May 03, 2021| Safety
By: Tom Flinn
This two-part “Small vessel safe boating tips” post will focus on safe boating basics (you can find part 1 HERE). These tips are particularly important for new boaters but also serve as great reminders for even the most seasoned skipper.
In this post, we offer some tips on anchoring and docking your small boat on Lake Hopatcong. These can be complicated topics on tidal waters, where you need to take into account not just the characteristics of your boat and the wind and wave action. Tides present other issues which we won’t deal with here.
Understanding how the wind and waves will affect your boat as it approaches the dock is the key to a successful landing. Will you be pushed toward or away from your docking spot?
Line up your approach. If you intend to dock on the windward side, your angle of approach should be shallow: parallel, or almost parallel to the dock. Keep your speed to minimum head way, shifting in and out of forward gear as needed. Use the breeze to ease you into your spot.
If your spot is on the leeward side, your angle of approach will need to be steeper, so your momentum will counteract the wind pushing you away. Aim your bow to the middle of your spot. As you get close, shift into reverse and turn your wheel hard away from the dock to bring the stern along side. Apply reverse throttle to stop your forward momentum.
Always have your boat hook handy. It will be your first attachment point to the dock, as the breeze pushes you away.
Pontoon boats can be particularly difficult to handle in a breeze. If making a windward approach to the dock, keep your angle steep. Get your bow close enough that your mate can step off onto the dock with a dockline. Have them secure the line to a cleat, shift into reverse gently, and turn your wheel hard away from the dock. Your stern will slowly “walk” into the wind and the assembled crowd, ready to post to the video to the “BoatFails” Facebook page, will be disappointed and impressed at the same time.
When departing the dock, also be mindful of the wind’s effect. If you are on the leeward side, it’s easy to be patient and let the breeze help you away. On the windward side, things can be a lot trickier. If the breeze is very strong, consider waiting it out. The chance of scratching your boat or the ones forward and aft is significant, as is the risk of injury.
Otherwise, the key is to get either the bow or the stern away from the dock (and into the wind) sufficiently that you can pull away without a) being blown back in toward the dock or other boats tied along side, or having your stern swing contact neighboring boats.
Be safe, and enjoy!
This post is part of our 2021 Spring Safety Series. Tom Flinn is a founding member of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation Board of Trustees and during his tenure has served as a liaison to the New Jersey State Police and the Morris County Sheriff's Office.