How to Park a Pontoon Boat in a Slip: Pontoon Docking Tips

So maybe you’re a first time pontoon boat owner and you’ve discovered that those things aren’t the easiest to maneuver. Even if your state requires a license of a Boater’s Safety Certificate, there’s no denying that getting the hang of maneuvering a boat isn’t quite as intuitive as driving on solid ground.

But while navigating the open water might be one of the first things you get used to, parking in a slip can be one of the toughest tricks for first time boaters. With limited space, other boats in the vicinity, and specific alignment to follow, a marina slip can be a major challenge for any novice boatman. But that doesn’t mean you can’t master it with a little extra reading and a few helpful tips. Find out how to park a pontoon boat in a slip!

Tips on How to Park a Pontoon Boat in Slip

tie a pontoon boat to a dock

What makes it so tough to dock a boat in a slip is the precise, minute movements that it takes to do it accurately and the many different factors that might make it tough to achieve these movements. And while there’s no better way to perfect the process than with good old practice, there are a few tips and tricks you can put into action to streamline the skill.

Switch to Neutral

You’re going to want to approach the dock as slowly as possible to give you the legroom to make minor adjustments when necessary. So instead of keeping your boat in gear, you’re going to want to switch it into neutral. In doing so, the boat’s movements become far less pronounced and steering the wheel might not produce quite as prominent a change in direction.

With the residual forward propulsion moving your boat, steer to make your boat turn and move to properly align with the dock. If you feel like you’re not moving forward anymore, shift into gear for one to two seconds to give your boat a little extra kick. What you don’t want is to stay in gear too long and propel your boat too fast or strong when the slip is within a few meters distance.

Make a Note of Weather Conditions

The strength of the current and the direction of the wind may mean that the first tip won’t always apply. How so? Well, when you’re faced against strong winds or currents that go against your boat’s direction, you may need a stronger push to keep moving towards the slip. Strong winds and currents can steer your boat for you, especially if you’re in neutral.

In cases when the elements might make it difficult to control your boat, don’t hesitate to switch into gear more often and for longer periods of time. The added throttle should help you keep your boat in motion as it goes against the currents. But if the winds and water push your boat in the direction of the dock, then it might not be necessary to switch into gear at all.

Leverage Your Reverse

You’ll notice when asking how to parallel park a pontoon boat, lots of experienced boaters talk about reverse, and the reason is simple. As you close the space between you and the dock, you’re going to want to make sure you’re going as slow as possible to prevent having to go back and forth with adjustments.

Going in reverse for a second or two can help slow down your boat and prevent it from moving forward too much. This lets you get more precise movements and provides an opportunity for you to correct your alignment and your position.

Ask a Friend

While it’s pretty common for first time boat owners to struggle with docking a pontoon boat, it can still be embarrassing. But if there were someone on the dock to give you a different perspective, then they might be able to help you position your boat and maneuver into place in record time.

If there’s someone on the dock to assist you, don’t be afraid to ask for help. This can be especially handy if it’s your first time maneuvering a specific boat, since all pontoons tend to move and turn differently. Plus, it’s common etiquette for docked boat owners to tie a pontoon boat to a dock if they’re there to help it park, so you should be in good hands.

Know What Type of Dock You’re Dealing With

There are essentially two types of docks - fixed and floating. As its name suggests, a fixed dock is secured in place by pillar that drive into the floor of the body of water. These are typically tougher to park in because they’re usually used in high-traffic areas, so you should expect quite a few other boats in the vicinity.

The floating dock is only fixed in place by ropes that hold it to fixtures on shore. They’re particularly easier to park into because you can pretty much drive into them at slow speed and secure your boat by grabbing onto the floating dock.

In essence, a fixed dock is going to require a little extra skill and maneuvering. So if you’re just getting the hang of parking in a slip, you might want to consider an area with a floating dock.

Get a Hang of Your Boat

Every boat moves differently, so how to dock a pontoon boat changes from vessel to vessel. With that in mind, you’re going to want to really understand the physics of your vessel. How much space does it need to make a complete turn? How sharp can its turns be? Also how does it handle at various speeds? Does it kick when you shift it into gear? How does it operate in neutral?

Fully understanding how your boat moves and handles on the water can make it easier for you to fine tune all of those precise, minute movements that you need to do when mooring a pontoon boat. And as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. Just keep trying the maneuver and you’ll soon understand just how to steer your boat into that slip.

Why Is It Important to Dock Properly?

how to dock a pontoon boat

First off, perfecting the process of parking in a slip can help prevent damage to your boat. As you move into the slip, any wrong moves or maneuvers could crash you right into the dock. Of course, that kind of force probably isn’t going to sink your boat. But who wants to risk cosmetic damage?

So aside from getting the skill down, it also helps to prepare your boat just in case you park into the slip with more force than necessary. Fenders for pontoon boats can minimize the risk of scratches and dents by taking on the brunt of the force as you move into the dock.

Secondly, parking properly in a slip is just basic boating etiquette. By doing your job and keeping your boat aligned and well docked, you provide the space for other boaters and prevent any potential accidents while your boat is tied.

Over to You

The big question of how to park a pontoon boat in a slip doesn’t really have a single, fixed answer. It all depends on a number of factors, and every boat owner might have a different technique. And with that in mind, it helps to get practice, become familiar with your boat, and take advantage of a few tricks and techniques to dock your vessel in a breeze.