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How To Safely Dock Your Boat to Prevent Accidents

October 3, 2022 Boating Accident Injury & Death

For experienced and novice boaters alike, docking is often among the most stressful parts of a day out on the water. While docking in calm conditions without other boats nearby can be fairly straightforward, rarely are docking conditions this ideal. Usually, the wind is blowing, the tide is pulling, or there are other (expensive) boats already docked in the adjacent slips—if not all of the above. As a result, docking accidents are fairly common, and in some cases, these accidents result in both significant property damage and significant injuries.

But, it is possible to dock safely even in unfavorable conditions. Here are some tips for docking safely and avoiding collisions regardless of what nature (and other boaters) throw your way from Miami boating accident lawyer Keith Brais:

1. Slow Down

One of the easiest and most effective ways to avoid docking accidents while boating is to slow down. At most, boaters should dock at idle speed. To slow down below idle, boaters can line up their vessels then shift into neutral and coast, “blipping” the throttle as necessary to steer or counteract the wind or tide.

Most boaters try to dock while traveling much too quickly. While expert boaters can make docking quickly look easy, this requires a significant amount of practice and skill. If you have any doubts about your abilities or any concerns about getting your boat where you want it, it is best to go as slow as you possibly can—in most cases.

Of course, as with everything, there are some exceptions. For example, if you are fighting a strong wind, you might need to use the throttle to avoid having your bow or stern (or your entire boat) pushed away from the dock. In these types of scenarios, boaters need to be careful to avoid using too much throttle, and, if possible, they should rely on people on the dock to grab their lines and pull them in.

2. Get Prepared

As you approach the dock, you should already be prepared to dock safely. This means that your boat’s fenders should be out on the correct side, and you should have your dock lines tied off and untangled. Docking requires both hands and complete attention. If you are trying to tie on a fender with a cleat hitch while also trying to steer into a narrow slip, you will be making the process much more difficult—and dangerous—than it needs to be.  

Being prepared also means having a plan. You should know which way the wind and tide are pushing, and you should know whether you will be docking on the port or starboard side. Once you know these, then you can figure out the best way to approach the dock so that you can arrive as safely and smoothly as possible.

3. Ask for Help

When docking, boaters should not be afraid to ask for help if necessary. If you aren’t sure how to handle the wind or tide, or if you need to squeeze into a narrow space between other vessels, rely on your passengers or the dockhands to protect your boat, the other boats and everyone onboard. Most recreational boats are light enough that passengers and dockhands can help guide the boat with their hands or the boat’s dock lines. If you aren’t sure how to position your boat to slide into a slip, experienced dockhands will be able to guide you through the process of docking safely as well.

4. Do Not Rely On Others To Slow Your Boat

While passengers and dockhands can help guide a boat that is traveling at idle speed (if necessary), captains should never rely on others to slow down their vessels. Trying to arrest a boat’s forward motion with a person’s arms is dangerous in multiple ways, and it is a frequent cause of docking injuries. In these scenarios, passengers may be able to hire a Miami boating accident lawyer to hold the captain responsible.

5. Communicate with Your Passengers

Passengers frequently get injured during docking because they are unaware of the safety risks involved. They don’t realize that they need to keep their arms and legs inside the vessel, and they think they can disembark as soon as the dock is within reach. To avoid passengers suffering injuries or falling before the boat is secure, captains should communicate clearly that passengers need to stay seated inside the vessel until they say it is safe for passengers to start gathering their belongings.

Likewise, if a passenger does something dangerous during docking (like reaching over the side of the boat), you should not hesitate to provide firm instructions. While he or she might feel slightly embarrassed, your passenger will be glad that you helped him or her avoid a serious injury.

6. Communicate with the Dockmaster

If you are concerned about the conditions or are not sure exactly where you need to go, you should communicate with the dockmaster before entering the marina or coming into port. The dockmaster will be able to advise you on how to approach and guide you to the right location. While relatively rare, some docking locations can also have unexpected underwater hazards such as sunken vessels or broken docks. This is a particular concern after major storms. The dockmaster should be able to warn you of these and help you steer around them as well.

7. Avoid Hazardous Conditions

All boaters should always stay well within their abilities and comfort level. Before leaving home, boat captains should check the weather and water conditions—not only when they are planning to leave but also when they are planning to return. Conditions can change dramatically over the course of an afternoon. If it looks like getting back to shore safely could be a problem, then it is best to reschedule for another day.

Contact a Miami Boating Accident Lawyer About Your Legal Rights

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a recreational boating accident, including an accident that occurred while docking, you may be entitled to significant financial compensation. To discuss your legal rights with a Miami boating accident lawyer in confidence, call 800-499-0551 or request a free consultation online today.