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How to Dock a Boat in a Slip? – 3 Steps & Important Tips

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

how to dock a boat in a slip

For beginners just starting to get a feel for handling their vessel, docking a boat can be daunting. It may be even more terrifying parking a boat in a slip. However, it would do you well to study how to dock a boat in a slip sooner because it takes time to learn.

We’ll go over the docking process step-by-step, including certain things recommended when docking your boat. Keep reading to learn more.

Step-by-step Guide to Dock a Boat in a Slip Bow First

What to prepare

  • Motorized boat
  • Boat line
  • Fenders

Step 1: Slow down and prepare for entry


The first step is to slow down as you enter the dock area.

Stay in the middle of the water to give yourself enough space if the wind and water are calm; this is useful with wider vessels, such as when you dock a pontoon boat. You may need to shift more toward one side to compensate for the water current.

Another essential preparation you need is to set the fenders.

However, it is just as important to set them in the right place. Anticipate where the boat could come into contact with anything around and look for the right height. It’s ideal to have the lines ready before entering the slip.

Make sure to look carefully before trying to enter a slip, and be on the lookout for anything that can catch your boat. A loose line can damage you if it gets caught in your prop, so keep your eyes wide open. It pays to be extra careful when docking by yourself.

Step 2: Position yourself with controlled engine use

Once you’re near the slip, bring the boat to a stop. The best way of doing this is to bring the speed down, go into neutral, and reverse. This will counter the vessel’s forward momentum; wait for the boat to lose momentum before returning to neutral to come to a complete halt.

Bursting your engine a little at a time is useful in small spaces such as in a tight slip. It also works well when docking a boat in the wind to keep control of the vessel.

The ideal place to stop before entering the slip is a few boat lengths away; at this point be sure to check the area for any obstructions or other vessels. You may have to wait for someone else to finish docking so keep your eyes peeled. Make use of short bursts forward and back to keep the boat in place while waiting.

Step 3: Enter the slip

Once your path is clear, start moving in while the boat is turned in the direction of the slip. Wait for the vessel to start to swing, then shift back to neutral and allow the momentum to bring the boat in.

Please make the necessary adjustment to straighten the boat once you’re set to line up with the slip and let it enter.

Use additional throttles if necessary, shift forward for a moment, then go back to neutral. You can do the same burst method for the reverse to counter your forward momentum and come to a stop. You’re done once you tie a boat to a dock.

Tips to Park a Boat in a Slip


  • Only go as fast as you can afford to and consider what you are willing to hit. This means that you should limit your boat to a speed where a collision with the dock would be manageable and not cause significant damage. Pay extra attention to this when you are docking a large boat.
  • Keep the engine on until you’re done docking. Turning it off prematurely can spell trouble because you will also lose your ability to place the vessel properly. You can shift to neutral but don’t be in a hurry to power down.
  • Propel the boat bit by bit instead of trying to power it into place. It will be too difficult to manage your approach if the boat has too much momentum. Remedy this by using short bursts instead.
  • Mind your engine when docking a boat meaning single-engine vessels should adjust their direction first before applying force to propel the boat. For twin-engine craft, only make use of the engines to adjust your approach; do not use the steering wheel.
  • Remember to consider the wind as you approach. When docking a boat in the wind, your boat top can catch the wind and give you extra movement so don’t forget to compensate for this.


Now you know how to dock a boat in a slip whether you want to dock a yacht or a sailboat.

Just make sure to practice in addition to watching a how-to video or using a boat docking simulator. You won’t even wonder about the availability of boat docking systems once you get the hang of it.

What do you think is the most difficult part of docking? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Remember to boat safely.

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