Docking without stress, dings, or jeers from the peanut gallery

When it comes to docking, personal watercraft have come a long way from the days when you pointed the bow, shut off the engine, and hoped you’d make a soft landing. Reverse has made the most profound difference. With nearly all modern craft, drivers can now finesse their way into the dock, controlling their speed and momentum.

But even with reverse, docking isn’t a total no-brainer. To do it right, keep your craft from dings and scratches, and avoid the jeers of bystanders on the dock, you still need to know some basic skills.

Here’s how to do it…

PWC Docking

Docking with iBR

Arguably the easiest reverse control system (at least as of the 2014 model year) is Sea-Doo’s Intelligent Brake and Reverse. The system provides the driver with a trigger lever on the left handlebar linked via the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) to a modified reverse bucket to redirect thrust.

Redirect it slightly and the craft maintains a neutral position. Redirect if fully and you move backward in reverse

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Sea-Doo iBR LeverSea-Doo is the only manufacturer with a brake/reverse lever on the handlebars.

Early on, the system was touted for its braking ability, but it’s the low-speed control iBR provides that is arguably of greatest benefit. Start up, and the bucket redirects thrust to keep the craft in a stationary, neutral mode. Squeeze the iBR lever and you’ll go backward. Grab the throttle and you’ll move forward. In use, it’s intuitive, keeps your eyes up and on the water, and offers control that, until several years ago, was unprecedented.

To dock with iBR (or for that matter, virtually any reverse system), it’s typically best to ease toward the dock at a shallow angle. Trade off between forward and neutral to slow your momentum as you draw close. Once the bow is almost against the dock, turn the handlebars the opposite direction, switch to reverse, and kick the stern end of the craft toward the dock. It won’t take much; just a small blip should be all you need to ease you into place like a pro.

Docking with Conventional Reverse

Docking with conventional reverse is a similar process, but requires a little more coordination as the reverse lever is located down on the console.

How To Ride Your PWC To Match The Conditions

Spend some time getting used to the throw of the reverse lever, discovering just where you can approximate a neutral setting, and then use that knowledge to control speed, momentum, and direction.

Kawasaki Forward-Reverse LeverWith a standard forward/reverse lever, like this Kawasaki Jet Ski model, docking requires more precision and coordination.

Ideally, the reverse lever will be on the port side of the console, allowing you to still use a small amount of throttle, even in reverse. If not, realize that docking will be completely a matter of steering when in reverse. You won’t be able to use any throttle to rapidly slow your momentum, or kick you forward with a small nudge of speed unless you perform an awkward game of Twister at the controls, crossing your left hand over to manipulate the throttle.

Advice? Don’t try it. The results typically aren’t what you may have hoped.

Docking without Reverse

Many older craft, as well as one or two new models, completely lack reverse. This makes docking an old-school game of drift. Some may call it a controlled collision.

How To Effectively Anchor A PWC

Don’t make the mistake of coming in to the dock with too much momentum. It’s impossible to correct, and will almost certainly cause you to hit with more force than you intend. As steering is dependent upon thrust, you also won’t be able to kill the motor and steer your way in. In short, under power you’re moving forward with momentum. Without power, you’re simply drifting forward the last direction you steered your craft.

Yamaha VX SportYamaha’s VX Sport is one of the rare modern PWC without reverse. You must be very mindful of speed and momentum when docking a craft without reverse.

One idea for docking without reverse is to alternately stop and start your engine. It’s awkward, however, and typically results in unwanted speed as you thrust forward. Still, it’s a method that works for many.

Another alternative is to disrupt your momentum by making a slow turn right in front of where you’re trying to dock. This will slow much of your craft’s momentum. Once you’ve turned back toward the dock, hit the stop button before your craft once again builds up speed.

If you value your craft, err on the side of caution. You may not look that cool, but cutting your power in advance and drifting towards the dock is certainly better than staying under power too long and damaging your craft.