Warm weather means it’s time to rev up the Jet Ski, WaveRunner, or Sea-Doo. But before you take off into the blue, it’s important that you know how to tie up your Jet Ski to a dock. Here’s everything you need to know about safely and successfully docking your personal watercraft (PWC).
Essential Equipment & Accessories
You can realistically dock your Jet Ski at any type of dock, but there are docks specifically made for PWCs that allow you to steer directly onto and off of an angled platform. You can find floating PWC lifts that can attach to your existing floating dock in any configuration you like, provided you have the right hardware.
Whether you use a PWC lift or not, there are a number of essential accessories that will keep your craft safe and secure at the dock when not in use:
For your PWC:
- Dock line or bungee cord, which can be:
a. Looped around the handlebars of the craft, or
b. Clipped to your tow hooks with metal carabiners
- Lock and cable
For your dock:
Set yourself up for a smooth landing — make sure you have all the necessary accessories before taking off on your PWC.
How to Dock a Jet Ski: Key Considerations
Before we get into the step-by-step, there are a number of docking rules and best practices that will ensure your safety and that of your PWC.
Know your craft: If you’re using a craft that’s new to you, familiarize yourself with how it handles at various speeds, how its weight affects its reaction time, how it turns, and so on. Get plenty of practice operating it on open water before attempting to dock. Additional passengers or gear will add weight to your craft, which may increase your momentum, so adjust your speed accordingly.
Landing speed: As with a boat of any size, never approach the dock faster than you’re willing to hit it. Practice your approach with a buoy in open water, away from other boats or anything that could damage the hull (or you) if you run into it. When it comes time to dock your PWC, take note of the tide, the direction of the current, direction and speed of the wind, and any other factors that could work with or against your landing speed.
Dock type: The type of dock available will affect how you dock your PWC. Stationary docks are fixed in place, which means that fluctuating water levels will affect how long of a dock line you’ll need and how much slack to leave after you tie off. Too much slack, and your PWC could drift underneath the dock at low tide; too little, and your PWC could be left dangling or damaged. On the other hand, floating docks rise and fall with the water, although they are more susceptible to rough waters while docking. A floating dock with a PWC lift provides a secure place to store your craft long-term.
Prepare for landing: Know where your accessories and equipment are ahead of time. You don’t want to be fumbling for your dock lines while you’re trying to maneuver between other craft at the dock.
Know the rules: Certain waterways and marinas have rules about Jet Ski and other PWC use, so be sure you know the local do’s and don’ts before you head out. Be aware of buoy etiquette and “no wake” zones, which apply to PWCs as well as larger boats.
Above all, pay attention to your surroundings, including other vessels, water depth, weather conditions and forecast, and even nearby wildlife (keep an eye out for large flocks of birds, whales, sharks, and so on). If any of these will impact your enjoyment or safety, it’s best to wait until conditions are ideal.
How to Tie Your Jet Ski to the Dock
Now that you know what to be aware of as you dock your Jet Ski or other craft, let’s get into the specifics. First up: step-by-step instructions for docking on a drive-on or hydraulic PWC lift.
Approach the lift slowly and head-on.
Line the nose up with the center groove. Bring yourself close to the foot of the lift.
If docking on a drive-on lift, one final, short acceleration should send your PWC up onto the lift, where it will roll into place on a set of embedded wheels. Turn the engine off.
If docking on a hydraulic lift, maneuver into place and cut the engine. Once the PWC is secured to the lift via cable, engage the lift mechanism, which will either pull the craft into place or elevate it above the surface of the water.
Secure your craft with dock lines or bungee cords and cover if leaving it for a while. Don’t forget to take the key with you!
If you don’t have access to a PWC lift, here’s how you would tie up alongside a standard dock.
Approach the dock slowly at an angle, never head-on. Have your dock lines or bungee cords ready. If you have fenders or bumpers on your PWC, make sure they are in place. If not, be sure to approach a part of the dock that has fenders.
As you get close to the dock, shift into Neutral, provided you have enough momentum to continue. Some operators, depending on their craft, will cut the engine here.
Drift into place, toggling between Drive and Reverse to line your craft up parallel to the dock, like parallel parking a car. (If you haven’t already cut the engine, you can do so now.)
Once you are within reaching distance, extend your hand toward the dock to stabilize and hold your PWC in place. You should be moving slowly enough (or not at all) that you won’t have to use much force to stop and hold the craft.
