Docking Practice Aid


Simple scale steering events, without the aggravation of static judging, can be great fun for the average modeller. I also find them perfect for testing a new design as even the most relaxed event can reveal unexpected problems that no amount of general sailing could do. However, my problem is often not the new model, but rather a lack of skill in some manoeuvres.


Sailing a model through obstacles is a little like riding a bike, once mastered it is never forgotten, but controlling a model when carrying out something like a docking task, where a model has to come to rest, is not so easy. The response to rudder and throttle commands depends upon the unique combination of power, control and mass that is different for every model. I can usually gauge the approximate handling of a new model before sailing it, but there are often small idiosyncrasies that catch me out. General sailing around the lake might uncover some of these sailing characteristics but there is nothing like trying a real obstacle.

Make your own

Rather than wait for the next steering event to test my docking skills with a new model, I opted to make a simple practice dock. Luckily spare pieces of timber are never discarded from our home. This allowed me to quickly pick out some suitable lengths of timber. These were laid out on the garage floor and rearranged until something like a suitable shape was obtained.


First thoughts were for a simple ‘U’ shaped dock made up from three pieces of timber. Sailing into this type of dock, stopping, then sailing out astern can be one of the most demanding tests of model handling skills. Entering the dock requires precise control of the model’s course and stopping in the right position needs anticipation and smooth motor control. Even if you get the model stopped in exactly the right position, problems can still arise. Many models have the habit of swinging their sterns as soon as you try to back out of the dock. With some models this is a minor and controllable effect, but others have serious sideways tendencies.


After a few minutes moving the timber on the garage floor, I had settled on a dock about four feet long (1.2m) and eight inches (20cm) wide. This would be a good match for the typical docks used in steering events and the type of ship models I build. Having come up with what seems like a sensible idea, I have usually found it wise to take a break before finishing the job. It is amazing how better ideas or improvements can suddenly appear whilst you relax over a cup of tea, coffee or whatever takes your fancy.

Better idea

During my drop of liquid refreshment it occurred to me that it might be possible to duplicate other types of docking manoeuvres. These usually involve stopping alongside a bar where one or both ends have a barrier. Back into the garage and I quickly found that by extending the base of the ‘U’ and adding a strip to one side of the entrance, it would produce a very flexible unit. The final shape is shown in Figure 1.

I made my practice dock from some 2 x 1 inch (50 x 25mm) and 1 1/2 x 1/2 inch (37 x 12mm) timber, but these sizes are not critical. Likewise, the overall size of the dock should match that of your models without forgetting transport and storage arrangements.

The timbers were sanded, primed and painted before screwing together. My dock was reasonably compact, but you could make it as a kit to be assembled at your sailing water if that is more convenient.

Securing the dock

One thing I had not considered until the dock had been built was how to hold it secure when placed in the water. After a little more liquid refreshment the idea of using two screw-eyes fixed into the sides of the ‘U’ came to me. A loop of string tied between the screw-eyes can then be used to secure the unit to the bank side. If you have the use of a landing stage then wrapping the loop around a suitable weight (I use a brick) placed on the landing stage can also be used. Obviously you need to be careful about positioning the weight if there is any chance of people tripping over it! Alternatively a small stake could be used to secure it to a softer bank side. Both methods are perfectly adequate provided you do not want to practice in gale force wind conditions.


Figure 2 shows the different ways that this type of practice dock could be used. It would not be hard to devise other shapes and layouts. Words of caution though, get too ambitious and you could fill your car with practice aids leaving no room for models!

So, for a little time and effort, but not much money, you can hone your docking skills with that new model. Of course you will still need an excuse when at a steering regatta your model slides down one side of the dock, thumps the end and scrapes its way out astern!