Mariners' Manners: Dinghy Docking  –  It's a sad fact, but not everyone's perfect—a truism that applies as much to the sailing community as to other groups, though sailors all know that they individually are exempt from any taint of imperfection. This little column tries, in a modest way, to encourage perfection in the otherwise ordinary sailor. Sadly, observation would dictate the view that full attention is not being paid! Oh well, what can one do but dip one's nib in the oily inkwell and try anew?

The lesson this month involves dinghies. While these sultry summer months are hardly the occasion for mass crowding of dinghy docks, they are probably a good time to practise a few dinghy dos and dont's.


A pet peeve of many boating types is the lack of mutual respect and concern as shown by the random alignment of dinghies at the dock. Does the first dinghy on the dock need to be placed dead centre? Or could it be tied off at one end or the other, allowing subsequent dinghies to align themselves accordingly? Does the dinghy need to be attached like a Siamese twin to the dock, or could a few feet of painter be allowed so as to give subsequent arrivals a little wriggle room? At some crowded docks (Willy-T, Pirates, etc.) dinghies are jammed in so that new arrivals often have to barge and push their way to deposit passengers. If all dinghies had several feet of loose painter, it would make that process much easier

Another peeve is the tendency of certain uneducated types to tilt up their motor when attached to a dock. This is a particularly heinous crime since it not only inconveniences other dinghy operators by forcing them to skirt around the offending motor and the multi-bladed razor attached to its nether end, but it actively endangers the safety of other dinghies. Guy Clothier of Yacht Shots tore a gash in his new red, twin-hulled inflatable a few months back shortly after launching it at the Bitter End Yacht Club. He barely grazed the exposed prop of a large super-yacht tender but was forced to pull his boat from the water and patch the gash—an expensive and time-consuming task. An unfortunate multiplier to the viciousness of this behaviour is the tendency of a dinghy with a tilted motor to stay at the dock for an extended period. The reason the motor was tilted in the first place was that the dinghy operator was heading to the airport or, one hopes, to jail. Sailors are encouraged to drop such offending appendages back into the water where they can do little harm to others.


Having approached a dock and found access, some sailors seem confused as to how to attach a painter to the dock. Many docks have a type of bollard for tying dinghies to—often a short length of PVC pipe. The favoured method of attachment seems to be a type of clove hitch around the bollard, but this means that any subsequent arrival has to tie his painter above the earlier arrival's. When it comes time for the first dinghy to depart, many lines need to be untied and retied—a tedious and (depending on the state of sobriety of the hitch tier) sometimes dangerous practice. Better to tie a loop in your painter and drop it over the bollard—then any subsequent arrivals can merely pass their own loops up from under and then through your loop and around the bollard. That leaves the first loop free to be picked up with no fuss. Any loop lower in the pecking order can be removed by simply reversing the original procedure.

Charter operator Jim Palmer has a particular concern that many sailors have forgotten or are neglecting the ancient art of dropping a stern anchor when approaching the dinghy dock. This line can be used to hold the dinghy off the dock and protect against surge and damage from being trapped beneath the dock, particularly around times of large tidal movement. The trick is to drop anchor and pay out line as the dinghy approaches the dock. After disembarking all passengers, “simply walk the dinghy along the dock, making an hypotenuse to the right-angled triangle formed by the stern line and the dinghy painter,” Palmer told us. “This leaves the dinghy on an angled line, but out of danger of crashing into the dock or being stuck underneath it. When time comes for departure, you can just untie the bow painter and walk the dinghy back along the dock until it is easily accessed,” he said.

There are, of course, many other mentionable offenses, but we'll save them for a subsequent column.