If you're more of a stowaway than a skipper, finding ways to make yourself useful can go a long way. Researching and securing dockage or helping keep watch while underway are both great places to start. Some terms to know as you help float plan:
What is a float plan?
A float plan is a document detailing the intended agenda for the boat, including vessel, crew, and equipment information, date of departure, date(s) of arrival, fuel stops, overnights, and dockage/anchorage reservations.
What's the difference between a slip and a dock?
A slip is the section of a dock in which captains park their boats. The dock can refer to the general area of the marina where the boats tie up ("Let's head down to the dock") as well the actual flat floating structure itself ("This dock is badly damaged.") A marina's docks can encompass its slips, linear dockage, fuel dock, dinghy dock, and sometimes the ship's store or office. On or near your slip, you may find cleats (ideally), electrical hookups, water hookup. Down the dock you may find a dock cart for toting gear or provisions, an ice machine, and bathrooms.
What is linear dockage?
As opposed to a slip a boat pulls into, linear dockage is a marina configuration which basically docks boats by lining them up end to end along the dock, one boat's bow to another boat's stern.
What is a mooring ball?
Also casually referred to as "a mooring," a mooring ball floats on the water's surface and is secured to the harbor bottom typically via a large, heavy, and permanently-installed anchor, cement block, or other nearly immovable weight. Attached to a mooring ball is typically a pennant, which is a length of rope with a loop at the end – the loop not only helps you grab the mooring ball's pennant using the boat's boat hook, it also is the loop through which a line will run to secure the boat to the mooring. Different harbors label their mooring balls different ways, and mooring balls vary by the size of vessel they can accommodate.
What is a dock piling?
A piling is a heavy post, like a telephone pole, which is embedded into the sea floor and used to secure docks in place or to which boats can be tied.
What does VHF stand for?
VHF stands for "very high frequency". On boats, the VHF is the on-board radio transmitter. Marinas (as well as other boaters, harbor patrols, and the Coast Guard) monitor specific VHF channels. Once you've reserved your dockage, a captain will put out a radio call on the channel the marina monitors to let them know he is approaching, request a slip assignment if not provided via the app's Chat function, or ask for assistance.
Boat Measurement Terminology
What is LOA (Length Overall)?
This definition can be somewhat controversial. For any captain who has made a marina manager's day more hectic because he/she fibbed or fudged the numbers, this one's for you:
When reserving dockage at a marina, when the marina asks for your vessel's Length Overall (LOA) the marina is asking for – wait for it – the overall length of the boat. As in, all of your boat. The whole enchilada. The total tamale. No skimping, no "Oops, when did I get a swim platform??"
The boat's branding, marketing materials, or the boat documentation that was done pre-customization may no longer have any bearing on reality: in the context of reserving dock space or a mooring, the marina needs to know your boat's literal length overall as measured from its aft-most to forward-most appendages, from the tip of your bowsprit to the back of your swim platform. Read more about why LOA matters.
What is a boat's waterline length?
The length of a boat's hull where it intersects with the water.
What is a boat's draft?
A boat's draft is the measurement of vertical distance between the boat's waterline and the bottom of its keel, and this measurement determines the minimum depth of water over which a boat can safely navigate. When you hear "What does she draw?" the question at hand is, "What depth of water is required for the boat to float?"
As a captain requests dockage from a marina, the marinas will likely ask for a boat's draft as they take the reservation details, and often posts Mean Low Water of its harbor and slips so that potential guests can make the call without an extra VHF or phone call.
What is your boat's beam:
The width of any boat at its widest point. A marina needs to know your beam depending on the size of their slips, or the width of your beam. For example, if a marina has only single-vessel slips for boats up to a 16' beam, a large catamaran will not fit and will need to go on the linear dockage if available. You may hear beam in other contexts: If a vessel or landmark is abeam, that means it is directly to port or starboard of your boat. If you are sailing on a beam reach, you are sailing a course 90° off the wind, with the wind abeam.