Docking the Boston Whaler

Boat: Boston Whaler Montauk 17, 1976 hull, 90 horsepower engine

Visiting my parents in Georgia, I’ve finally overcome my fears and have 1) maneuvered a boat in tight quarters, and 2) docked it. At 2pm, about 2 hours after low tide, on an incoming tide and with wind coming from offshore, I piloted the boat out of my parents’ small tidal creek and into the Back River and Lazaretto Creek before handing the helm over to our 11-year-old daughter.

My dad talked me through getting the boat ready at the beginning of a trip and about using the tachometer to guide the speeds at which to run the boat for docking, no wake zones, cruising, and crossing wakes. He talked our daughter through steering, taking the boat on a mid-speed figure eight so she could feel the different turns and the boat’s response to the steering wheel, navigating the rivers and heavy boat traffic on a busy Sunday afternoon, speeding up to get to a good cruising speed, and slowing down to cross wakes:

  • When the wake is coming from a boat going in the opposite direction, it will be rough and will pound the hull at speed. Slow down to navigate those wakes.
  • When crossing a wake going in the same direction as us, it will be smoother and will not always require slowing down.

Our daughter drove the boat for about an hour or more, taking us from Lazaretto Creek up the Bull River to the bridge where Williams Seafood used to be, and back again. She guided us through the no wake zone, took us under the bridge, and then turned us around and brought us back, in a fairly stiff wind.

When we slowed for the neighborhood docks in our home river, I took over. We puttered at about 1400 rpm mid river, and as I steered to toward the creek, I dropped it to about 700 as we approached the dock that marks the creek entrance. The wind was pushing the boat too much, so I throttled up to 900 rpm. I made the bend in the creek, and the wind was coming from the east (starboard), from the ocean, pushing us towards the docks on our port side.

On the other side of our dock, the creek was full of neighbor grandchildren (~10 kids from toddler to tween). Normally, Dad goes beyond our dock and turns the boat around so it’s oriented in the proper direction — pointing out of the creek — for the next trip. Because of the kids swimming in the creek, I pulled straight in instead of turning the boat around.

“You get to experience a skipper’s worst nightmare when docking,” my dad said.

“What, a million kids in front of you in the water?”

“An audience,” he said.

About 10-15 feet from my parent’s dock, I put the engine in neutral. At that time I would have had about 2 feet of clearance on the port side — the dock side — had we been next to the dock. I needed more than that. The wind pushed us over too far as I approached, so it was dicey for a couple of minutes. Mom and Dad were there to push the boat off and keep us from colliding with the dock. Mom pushed us off a bit, I gave it a little gas to straighten us out, and then pulled up alongside the wooden platform. Mom got the bow line and Dad got the stern, and once we were all tied up and had the fenders out, I cut the engine.

This morning, before the tide got too low, and when there was less wind, no kids in the creek, and no audience, I turned the boat around in the tight quarters of the creek with my dad’s guidance, and I docked it.


Notes for next time:

  1. Pump gas into engine using hand bulb until bulb is firm.
  2. Use the down button on the engine control lever to put the engine in the water.
  3. Put the key in the ignition to check the engine’s trim, and continue to adjust the engine height until the gauge indicates the halfway mark.
  4. Turn the key to turn th engine on.
  5. Push the big round pad at the base of the control lever to keep the engine in neutral, then push the lever forward to give it some gas and warm up the engine.
  6. When ready, cast off the bow first (or have first mate cast off).
  7. Cast off stern second since it is near the helm and easier to access as skipper.
  8. Put the boat in gear at about 700-900 rpm to steer out of the creek.
  9. At bend in creek, get around the curve before turning — don’t hug the inside of the turn to closely in low water, there are oysters.
  10. To avoid destructive wake to neighbor’s docks, either cross the river to come up to speed or keep the throttle at ~1000 rpm or less if staying close to the docks.
  11. A good cruising speed is ~3500 rpm for this boat.