back to land as quickly as possible. In this article, Miami boating accident lawyer Keith Brais offers 10 tips for safe solo docking in bad weather.

10 Tips for Safe Solo Docking in Bad Weather

While docking solo in bad weather can be stressful, it shouldn’t be dangerous. Solo captains should have the skills they need to dock safely, and they should know how to avoid putting themselves and others in harm’s way. With this in mind, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to dock your boat by yourself in harsh weather conditions, you should:

1. Put On Your PFD

Any time you are boating solo, it is a good idea to wear your personal floatation device (PFD). But this is an especially good idea when boating solo in harsh weather conditions. One important thing to keep in mind is that if you are rushing to get back to the dock, other boaters are probably rushing to get back as well. So, even if you aren’t concerned about throwing yourself overboard, you still need to be wary of the risk of being thrown over in a boating collision.

2. Make Sure You Know Your Boat

Different boats react to wind, current, throttle inputs and steering inputs in different ways. For example, some boats are stern-heavy, while others have raised bows that are more prone to being blown by the wind. Navigating a single-engine (or single-screw) boat while docking is very different from navigating a twin-engine (or twin-screw) boat as well. By knowing your boat, you can give yourself the best chance of maintaining control while docking in hazardous conditions.

3. Do As Much As Possible In Advance

When you are trying to dock your boat by yourself in bad weather, you don’t want to be multitasking. Communicating with the dockmaster over the VHF radio, untangling dock lines and setting your boat’s fenders are all steps you can—and should—take before you start to approach the dock. As you make your approach, you should be fully prepared for docking so that you can devote both of your hands and all of your attention to making your berth as smoothly and safely as possible.

4. Check the Wind and Tide

Even relatively modest winds and tidal currents can make solo docking much more difficult. As winds get into the double-digits, they can impact the docking process drastically. With this in mind, when preparing to dock it is important to check the wind and tide. While you may be able to do this visually, if you are unsure which way the wind is blowing or the tide is pulling, you should use your boat’s onboard gauges or an app on your phone. With that said, attempting to dock while distracted can be dangerous, so if you haven’t checked the wind and tide by the time you start your approach, you should either abort and start over or do your best with the information you have available.

5. Turn On Your Navigation Lights

When boating in bad weather, it is important to make sure your boat is visible to other captains on the water. Fortunately, this is fairly easy—simply turn on your navigation lights. If it is dark and you have spotlights or other lights you can use to light up your surroundings, do not hesitate to turn these on as well. Oftentimes, simply using a boat’s navigation lights will prevent accidents and avoid the need to hire a Miami boating accident lawyer.

6. Make Sure You Can See What You Are Doing

If you need to perform a precise maneuver to dock next to another boat, the last thing you want is to have limited visibility. Along with turning on your boat’s lights, turn on your boat’s windshield wipers, or put on a hat or glasses to help shield your eyes from the rain.

7. Use the Wind and Tide To Your Advantage (If Possible)

In most cases, it is easiest and safest to dock against the wind and tide. This gives you the most control, whereas docking with the wind or tide (or both) makes it more difficult to dictate exactly where your boat is going. This effect becomes more pronounced the stronger the wind and tide are pushing your vessel.

Of course, you won’t always have the option to have both of these factors in your favor. If the tide is pushing your boat one way and the wind is pushing it another, you should generally try to go against the one with the most force. In other words, if you have a near-slack tide and the wind is howling at 25 knots, you should be much more concerned about the wind than the tide.

8. Choose Your Approach Angle

Many docking accidents result from indecisiveness. Captains start their approach, and then they try to adjust when they realize that they haven’t made the best decision. This rarely works out well. Before you start your docking maneuver, you should have a clear plan. Then, you should choose your approach angle and stick with your plan unless something unexpected goes wrong.

9. Watch Out for Hazards in the Water

During storms, objects from docks and boats will often get blown into the water. As you make your approach, you should check the water to make sure there are no hazards in your way. Likewise, if you encounter other boaters or yacht captains who aren’t following best safety practices, treat them as hazards as well and keep plenty of distance, if possible.

10. Be Prepared To Abort and Start Over (If Necessary)

Finally, while it is important to get to shore quickly when conditions turn unfavorable, it is equally important not to rush in most cases. If the wind blows your bow or stern unexpectedly, or if another boater cuts you off, be prepared to abort and start over. Rushing is a good way to make mistakes, and it is a frequent cause of both recreational boat and yacht accidents.

Speak with a Miami Boating Accident Lawyer in Confidence

If you have been injured in a docking accident and you believe someone else may be responsible, you should speak with a lawyer about your legal rights. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a Miami boating accident lawyer at Brais Law Firm, call 800-499-0551 or get in touch with us online today.