CaptainJoe's blog

The Last 30 Feet Docking

I am often asked what I feel is the most dangerous part of boating? Is it sailing in hurricane force winds? Is it traversing fishing grounds at night? Is it navigating a narrow shipping channel with lots of large vessels and small recreational vessels? Surprisingly the answer to each of the above is no. I learned a long time ago that the most dangerous part of boating is not dealing with bad weather nor obstacle laden waters or even heavy traffic congested with vessels of all sizes.


To me, the most dangerous part of the trip to be the last 30 feet. Pulling into dock is the most dangerous. It has caused more damage to people and vessels than open water accidents. It has caused more fights among husbands and wives than the eternal dispute over the final toilet seat position. It has created some of the most hilarious situations and the most frightening experiences for other people on the docks. In that last 30 feet you have to judge currents, winds, distances, speed, and mind your crew. You are at the mercy of a sudden gust of wind or the disobedient crew member who literally jumps ship before he is told to step off. You need to manage one or two engines; a bow thruster (if you have one); or no engine at all. Sometimes you will have help from a dock hand while at other times one is simply not available. You will find marinas with plenty of room and wide berths for you to slip into. Then again you may find marinas that have calculated to the inch how many vessels they can get into the space in their facility.


When I first started in boating, I took a three day course that was to teach navigation, boat handling, anchoring, and trip planning. My fellow students and I were excited and anxious to learn. The class was to begin on a Thursday afternoon and complete on Sunday afternoon. All of us were psyched as the culmination of the class would be the issuance of a “Bareboat Certificate” giving us privileges to charter vessels anywhere in the world.


The first half day was spent learning how to do simple dead reckoning navigation and how to check out the boat when you come aboard a charter vessel. Promises were made that we would sail tomorrow. We all went to bed with visions of the future “captaining” our mighty vessel in the turquoise seas impressing our spouses and friends.


At the appointed time we students assembled alongside the boat and were granted permission to come aboard. We were given a synopsis of the learning to be achieved for the day – docking. For the next TWO days we took turns docking. On the wind, off the wind, and wind abeam. Into the slip, parallel parking, using dock lines. Learning commands to give to the crew. Giving commands to the crew. Disciplining the crew when they didn’t listen to the commands and endangered their lives. Learning to remain calm in all situations. Dock –analyze - leave dock and then do it all over again. For two long days we did nothing but dock.


The remaining day was spent on the rest of the curriculum. All of it was covered in depth and compared to the docking it seemed pretty easy to comprehend and achieve. Even when we sailed into a Lake Michigan thunderstorm complete with high winds, huge bolts of lightning, and an unannounced man-over-board drill.


When I got back to my boat the following weekend, it was just a matter of a few minutes explaining to my crew what I expected them to do, demonstrating how I wanted it done, and when to do it. We left the dock in less time without the confusion of a Chinese fire drill. Returning to the dock at the end of the day was “easy” considering the boat going into the wind, upstream and then turning abeam to all of that. The little boat just seemed to walk into her berth and the crew stepped off on command just as I “ordered” them to. No shouting. No swearing. No threats about the next time. Boating really can be fun!!!


So if you want to plan a trip on your boat, the best thing you can do to prepare yourself is to practice docking. If you are ported in a marina ask the harbormaster if you can practice docking in all situations using some of the vacant slips. Develop commands for your crew and how they should perform when given the order. Practice with them. Learn how to dock with different types of drives. Practice how to effectively use dock lines to get onto and off a pier.


If you need some help improving your docking skills, Contact Captain Joe's On Board Academy to arrange some one-on-one education for you and your crew. The more time you spend on docking, the more enjoyable time you will have to spend on the water.


You’ve got the helm!


Vessel Safety Check

These few days of above-normal temperatures probably has your boating blood running hot.  You are thinking about all that has to be done before launching for the new season.  Wash and wax.  Install the new equipment you picked up at the boat show.  Check over all systems and make sure they are ready to go.  But there is one item a majority of people neglect – boating safety requirements.

Few boating folks realize there are laws identifying safety equipment that boats must carry.  These laws vary with the size of your boat and the waters you are boating on.  It is important that you know these laws and have your vessel so equipped or it could cost you big bucks if you happened to be stopped by marine law enforcement divisions while on the water.

