The epitaph read:
She sparkled – this fair and salty lass
Astride tumbling waves her life did pass
Her quest for joy kept her knees a’knocking
Alas, she died of embarrassment whilst docking
No!! I am kidding! This is NOT a true story!
I am a female boat captain living and working in the fabulous Florida Keys and I have been teaching women to drive boats for the last 15 years. When we get to the docking portion of the instruction, almost every single student will utter, “I am going to die of embarrassment if you have me dock here in front of all these people!”
NEVER ONCE, has this ever happened. My track record is PERFECT! Not a single soul has ever died of embarrassment while docking!
A few ladies have gotten close – but not once have we had to record a fatality!
I have spent hours trying to understand why women have such anxiety over docking – the lament is beyond “simply” dying of embarrassment – it has to do with panic, fear, control, confidence. . . the whole issue is fraught with so many complications that it is practically impossible to diagnose!
Docking panic is intrinsic to learning to boat.
It is so predictable that I have categorized the five stages of docking panic so that students understand that it is part of the trade-off of learning the empowering skill of taking the helm. And we all know (whether we want to or not) that knowledge is power!
My students usually run through these five stages within two grueling minutes of realizing that it is their turn to dock the boat and no one will do it for them. Such a long and painful 2 minutes.
Stage One Proclamation of Death by Embarrassment
Here we are in Stage One. We are straightforward and speak with conviction, “I’m going to die of embarrassment if I have to dock here with all of these people watching.” The tone is low, breathy, and spoken with hint of “just try and make me” thrown in. It is an ego driven plea for help! We are smart, capable, overachieving female boaters – we do NOT want to be embarrassed – EVER. And the problem with being a female “captain” is that it does seem as if “everyone” pays a little more attention to “lady drivers” to see how she handles her boat.
Stage Two Worry
Worry brings pause and reflection. The throttle goes to neutral and I hear, “Okay, . . .I’m not exactly sure if I can make this happen.” The problem here is that we usually ARE pretty sure about making things happen when we are on land. But, we are on a boat. And this is problematic. We immediately start to scan the area: how many people are watching? how shallow is this water? the wind is howling, look at that gorgeous boat I’m going to dock next to and possible crash in to . . . This stage usually ends when we sadly realize that we can not stay at sea forever. We must get to the dock.
Stage Three Terror
There is simply no way to bypass this step. Things are not pretty here. Stage Three symptoms include cursing, swearing, gnashing teeth, profuse sweating, uncontrolled throttle actions, apocalyptic visions . . . Why does fear have to be so complicated? Unexamined, it paralyzes the best of us. But, we have no time to examine – we have a boat to dock. Which segues nicely into Stage Four and a toward a solution mentality.
Stage Four Escape
This stage is spoken clearly and with resolve. The student boater has identified the problem when she barks the command to me or anyone who will listen, “You take the helm and dock. It will be much easier that way.” This admittedly brilliant solution will solve one problem but it will NOT solve the one we work on in class which is to improve her docking skills. There is no easy fix to replace the pain of practice when it comes to improving docking skills. On to stage Five.
Stage Five Acceptance
We are through the woods – well, not actually. The boat isn’t at the dock yet. We realize there is no “way out” of docking except to simply face forward, make a plan, execute the plan, and get the thing tied up. And the beauty of moving through all of the other stages is that at this point, we, women, realize we are capable. Most novice female boaters who are willing to take the helm, use their intellect to make up for their emerging intuitiveness. It is this ability to assess the situation, make a plan, enact the plan, reverse and retry if necessary that bring success!
High fives all around!!
Have I exaggerated this whole docking dilemma? Well, maybe a little. When I lay out the Five Stages of Docking Panic to my students, we all have a good laugh – until we get closer to the dock. But what if we could zip through the pain of these steps? What if we could shorten the part about panic, swearing, cursing, and sweating?
Try this Simple Exercise to End the Panic
Try this exercise to get over the fear of docking:
♥ Drop a weighted buoy (or two) in the middle of wide open water.
♥ Drive up to the buoy and back away from it without running it over. Assess for wind, waves, and current in order to place your boat within inches of the buoy. Then back away from it.
♥ Practice this 10 times.
♥ Move the buoy to a more challenging area – one with wind, current and restricted space and practice your skill 10 times at each location. If your boat is low enough to the water, use your boat hook to pick up the buoy before you back away from it. This emulates getting lines ready when you actually dock.
Take Away Realize that this buoy exercise is simulating your eventual docking experience. You are learning about how steering and momentum affect the movement of your boat.
Pay attention to how your throttle regulates the thrust of the engine and what it does for the boat’s momentum when the engine is in gear. Realize that you are in control of the boat’s forward movement. Note that you have almost no steering capability when your boat is not in gear. How does this affect your ability to put your boat where you want it? Can you integrate these two concepts to “hit”the buoy every time?
Every time we take the time to challenge ourselves we improve our skill and confidence! I encourage you to get out there today!
Email Captain Elizabeth Jolin at firstname.lastname@example.org for hands-on instruction, insight into building a confident boating mindset, as well as solutions for boating safely, intelligently and independently.