Docking in the Wind

Docking in the Wind Dec 10, 2018

Learning to work with it

We’ve been focusing our attention over the past six columns on basic boat handling tips for single and twin-engine skippers. Here is a brief summary before moving on to more advanced boat handling tips:

  • Create a dock plan for you and your crew that includes line handling instruction and safety rules for departing and returning
  • Get to know your boat and develop basic boat handling skills in a safe area away from docks and other boats
  • Learn to use short shifts for speed control, and standing turns for getting out of tight spots
  • Know your limits at the helm and abort early when things aren’t lining up

In our next few columns we’ll start to deal with some more advanced boat handling techniques. Let’s start with how to deal with the wind.

When the wind blows 

Side-on docking is all about angles and thrust and both can be adversely affected by wind. You may need to re-think your usual approach plan and the timing of your shifts and turns in order to compensate for the wind. Before you commit to the dock, assess the conditions, anticipate what effect the wind is likely to have on you, and plan your maneuvers accordingly.

Assessing the wind

Depending on wind direction, you may be working with it or maneuvering to overcome it. Whether you are departing or returning, judge the wind first:

  • What is the wind’s direction and strength?
  • Is it gusting or steady?
  • Consider what effect the wind will have on you and plan accordingly.

Indicators that help with assessing wind include flags on neighbouring boats and ripples moving across the water. Look for what the wind is doing precisely where you will be maneuvering and then make your plan.

Side-on docking: Wind on the bow or stern   

Approaching the dock with wind on the bow or stern requires that you closely monitor your speed and position. Wind on the bow has a braking effect and can prematurely slow you up on your final approach. Be prepared to stay in gear a bit longer to compensate for this.

If the wind is on your bow as you begin an angled approach for a side-on docking, then its going to be on your beam when you turn parallel, thus pushing you away. Be prepared to have your line handler ready to quickly step ashore with a mid-ship line to secure the boat. If one isn’t available, use a bow or after-bow spring line instead (seek instruction first if you are unfamiliar with spring line techniques).

A following wind on the stern will continue to push you towards the dock after you have shifted to neutral. Be prepared to use a reverse shift to slow you down and turn parallel to the dock earlier than usual. Focus on maintaining a parallel position as the wind pushes you to the dock.

Side-on docking: Wind on the beam

If you are in a cross-wind that’s blowing towards the dock, approach slowly and turn parallel when you are a boat length off. Hold this parallel position until you touch.

A cross-wind on your beam that blows off the dock can be overcome with either a bow-in or stern-in approach and use of a spring line. A bow-in approach requires someone already on the dock to tie off your bow line so that you can reverse in on it. An option is to back stern-in to the wind until you are close enough to the dock to tie off your stern quarter line, then spring forward on it (seek instruction first if you are unfamiliar with spring line techniques).


Your boat’s windage can make you more susceptible to the effects of wind. Consider reducing windage onboard by dropping canvas and/or opening screens and windows. The less surface area for the wind to find, the less effect it will have on you.

Before you attempt to boat in windy conditions, consider your skills, space for maneuvering, and crew safety. Learn how to use spring lines and if possible, carry additional fenders on board for those times when the wind catches you by surprise.

The very best way to learn to work with the wind, and not against it, is to practice docking maneuvers on windy days on a quiet dock. Then you’ll be ready and feel confident when you need to dock in the wind on a busy dock.

By Craig Hamilton

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