They say food tastes better outside, right? But the taste of hot pizza from your boat is just perfection. Photo courtesy Hard Yacht Cafe

Dock & Dine Like a Pro—Here’s How to Make it Go Smoothly

Docking and dining is one of the great joys of summer. For boaters, it’s also an art form. Here’s what you need to know.

Boating is, of course, about the journey and not the destination. Sometimes, however, it helps to have a really fun destination. Enter the Dock & Dine. There are waterfront bars and restaurants all over the Bay with open slips just waiting for you to tie up, step onto the dock, and feel like a million bucks walking to your table.

Many will agree it’s more fun to approach a dock bar via its dock rather than the parking lot. If you are still a newer boater and docking in a busy situation might make you a little uncomfortable (or you’re just trying a new restaurant where you’ve never docked before), there are some basic things that can make it a great experience.

We spoke with two of the area’s boating club experts to get the background on what you need to make your dock and dine experience a success.

The first thing to do is ask for a recommendation. It’s most likely that your club will have information on hand to help you find a good restaurant. (Chesapeake Bay Magazine has done the hard work of test driving several Dock & Dines you can check out for inspiration.)

“We have a list of potential destinations that offer dock and dine,” says Beverly Rosella, an owner at Freedom Boat Club, where they have extensive materials on hand for members. “Ask other members and get destination guides. We have guides for restaurants, sandbars, and viewing dolphins. Just come and ask.”

Once you have your destination in mind, call ahead to the restaurant and see if they have room at the dock. Often dock times and restaurant reservations do not line up, and you can waste half your day waiting for a space at either a dock or a table. Make sure you know what you’re getting into beforehand.

And while dock and dine restaurants all necessitate some form of dock, there are specifics to consider. Are there two spaces, or 22? Is there enough water for your boat? If there is a wait for slips, will you be able to drop anchor nearby?

Libbey’s Coastal Kitchen in Stevensville offers 12 slips for their “Below Deck” dining option, which allows two-hour complimentary docking for boats with up to a 6-foot draft.

If you’re still building confidence at the helm, consider asking if the restaurant will have dockhands available to help catch boats. “Most places have dockhands on the payroll, so it’s not hard to ask if you can use them,” says Rosella.

Not knowing what kind of docking scenario you’ll find can be confusing, so a little bit of preparation can help. Make sure your fenders are out before you begin your approach to the dock. Have both your bow and stern lines ready, but also have a spare line with a loop tied in the bitter end ready for surprises.

When it comes time to dock the boat, remember that you’re the captain of this ship. Capt. Ray Dobe of Carefree Boat Club in Baltimore says that trusting yourself above all is key. When coming up to a dock, you might receive unsolicited advice from other people standing about. You don’t have to take that advice.

“Half of the people who are going to try to ‘help’ you, you wouldn’t want their hands on the wheel,” Dobe says. “ If you don’t think you can fit, then you can’t fit. Go somewhere else and you’ll feel comfortable putting the boat in there. Don’t listen to people sitting on the dock.”

Crew members will want to help. Before putting anyone at risk of injury, designate a plan. Photo courtesy of Freedom Boat Club

Crew members will also want to help out. But if they’re inexperienced, asking others to help you dock may be putting themselves into harm’s way.

 “If a member of your crew is putting their hands out to fend off the dock, they’re risking getting splinters at best and breaking a bone at worst,” he says. “If they want to help, hand them a fender.”

The best advice Capt. Ray has to offer is that practice does indeed make perfect.

“It can be dangerous if you aren’t confident in what you’re going to do,” says Dobe, who encourages members to come down to the club and practice maneuvers. “We have dockhands who can help you. Come down and ask the dockhands to let you dock on your lunch hour. You can dock the boat 30 times.”

Even though they aren’t our boats, when we check out a boating club boat, the boat becomes our responsibility.

“Everyone on the boat is going to think they know more than you do,” Dobe says. “They don’t. You’re the one responsible for the boat. If you come back and you smashed up the boat, I’m not going to ask you who did it. You did it.”

Once you’re ready to start your dock and dine adventure, spend some time with Chesapeake Bay Magazine’s extensive guide.