Docking and Experience
Experience, It takes time to gain it. Sometimes it's a great one, sometimes not so great.
My first boat was a 16' 1959 Lone Star Arrow. It had a 6hp Wizard Super Twin on the back and was the perfect boat for fishing on Hoover. I learned how to launch, dock, and retrieve with this rig. It was old and beat up, so hitting the dock didn't bother me much.
After a few years I decided to strip off years of paint and repaint the boat to make it a bit more presentable. It took the better part of a month to strip, prep, and paint but it was well worth it. Now I had a boat to be proud of and hitting the dock was a bit more of a concern. After a few good scratches I got to be proficient with getting it to stop just shy of rubbing the dock.
We got a worn out 24' Cuddy that I spent 3 years rebuilding. 74 hours alone in wet sanding and polishing the hull alone. I figured docking would be a lot like the 15-16' boats I had just a bit more sluggish......running an I/O is nothing like a tiller handled outboard.
First time out, a gentle breeze was pushing us into the dock and I couldn't figure out how to back the boat up without rubbing the entire length of the dock. Coming back in, It took way too many attempts to get it close enough to catch a cleat and of course the ramp was busy, boats everywhere.......
Got home and walked the boat. Huge scratch and rubber marks all the way down the starboard side. Big mark and chunk out of the new solid wood swim platform. I had did a number on our boat that we just spent so much time and money on. It was very disheartening but a good learning experience.
Most recently learned how to dock a larger boat with twin inboards. Looking back the learning curve is funny, at the time it was not.
I had watched a lot of videos on YouTube and had a general idea of what to do. However I lacked any experience. So on the first calm day we cast the lines off any away we went. I put both in forward and we slowly came out of the slip, pointed at a 60' Viking..... I got out far enough in the channel and put the port in reverse, just like they said in the video, and we kept going towards the Viking! I put starboard in reverse and bumped the throttles. Now I've got 12 tons heading towards a flawless 1969 Marinette we share the slip with! I put them both in forward, stop all forward movement and just sit for a moment.
After a few deep breaths, I put starboard in forward and port in reverse giving port just a touch of throttle. She slowly turns on her center, getting us pointed in the right direction. We spent several hours on the water learning about what the boat feels like and how to drive without using the wheel.
Coming back we had a bit of breeze coming from the north east, the worst direction as our dock is due east of the Marinette and backing in due north! I get just past the slip so im backing into the wind and start heading back. My hand were shaking so bad, I kept panicking with the transmissions and throttles, shifting and reving to the point folks started coming out of their boats. I hear behind me "We've got ya, throw me a line". My wife tosses a stern line to our neighbors and they help us get into the slip. The folks on the Viking in front of us are holding fenders and watching the shenanigans.
Second time out, there was a bit of a breeze that had me worried, as it was blowing out of the east, towards the Marinette. We get ready and I call out to cast the lines. I can see that the bow line is free so I put both in forward but we don't move. I start to panic as our bow is drifting east, both in neutral. I run towards the cockpit only to see my wife fighting with the stern line. I jump off onto the dock quickly undue the tangle get on the platform and up to the flybridge. By this point our entire boat is pressing against this stunning 50 year old boat. I don't know what to do. We have our biggest fenders out and they had theirs out. So I gently eased the boat out of the slip, praying that the boats didn't scrape hulls.
We didn't damage their boat, thank goodness but I went into the harbor and learned how to "Walk the boat sideways"! Coming back in same thing, hands are shaking, levers flying all over the place but I got it in and without assistance! I did rub the cement dock with the port corner trying to get the spring lines hooked up, removing a surprising amount of fiberglass.
The two days later we had 25 mile and hour winds coming out of the south and there was no way I was going to move that boat. Our neighbor had loaded the Marinette up with fishing gear and headed out. I was quite impressed the way he gracefully took her out of the slip and without hesitation into the harbor. Coming back in was even more impressive as he pulled straight in and stopped it perfectly against the dock. He the original owner of the boat, he has the experience, understanding, and skill to take her out in less than perfect weather.
America's Boating Club offers several classes, including Boat Handling(That I'll be taking next time around) and has a program called Jump Start. Jump Start program where an experienced member can provide, up to two hours, of customized, one-on-one training to a student, on the student new boat free of charge.