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How to Sail a boat into a slip under complete control

If your small diesel engine died, would you have the ability to dock your small cruising sailboat in her slip? You can learn how to sail a boat in tight quarters if you use the secrets of preparation, control, and communications. Get ready to elevate your sailing skills to a new level with this important skill! At the Chapman School, we trained on donated boats. You never knew whether that engine would start after a fun, exhilarating day of sailing on the river. Many times these tired workhorse diesels didn't want to start. If the conditions were right, we would make careful preparations and take the boat into the slip under sail. The keys to successful docking under sail are preparation, boat control, and crystal clear communications. Use a lifejacket or float to practice your approach before you enter. Assign positions to each of your crew (see below). Go over the approach and docking plan to make sure that everyone understands their job. Wind and current Use binoculars to look inside the marina entrance. Check flags, wind socks, and sailboat masthead-flys for the wind direction. You want to enter with the sailing wind between the beam and stern. That gives you good control and maneuverability. Look for current streaming off of dock or slip pilings. These current "tails" warn of strong current. Set the anchor if necessary and wait for slack water. This solves the problem of having to deal with an additional complicated factor. Follow the seven steps below to make preparations and enter your slip under sail:

How to Sail a boat into a slip under complete control


1. Set up dual spring lines Make up two spring lines equal to 2/3 of your boat length. Form large three foot eyes in one end. Cleat the other end to cleats between the bow and beam on each side. 2. Put out fenders Attach fenders on both sides of the boat. Keep one fender free and assign a crew member to work this "roving" fender to cushion points of contact. 3. Use minimum sail Use the least amount of sail area that gives you good rudder control. This might be a full or reefed main alone, headsail alone, or bare poles. A headsail could get in the way of the foredeck crew manning the spring lines. 4. Ready your boat anchors Make up a short scope marine anchor on the bow and have a small casting kedge anchor ready on the stern. In an emergency, you want to be able to stop or slow the boat. 5. Depower the mainsail or headsail Assign one person to the mainsail halyard (or sheet and furling line if you decide to use the headsail). As you enter, lower the main (or furl the headsail) a bit at a time. You want just enough speed on the boat to give you positive steerage (rudder control) for maneuvering. If you have enough breeze, drop sail (but keep it ready to raise) and sail in under bare poles. Make sure you have tried this in open water, and that your boat handles well with no sail set. Maintain enough forward momentum so that you can steer the boat and make a sharp turn into the slip. 6. Brake the boat Assign one crew member to each side of the boat to man the spring lines. Tell them to drape the eye over the outermost slip pilings as soon as the bow enters the slip. The shortened spring lines will "brake" your small sailboat short of the inner seawall and center her in the slip. 7. Feather the rudder Use hard sweeps to turn your boat in a sharp turn. With a sailboat wheel, throw the wheel hard in the direction of the turn. Bring it back amidships smooth and easy. Then, throw it hard again in the direction of the turn. With a sailboat tiller, use this same process, but push the tiller hard away from the direction of your turn. Then bring it back smooth and easy and repeat the feathering technique. When you have the bow pointed toward the slip, drop your speed if necessary with a "quick-feather" technique. Sweep the wheel or tiller from side to side fast,