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This Is WHY Boats Back Into Slips

A boat sits parked in its slip

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Have You Been Wondering WHY Boat Captains Back Their Boats Into Slips?

Wondering why boats back into slips?  Well, wonder no more my friend, Captain Jer is on the case!  By the end of this article, you’ll not only know why it’s a good practice to back your boat into a slip but also a lot more about boats, slips and a few handling tips too so ride along with me and dive into why boats back into slips.

What Is A Boat Slip?

When we’re talking about boats and slips, we’re talking about docking.  But, what is a boat slip anyway? Well, to put it into a singular definition, here it is:

Boat Slip – A part of a pier, dock or other structure to which boats are berthered or moored.  This is commonly the place where boats are loaded and unloaded as well. This differentiates a slip from a buoy or other intended mooring place where one can moor the boat but not necessarily embark or disembark.  

Docking a boat is the process of maneuvering the boat into position along the dock.  Think of it like parking a car, except you’re parking a boat instead.

Now, why would it matter which direction you park your boat?  Well, it is a bit of a point of opinion however, there is one really good reason to back your boat into the slip.  That’s because the rear of the slip is usually facing the shore. And what would happen when a boat travels past your slip?  It’s going to produce a wake, of course.


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Wake or Wave? Why Bother Backing In?

Not only that but if there is any direction that a wave might approach from, it’s certainly not the shore.  

So, the main reason to back a boat into a slip is to have the bow (or pointy front end of the boat) facing any oncoming waves and wakes.

What does it matter?  Well, imagine a flat rear end of a boat.  Like the one which has an outboard mounted to the back.  A wave hitting the back of this boat would be like hitting a wall.  The wave or wake would launch the boat forward into the shore, or whatever is at the rear of the slip.  

Even if you were to tie up the boat to the dock, if the boat has a flat rear, then it’s going to get tossed around a bit by the waves.  This can cause scratches and excessive wear to the side of the boat where it will rub up against the dock or hopefully dock bumpers.

A series of sailboats sit moored to their slips in this photo.
Some boaters back in, others don’t. Which do you do? Leave a comment below and let us know you’re opinion on backing into a slip.

Common Terms Relating To Backing A Boat Into A Slip

  • Berth – To moor (a boat, vessel or ship) in its allotted place.
  • Bow – The front portion of a boat.
  • Buoy – A floating, anchored navigational marker.
  • Makefast – Any structure which is used to fasten a ship to. 
  • Moor – To secure a boat to a permanent structure or land.
  • Mooring – A permanent structure to which a boat is secured.
  • Pier – A supported platform leading out from the shore into a body of water for the purpose of securing a boat.
  • Port – The left side of a boat, when one is facing forward (facing the bow of the vessel).
  • Starboard – The right side of a boat, when one is facing forward (facing the bow of the vessel).
  • Stern –  The rear portion of a boat.

What To Know About Backing A Boat

There are a few key points you need to know when it comes to learning how to back a boat up.  Especially if you’re backing the boat around a corner, like a pier or a post at the corner of the slip.  The three main things to keep in mind about boat handling are as follows.

  1. Wind.  This is highly important.  Why? Well, your boat doesn’t have rubber tires stuck to the ground, held there by the weight of the vehicle and friction.  The boat floats in liquid. That means there isn’t a whole lot stopping the wind from pushing the boat in any direction it blows.  So, knowing which direction and the approximate strength of the wind will tell you what direction the boat is likely to drift.
  2. Current.  Similar to the wind, the current will pull the boat in the direction of the current.  If you are maneuvering the boat into a slip along a channel, the current could pose a bit of a challenge.
  3. Neutral Drift.  When I say neutral, I am referring to the gear position of your boat engine.  You see, when you are backing a boat into a slip, you’ll spend more time drifting in neutral than you will be moving the boat under power.  Often when backing up a boat, it is short bursts of power followed by moments of drift. Switching regularly to neutral allows you to ease the boat back and avoid gaining too much momentum.

Boat Parking Common Questions

How Does Number Of Engines Affect Backing A Boat Into A Slip

Did you know the most difficult boat to back into a slip is a single-engine outboard?  You might think that the cheaper, simpler boat compared to one which has 2 or more engines would be easier, but this is not the case.

When you have a boat with two or more engines, it’s actually quite a bit easier to maneuver into a slip.  This is because you could do what’s called ‘splitting the sticks’. This is when you use one motor to go in reverse and one in forward.  


