Reducing Dock-Approach Anxiety

By Jack Klang
Quantum Cruising Consultant

Every skipper knows “the feeling” when entering a harbor. It isn’t the anticipation of a restaurant meal ashore, the excitement of visiting quaint shops in a small town, or even the anticipation of seeing old friends. “The feeling,” even among seasoned skippers, is centered around the “What Ifs.” What if I have difficulty docking? What if I encounter boat traffic in the fairway? What if the wind or current catches my boat broadside? What if I loose control of my boat and hit another boat?  

The key to reducing docking anxiety and making a smooth entry is gathering essential information about the marinas you are visiting as well as learning the best ways to handle your boat in various docking situations. Following are a few pointers to help put you at ease and in control.

1. Learn all you can about the physical layout of the marina. Check harbor guides for aerial photos. Navigation charts will show aids to navigation and water depths for your approach.

2. The Coast Pilot® will tell the opening hours and duration of lift bridges you will encounter. Make note of the horn signals used and/or VHF channel monitored by the bridge tender.

3. Contact the harbormaster for a dock assignment (slip number). Although VHF radio has been the traditional communication tool, now cell phones are used most of the time along coastal locations. Marina office phone numbers are usually published in harbor guides.

4. Be ready to supply the following information to the harbormaster: overall length, your beam, and especially, your draft.

5. In return, obtain the following information from the harbormaster:

  • Availability of dockage; slip or side-tie on a pier?
  • The slip assignment number and posting location.
  • Will you have a starboard or port tie, bow or stern in?
  • Are fenders needed?
  • Will someone meet you?
  • Is there any significant boat traffic within the marina, such as ferries?

6. Request verbal steering directions from the marina entrance to your dock. Be aware the person giving you directions may not have entered or viewed the marina from a boat.

7. Check wind direction within the marina. Offshore winds, upon reaching shore, will bend and follow the shoreline. Use your binoculars to spot flags or pennants on local boats.

8.Check the tide table. Enter at slack high water if possible. Know if the next tide will rise or fall.

9. Ask for help with your lines if needed.



To maintain steerage of your boat, you must maintain headway. Learn and
practice increasing your travel speed while creating no wake. 


Boat Handling Tips

Be Alert to the Surroundings
All of your attention should be focused on boat traffic and finding the correct fairway and slip. You can spot local boat traffic by masts that are moving or the tops of power boats as they appear in the distance. Watch astern also, as other boats may overtake you as you near the marina entrance.   

Prepare in Advance
Attach dock and spring lines and ready your fenders before entering the marina. Be sure you understand the harbormaster's directions and jot down the slip number. 

Maintain Control of Your Boat at All Times
To maintain steerage of your boat, you must maintain headway. At slow speeds, your steering control lessens. Learn and practice increasing your travel speed while creating no wake. Traveling faster makes it easier to steer but requires better stopping skills.

Practice boat control on calm days so you are ready for the difficult days when wind and current are factors. Practice stopping your boat. Quick stops from forward gear are done by: 

1.) Reduce your RPMs into the 700 to 1000 RPM range before shifting into neutral, then 

2.) Shift into reverse and increase your engine RPMs to about 1500 RPMs for a very short period of time, until your boat comes to a full stop. CAUTION: BE SURE TO PAUSE IN NEUTRAL before shifting to reverse.

To enter a slip bow first with a cross wind or current, limit your boat’s drift (sideways) by steering your boat’s rub rail against a downwind piling, or putting your hull, (well fendered) against a floating dock. When the potential to drift sideways has been eliminated, proceed forward and steer/pivot into the slip.

Have an Escape Plan
No matter if you are just entering a marina when another boat suddenly appears in your path, or if you are ready to enter a slip (that is already occupied), have an escape plan. 

Build on Your Successes
Reducing docking anxiety takes practice under ideal conditions before attempting new techniques under drastic conditions. With each successful practice maneuver, you will gain confidence. The feeling of being in control of your boat and being able to deal with adverse conditions builds your confidence and pride.





About the Author:  Jack Klang has taught single-handed docking seminars at major boat show seminars across the country. His DVD has been lauded by new and experienced sailors who no longer have the “what ifs.” Contact him at

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