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Tips for Short-Term Docking

Effective docking strategies for short-term stops.
Boating Safety

I've been unceremoniously cut off before, but this guy did it with aplomb. It was a holiday weekend with one fuel dock open and a queue of boats circling. Just as I was shaping up to sidle alongside, a go-fast surges between my old convertible and the dock and hits hard reverse. In a flash, the guy is ashore and grabbing the fuel hose the attendant was holding for me. He pointedly doesn't look my way, but his girlfriend, sprawled on the forward sun pad, gives me a "got-ya" smile. OK, it takes all kinds. I shrugged my shoulders and slid into the spot that opened astern of him.

The attendant runs over and grabs a line; I look down from the flybridge. The go-fast dude is really in a hurry. He has a bowline casually looped on a dock cleat. While pumping fuel, he has one foot on the dock and the other on the aft deck. The boat slowly begins to drift off. The gap between his legs widens; suddenly, it's decision time. He opts for the dock and stumbles backward, leaving the fuel nozzle in the tank. As he heads toward the bow to yank the boat in, the nozzle jumps out and sprays fuel until the water resembles a rainbow parade. Suffice it to say, the story doesn't end there, but we'll talk about legalities, fines and penalties at a later date.

We all experience the need for short tie-ups. And granted, if you're just swinging in to refuel or to pick up a six-pack, it's a pain to go the whole route of fore and aft lines, springs, etc. On the other hand, it's nice if the boat is still there when you turn your back for a few minutes.

My preferred stop-and-go method has always relied on the midship spring. On that note, I should say any vessel that doesn't have a cleat located at or near its midpoint is not properly equipped.

That cleat can be a lifesaver in any number of situations — first, when coming in for that short stop. If the boat's midship cleat — be it a runabout or yacht — is placed directly across from a cleat on the dock and it's taken up tight, where can the boat go? That cleat-to-cleat bond will serve as a fulcrum of sorts, allowing the bow and/or the stern to drift out just so much.

Here's the small print: If the tie-up is for a short time — while refueling or running into the dockside shack — and someone competent is left aboard, no other lines are necessary. The boat, however, should never be left unattended, and it should be well-fendered. Using a midship cleat, as such, works best on floating docks. If there are heavy swells, wakes rolling in or significant wind, it's not a good idea and the boat should be secured traditionally. Obviously, if the vessel is going to be left unattended for any amount of time, it needs to be secured properly with bow and stern lines as well as fore and aft springs.

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