How To Dock A Pontoon Boat

How To Dock A Pontoon Boat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

December 14, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Safety rules and regulations should always be followed.
  • Do not attempt to perform a docking maneuver if impaired in any way.
  • Slow is the best speed.
  • Be careful of obstacles, swimmers, or people standing on the dock.

Being on the water in a pontoon boat can be a great way to spend an afternoon, but it's time to bring the boat home. How do you dock a pontoon boat?

To safely dock a pontoon boat, safety is always the key.

  • Be sure of the dock you want to tie to.
  • Check your bumpers and cleats.
  • Insist Every Take a Seat (You want to see what you’re doing).
  • Approach the dock slowly. Speed is not needed here.
  • Stand to get a better handle on your surroundings.
  • As the water gets shallow, trim the motor up slightly.
  • Use the forward momentum to let the boat glide up the dock.
  • Cut the engine completely, and when in position, raise the trim.
  • Tie the boat to the dock to keep it from drifting.

Considering the popularity of pontoon boats over the last few years (the market is set to double in size over the next five years), many families are discovering the versatility of pontoon boats for their recreational activities. Even though they are fun to cruise around the lake with, it is also essential to know the ins and outs of pulling up to a dock when the day is done. If owners are not cautious, accidents can happen, causing damage to the boat, dock, or worse, injury to passengers or yourself.


Table of contents

What is a Pontoon Boat?

A Pontoon boat is a flat-decked boat with two aluminum tubes attached to the sides of the deck. The tubes (pontoons) run the length of the deck, allowing an engine to be installed at the center rear of the deck. There are pontoon-styled boats made with three tubes (one runs down the middle) called Tri-toons.

The deck configuration allows for more seating arrangements than a standard V-shaped boat. The seats are fashioned to be positioned so that the passengers can see and converse with each other, unlike other boats that make passengers face-front.

Most pontoon boats are powered with large outboard motors, and while they may not have been built for speed, they can be used for various activities. Many owners use pontoons for tubing, fishing, parties, and social events.

How Do You Dock A Pontoon Boat?

There are several steps to being able to dock a pontoon boat successfully.

Be sure of the Dock You Want

When pulling a pontoon (or any boat) into the dock, you want to have a plan. Choose the dock where you will be pulling the boat up. Even though you may still be a few hundred feet away, you want to know where the dock is to align up the right approach.

Check your Bumpers and Cleats

A common mistake many pontoon owners make is the failure to hang their bumpers over the side of the boat.  The bumper pads will cushion when the boat knocks against the hard dock. You should have a bumper pad for every 4- 5 feet of length of the boat, so if you are driving a 20-foot pontoon, you need four to five bumper pads.

Also, check to ensure the boat has cleats on the side you will be docking. The cleats will give you a tiedown to run a rope from the boat to the pylons of the dock. These cleats are built into the boat's framework and positioned strategically around the frame.

Insist that all Passengers Take A Seat

The last thing you want to have to happen is to run into a dock and cause havoc because you can’t see. Everyone on the boat (drunk or not) should take a seat to not obstruct the operator's view. It goes without saying that if you are impaired, you should not attempt a docking maneuver.

The Best Approach is Slow

Speed kills. It doesn’t matter if it is on the highway or pulling up to a boat dock. Many marinas and public reservoirs have speed limits for boats during docking policies. Best to use a combination of drifting momentums and short small throttle bursts to help create movement.

Trim the Motor Up Slightly, Keeping the Propeller in the Water

Because there can be unseen obstacles, rocks, or tree stumps as the water becomes more shallow, you will need to trim the motor up. Keep the propeller in the water to have a means of movement and steering control. The trimming of the motor will keep the propeller from grounding on the bottom of the lake or on any unseen obstacles that might be there.

Stand Up to Get a Clearer View of What’s Ahead

Oftentimes, you can get a clearer view of the dock and surroundings if you stand up. Since this maneuver is a very important task to perform, you want to be sure that there are no swimmers or other boaters nearby. In addition, your standing can help any people standing on the dock (or fishing off the dock to move their lines if they are in the way).

If you are within vocal range, it is best to inform any people on the dock of your intentions. (You should always use politeness when addressing people. If you yell at them to get out of the way, it won’t win you any friends).

I lean over the edge a bit as I approach the dock to ensure that my boat has plenty of clearance and isn’t about to scrape something. If your pontoon is large and wide, it is always a good idea to have a spotter toward the front of the boat who can help guide you.

Cut the Engine and Use the Momentum to Drift Close

The last thing you want to do is speed up to a dock and try to slam on the brakes. As we mentioned, slower speeds will mean less damage should you miscalculate and scrape the dock. Use the gearshift to help keep the speed from getting away from you.

You can shift the boat into neutral or reverse for a short time if you need to adjust your position. Turn the engine off and trim the motor up when you are in position. This action raises the motor’s propeller up for transport and keeps it from scraping the submerged pavement on the boat ramp.

Grab a Dockpost Carefully and Pull the Boat to the Dock.

This is where a buddy can help a lot. If they are within arm's length, have them reach out and grab a dock post. Manually pull the boat to the dock and secure the boat to anchors, posts, or tie-downs. Since you are mooring the boat, it is not necessary to drop any anchor, unless bad weather is expected that might impact the boat.

Tie The Boat and Ensure it is Secure

If the dock is a part of the boat ramp, tethering to it is an effective way of keeping your boat in a position while you are fetching your truck and trailer. You may still need to untether your boat and drive it up the ramp, but that is an entirely different maneuver.

How To Dock A Pontoon Boat
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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