How long did it take you to learn how to dock correctly? It’s taken me this whole month, still trying to learn and it’s always a 50-50 whether or not someone on the dock has to pull our boat in.
It took me about 2-3 weeks to feel comfortable doing it as a novice (with our coach on the dock to pull us in and give hints on what to do if I needed it) and maybe a week or so after that (when it was just us with no one to catch us) before I felt like “OK, I got this”. My coaches were great because they’d have us dock, push off, row up a few hundred meters, turn around, dock again, and repeat the whole process until we’d gotten it right a couple times (like, at least five times) before the end of practice.
The trickiest part was coming in at the right angle. We practiced this in all kinds of weather – wind, rain, snow, etc. – so that I could practice coming in when I’ve got something working against me. Doing it over and over and over really helped me pick it up fast. The rowers were always super patient too (or at the very least they never let on how bored/annoyed they were), which was actually one of the most helpful parts of learning to dock.
One thing I realized pretty quickly is that you don’t need someone on the dock to catch you. Sure, it’s convenient when they’re there but it’s not at all necessary. What I would do is point my bow as close to the dock as I could and then when we landed, I’d have my bowman hop out and grab 6’s oar to get the stern of the boat in. Or, I’d just hop out and pull the boat in myself. Once the boat has stopped, for the most part, it’s not hard for the coxswain to stand up and step over on to the dock; you’ve just gotta be aware that it’s probably a foot to a foot and a half (if you docked right) of water you’re stepping over. I’m experienced enough with it now that I tend to bound right out of the seat while we’re still moving and think nothing of it.
It’s helpful to have someone on the dock but it’s really not necessary and definitely not something you should rely on. I think it’s way better for you to learn how to dock with no one there than it is to only learn how to dock when you’ve got someone to pull you in. I guess the only time I’d say it’s really necessary is if you’ve got a strong crosswind that’s hitting you from the dock-side and making it hard to get as close as you normally would. In those situations though, hopefully it would be common sense for the people on land to come down and help the boats that are coming in.
The key is to have control of the situation and to not get visibly frustrated. There were many, many times when I got frustrated but even when it failed miserably my rowers and coach always said that I seemed pretty calm. If you get frustrated and it’s obvious that you don’t know what to do or something’s not going the way you want, your rowers will be less likely to listen to your instructions and more likely to start telling you what to do. Stay calm, assess the situation, take your time, and be smart about it.