For those who have recently transitioned to a pontoon or are new to boating, docking your pontoon the first few times can be a little intimidating. But learning a few basic skills and a trick or two will make you look like a pro on your Harris pontoon in no time.
Getting ready to dock
Before beginning a docking maneuver, take time to get fenders into position and prepare dock lines. This will give you a few minutes to assess the wind and tide. For the first few times you’re docking a pontoon, approach the dock on the right (starboard) side if possible to give the driver the best view of the dock. Although the boarding gates are on the left (port) side of boats, guests will be able to step off the rear of the boat if needed.
If you’re docking on the left side, leave the bow gate open so you can see the dock better. When you get close, stand or put a knee on the helm seat for better visibility over the fencing.
When docking a pontoon boat, relax and go as slowly as possible. The majority of dockside mishaps occur when the driver gets the boat a little out of position, panics and abruptly adds power, which nearly always makes things worse. Approach a dock or slip slowly by bumping the boat’s engine in and out of gear.
The basic docking maneuver
Slowly approach the dock at a slight angle, and when you’re a few feet away, take the engine out of gear and glide forward while turning the wheel away from the dock. Although the steering is far less responsive when not in gear, it will turn just enough to start moving the bow away from the dock.
When the pontoon is about a foot away, spin the wheel toward the dock and bump the engine into reverse for just a second. This will pull the stern in and move the bow away from the dock as well as arrest the forward momentum.
How to dock downwind
What makes pontoons slightly trickier to dock than other boats is that the fencing tends to catch the wind like a sail. You can use this to your advantage. If the wind is pushing you toward the dock, let it be your friend. Position your boat about six feet away from where you want to dock and let the wind gently push it the rest of the way in.
Docking against a stiff wind
Before approaching the dock, make sure to have a line attached to the front cleat on the dock side of the boat and have someone hold the loose end of the line (called the bitter end). Slowly approach the dock straight on and when the boat reaches the dock, have the line handler step off and tie the line to a dock cleat with about a foot of slack. Then turn the wheel so the rear of the engine faces the dock and put the boat in reverse, which will cause the stern to gently walk its way into position to be tied up.
This maneuver is also useful when docking at a crowded waterfront restaurant when there is just enough room for your boat to fit in between other boats. When done properly, the result should be polite golf applause from onlookers.
Use this basic knowledge next time you get out on the water. With a bit of practice, you’ll look like you were born a captain.