To become familiar with these laws, check with your local DNR or Coast Guard Station.  They will have free booklets that will explain the local and federal laws pertaining to your area.  They will also identify the different requirements for vessels of different size.  All marine law enforcement detachments will do random stops on the water and inspect your vessel to see that you are carrying the proper equipment.  If the proper equipment is not on board, you are sure to receive a ticket.  The best way to prevent this unpleasant experience is to have your vessel inspected before you begin your boating season.

The Vessel Safety Check program established by the US Coast Guard is designed to be an educational experience that certifies your vessel to be in compliance with state and federal laws.  It is free.  It takes only 30 minutes on the average.  And, the best part it carries no fines if you are not up to code.  In fact it gives you an opportunity to correct the situation and get certified.  With certification you are awarded a display decal that is affixed to your vessel in described fashion so all marine law enforcement vessel can immediately recognize your vessel as being in compliance.  Both the US Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United Stated Power Squadron offer this program to the public.  Being most familiar with the USPS program, let me explain how to get in touch with these folks.

Two very dedicated members of the USPS in our area are the Vessel Safety Check Coordinators.  They head their respective squadron’s teams providing training, setting up events and administering the logistics of the checks.  Contact these folks to secure a VSC for your vessel regardless if it is a kayak or an 82 meter yacht.
Jack R Schulze (Green Bay Sail and Power Squadron)
John Hermann (Door County Sail and Power Squadron)

You can also request a VSC by going to the United States Power Squadron site at and clicking on “Vessel Safety Check.”  Follow the simple instructions and it will connect you to a vessel examiner in your area.  Yes, they do all recreational vessels. Trailerable and marina based.  Fuel prices will be sky high this summer.  Don’t add to your boating expenses by shelling out your boating bucks for fines.  Be a responsible boater.  Wax your boat, but be sure your family and passengers are safe as well.  You’ve got the helm.

Don't Scare Your Wife!!!

I have seen this scenario repeat itself time and time again.  A gentleman spends hours researching the perfect boat.  Visiting websites.  Comparing specs.  Attending boat shows.  Comparing notes with buddies.  Finally a decision is reached.  Now to convince the wife (significant other).  After many hours of discussion the gentleman wins her over.  Off the two go to purchase the idea boat.  The boat that is going to allow you to spend beautiful weekends on the water fishing, exploring, dragging the kids in tubes, or just quiet times on the water watching the sun set.  And then it happens.

It might be inability to read the weather and staying out too long with the advent of an approaching storm.  This means a very rough white-knuckle ride home.  Maybe someone is injured in a turn taken at a higher than normal speed.  Possibly there was a collision with the dock that resulted in cosmetic damage to the boat or dock.  Worse than that, someone was injured while trying to dock.  All of these result in your spouse/significant other becoming very uncomfortable on the boat or not comfortable with your decisions or operating skills while at the helm.  The end is usually the same.

First it is activities on the boat being limited to fair weather and short distances.  Next it is diversions away from boating activities as much as possible.  Then it is the suggestion that since the boat is not being used that much, considerations toward selling it should be entertained.  I have seen this played out over and over.   Once the spouse/significant other no longer feels safe on the boat for whatever reason, the boat goes up for sale.  How do you avoid this?

Captain’s Joe’s On Board Academy offers on the water instruction geared to your needs.  From docking (the last 30 feet is the most dangerous part of the trip) to Rules of the Road to crew training, it can be done on your boat at your dock with your crew.  Involve all so all are comfortable with the boat and boat handling.  Captain Joe can even assist with trip planning to make that first overnight fun and secure.  Anchoring, weather forecasting, meal planning, trip planning, even First Aid courses are available to make your boating experience one that grows your horizons not starts an argument.  Check out On Board Academy to see what you can learn. 

With the right training your boat quickly and safely takes you to the next horizon.  The day trips become overnights.  The overnights become weekends.  The weekends become journeys.  With the proper on-the-water guidance you, your family, and your guests will look forward to the next trip.  You’ve got the helm.

Captain's License Classes

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