Once your PWC is parallel to the dock, use your dock lines or bungee cords to tie onto a dock cleat or D-ring. You can loop the line or cord around your PWC’s handles or clip it to your craft’s tow hooks with carabiners (often at the bow and stern). If using dock lines, the best way to tie off is by using a cleat hitch or a bowline knot (the all-purpose boating knot).
In rough water conditions, tighten the lines to snug the craft against the dock and prevent excess movement.
Secure your PWC with a lock and cable. If you plan on leaving your craft out for an extended period, use a cover. Remember to take your key with you!
Make sure all fenders or bumpers are in place to prevent scratches and dents before leaving your PWC.
The best lines for docking PWCs are elastic and complete with eyes and rings, providing a happy medium between marine line and bungee cord. They are strong yet flexible and offer some give in fluctuating waters.
An alternative option for docking your PWC is to use a mooring whip, which allows you to dock either parallel or perpendicular to a dock. Mooring whips hold your vessel in place a safe distance away from the dock, which is particularly useful in rough or choppy conditions.
Potential Challenges & Risks of Tying Up Your Jet Ski
If you’re well prepared, you should have little trouble docking your Jet Ski, Sea-Doo, or WaveRunner. However, there is always the potential to run into unforeseen problems. Some of these challenges are dependent on the type of docking solution you use to dock your PWC.
Always put your safety first, since PWCs do not offer as much protection as a boat. While PWC operators must observe many of the same rules as boat operators, a heightened sense of awareness is necessary to ensure your own safety and that of others.
Jet Skis and the like do not feature rudders, but rather rely on propulsion and momentum to maneuver. As soon as you let off the throttle, external factors such as wind and current can quickly influence your craft’s direction.
If you are approaching your dock against the current, shifting into Neutral or turning your engine off too soon can cause you to float away from the dock.
If you are approaching the dock with the current, be careful of your speed; too much speed coupled with a strong current can cause you to crash into the dock and damage your PWC’s hull (or injure yourself).
Jet Skis and other PWCs need water to operate, and some models cannot operate in less than three feet of depth. Don’t attempt to launch or dock in too-shallow water, since you risk getting stuck or stranded.
While PWCs provide a fun way to explore the coast and wetlands, be aware of running over vegetation. Weeds and other plant life can get sucked into the pump and cause blockages.
If docking at a public dock or renting a lift at a marina, pay attention to time limits and rules to avoid a fine.
6 Jet Ski Docking Tips
Now that you’re aware of potential problems with docking your PWC, here are some tips to ensure successful long-term use.
Avoid leaving your PWC in the water for long periods — weeks or months at a time — as you will risk hull leaks. If available, a Jet Ski lift will help prevent this. Mooring whips are also useful for longer-term storage alongside stationary or rolling docks.
Approaching your dock and navigating around other objects in the water will take practice. Be patient and practice approaching and maneuvering around a buoy or other object that won’t cause damage if you accidentally bump into it.
Know the local rules regarding boats, PWCs, and other small watercraft. The more familiar you are with the rules that everyone needs to follow, the safer you’ll be.
Always be aware of your environment, as well as anything that could affect it, such as the tide or weather forecast.
Try to avoid docking in unsecured or unprotected areas. Make sure you have a way to lock or cover your PWC to prevent tampering or damage.
If you have a passenger who’s unfamiliar with PWCs, make sure they know how to ride safely. Instruct them to keep their arms and legs close to the craft, and not to try to help you halt or maneuver the craft alongside a dock.
With these tips in mind, you’re ready to take off! If you’re curious about your Jet Ski dock options, check out our lifts, mooring whips, and docking accessories suitable for most PWCs.
FAQs About Tying Your Jet Ski to a Dock
Where are PWCs allowed to dock?
If you’re docking at a public dock or marina, check to see if there’s a specific area for PWCs. In general, PWCs are not allowed to dock at commercial or industrial docks. If there are no docks available, a Jet Ski anchor is a fine solution for short-term stays in open waters.
Can I dock my PWC long term?
If you intend to use your Jet Ski or other PWC regularly during the season, you can leave it docked in the water for short periods of time. For longer-term storage, invest in a PWC lift that will provide a dry docking option, which is the best way to avoid hull leakage.
Can I dock my PWC at a stationary dock?
Yes! Provided you are aware of and account for the necessary equipment, fluctuating water levels, other nearby vessels, weather forecast, and other factors, it is absolutely possible to dock your PWC at a stationary dock.