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Because you have more than one engine, you wind up getting the boat to turn almost on the spot.  This makes boats with two or more engines considerably easier to operate, especially around corners and for moves like backing into a slip.

What To Do If Its Windy And You Need To Park Your Boat

Whenever there’s a wind, operating a boat can be a challenge.  This is especially true if the slip you want to go back into is narrow.  Or there are a lot of other boats around and you’re new to boating. This can be a really stressful experience.  That’s why you turn with the wind, not against it. But what do I mean exactly?

Let’s say you are moving towards backing into a slip along a shoreline.  The wind blowing in the direction you are traveling towards the area where your slip is.  Now, let’s say you are moving parallel to the shore. What you would do in this situation is to actually travel past the slip you want to park your boat in.

Next, you would back and turn into the slip.  When you are backing at first you will be going directly against the wind.  Then as you turn and back further into the slip, the wind will help align your boat by pushing it sideways.  In this case, that would be parallel to your slip.

Why Is It Called A Boat Slip?

The term slip came from the term boatslip, or possibly slipway.  The concept comes from having a boat yard on land where boats are stored, repaired or even manufactured.  A crane of lift of some type would pick up a boat from it’s on-land stand and lower the boat onto a slipway or ramp which is commonly two or more slides, often covered in some type of all weather fabric, plastic or carpeting.  Prior to the boat being placed on the ramp, the hull is greased. This allows the boat to ‘slip’ down the ramp and into the water. 

Back when wooden ships were used to cross the seas, the ships were often built right on slips and then released after manufacture, sliding down the slipway into the water.   

What Is The Difference Between A Boat Slip And A Boat Dock?

The primary difference between a boat slip and a boat dock is space.  Again, let’s use the car analogy. Let’s look at the two scenarios here.  First, a slip. This might be like a parking lot you find outside of your local big box store.  Sure, there’s room in the parking spot to get in and out of your car, and maybe access the trunk to put your groceries in the car or whatever.  But, there isn’t room to open up all the doors all the way and really get into cleaning, loading or those sorts of activities at scale. There just isn’t the room.


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Now, comparing a dock to a slip, let’s use the analogy of a driveway that is wide enough for say one and a half vehicles.  It’s not wide enough for two, but you have considerably more space to load, unload or do whatever you need to with the vehicle.  Like a semi-wide driveway, docks often afford you much more room to load, embark and disembark from your boat.  

To sum up, a dock is usually a decent width allowing more room to load, unload, embark or disembark from a boat than a slip.  Slips are usually quite tight parking spaces compared to docks.

Are Some Kinds Of Slips Easier To Back Into Than Others?

Technically the answer is yes.  It varies from slip to slip though.  There are a few factors which make a difference.  

First, how wide the slip is.  If a slip is a decent size, it’s going to be easier to back into than a tight slip.  Just like parking lots, wider parking spots are always easier to back into than narrow ones.

Second, the water and surrounding landscape plays a big part.  If the slip is along a waterway with a current, it can be more difficult to back into the slip.  Likewise, if there is a lot of wind in the area and not much shelter from surrounding land, then it can also be more difficult to park your boat.  

To sum up, it’s more about space, current and wind that decide how difficult a slip can be to park in.  Especially if there are tight rows of boats to maneuver between just to get to your designated slip. 

What Is A Transient Slip?

A transient slip is a short-term parking spot for a boat.  Think of it like parking spots in front of a store. You park there so you can go shop in the store and when you are done you leave.  A transient slip can often be found along waterways where there is a shoreside store or gas station for boaters. The idea is that you can pull up with your boat, tie off to the slip, go about your business and then leave.  Transient slips are not typically used for overnight but may be if there is a need for an overnight stay at a location. Transient slips are usually used for short term mooring.


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Can You Own A Boat Slip?

Yes.  There are marinas which are ‘private’ and allow members to buy a slip.  Oftentimes, marina rent out slips to boat owners rather than buy them, but it depends on how they have set up their marina business.

Some marinas operate similar to a timeshare, where the ‘members’ of the marina ‘buy-in’ to be pseudo-partial owners.  

One could own one’s own slip if you have a cottage or property on a waterfront.  However, unless space is really limited and/or you have a fleet of watercraft, it is more likely you will get or have a dock rather than a slip.  Again, think of slips as tight parking spots and docks are open driveways.

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