How to Tie a Jet Ski to a Dock

You’ve been out on the water with your personal watercraft for a while, and are ready to break for lunch. You approach the dock when a question pops in your mind that you should’ve thought about before this moment. 

To tie a jet ski to a dock, you will first need to approach the dock slowly at an angle before lining your PWC up parallel to it. If done carefully, you won’t need to risk grabbing the dock and injuring your hand. Use dock line or bungee cord looped around the handlebars of the PWC or clipped to your tow hooks with metal carabiners, and put out fenders for your ski to finish the process.

The process for approaching the dock and tying down a PWC will vary slightly depending on the manufacturer but, with the right equipment and a little practice, it will become as second-nature as riding the PWC itself. In rough conditions, use your ropes to snug the ski against the fenders and dock rather than leaving them loose, as this will keep it from swinging into the dock.

In this article, we will guide you through the process step by step.

Getting Your PWC off of the Dock

Getting your PWC into the water is going to be your first challenge. Many places will have drive-in slips where you can back your PWC trailer into the water, release the PWC, and then drive the trailer back onto dry land.

This is basically the same process as if you were putting a boat into the water.

There are docks on the market that are made specifically for PWCs. These floating docks allow you to steer your PWC directly onto a floating platform and lock it into place. To get it off the dock, you’d simply remove any retaining devices and push it into the water.

However, this is the type of dock someone would have on their own property, where they can leave their PWC secured for as long as they’d like. Some marinas offer these for rent, which is what we do. Larger PWC’s are heavy, so shifting weight to the rear of the float helps to get it moving.

In most cases, getting off the dock simply means untying where you’ve previously tied off. Ours are locked to the dock frame with waterproof marine brass combination locks and 1/2” coated braided steel cables, which I highly recommend (Amazon). No keys to accidentally drop into the water. And they tuck into your storage compartment to take everywhere you go.

Spray a little WD40 on the mechanism once or twice per year, and they last a long time. Ours are 6 years old and still working fine. The cables do wear though, as they run the dock frame over time. We just replaced ours at the 5 year mark.

The only challenge will be if you’re in a particularly crowded area. Navigating around other PWCs and boats will take a little practice. Just remember to keep it slow, and always keep an eye out. For marina storage, you may be in shallow waters (read our advice.) Be careful to not suck up debris when heading out. Use a paddle (our post) if you have to.

If possible, practice leaving the dock a time or two in less crowded areas or during off-peak times. You’ll see that it’s not difficult to do, and it will merely require a little more care if other PWCs or boats are in the area.

If you are new to towing, practice in a parking lot. Best towing tip I’ve ever learned: when backing up, place your hand on the bottom of your steering wheel. When you want the trailer to go left, move your hand left. To go right, move your hand right. Get that down, and you’ve mastered 80% of backing up a trailer.

Before You Tie Your PWC to a Dock

Before you find yourself approaching the dock at the end of a riding session, there are a few things you should do to ensure you can easily and successfully tie off your PWC.

The first thing is to practice. If you can find a more remote area away from the crowds, that would be ideal. But even just practicing a few times before you leave the dock area would be beneficial.

Untie your PWC and prepare to leave the dock, and then pretend you’ve just arrived at the dock and practice tying it back up. It would also be smart to practice with another person waiting on the dock to assist you.

While you’ll want to get comfortable enough with the process to be able to do it by yourself, having a friend help out while you’re learning will definitely help things go more smoothly. 

Bringing Your PWC to a Dock

Regardless of what brand of PWC you’re docking, the procedure will be pretty similar. However, there are some slight variations due to the different features each brand has.

You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the features on your PWC before attempting to get it lined up to the dock for tying off.

As you prepare to dock, approach at an angle, decreasing speed to an idle as you get closer. As you get close, you may want to extend your hand toward the dock in order to stop yourself from running into it.

It’s wise to pay attention to the direction of the tide or current as this will affect how fast you’ll need to be going as you approach.

If the current is working against you, for example, cutting your engine too early will mean you’ll simply drift away from the dock. It’ll be hard to tie your PWC to it if you can’t reach it!

Once the bow is close to the dock, switch to reverse and turn your steering wheel slightly — it only takes a slight adjustment — to ease the stern of the PWC towards the dock. Tap reverse just for a second.

Don’t leave it in reverse or the ski will start to rotate. Just a quick reverse then moving back to neutral works best. You can learn to tap forward or reverse again for quick position adjustments with practice.

Once your PWC is parallel to the dock, you’re ready to tie it to the dock using some dock line or bungee cord. Usually, this is done by looping the dock line around the handlebars.

Depending on where you’re docking and how close by you’ll be, you may also want to use a lock and cable (recommended above) to make sure no one but you can remove your PWC from the dock (source).

Tying a Sea-Doo or WaveRunner

Both the Sea-Doo and WaveRunner have intelligent reverse systems that make docking much easier.

The Sea-Doo’s iBR (Intelligent Brake and Reverse) and the WaveRunners RiDE (Reverse with Intuitive Deceleration Electronics) systems put directional control right on the handlebars, and both increase the ability of the PWC to stop in shorter distances. 

This means you can keep your focus on the water or on the dock you’re approaching without having to look for or reach for a lever located on a different area of the PWC. It also gives you more control over your speed.

It also means that these models have a true neutral setting. This will make your approach much easier, particularly if the current is working in your favor.

As you get close to the dock, going into neutral will allow you to drift into place at a slow, relaxed pace, reducing the chances of ramming into the dock and causing damage to either the dock or your PWC.

Tying a Jet Ski

The Kawasaki Jet Ski, on the other hand, does not feature an intelligent reverse system.

The controls on the Jet Ski feature a manual lever that goes from forward to reverse, with a sort of neutral in the middle that is actually just the midpoint between forward and reverse.

This makes the delicate maneuvering needed to get your PWC up to the dock a little trickier. 

When it comes time to kick it into reverse to glide the stern towards the dock, be sure to turn your handlebars away from the dock first. Turning them with one hand as you move to reverse with the other could be difficult, and you don’t want to end up ramming into the dock.

Another effect of not having an intelligent reverse system is the lack of a true neutral setting. You’ll have to play around with the forward and reverse lever a little to find the “sweet spot” that most closely approximates neutral (source). 

If you have a much older model of PWC, it may not even have reverse as an option. In this case, it really is a process of approaching as slowly as possible and using your hand to grab onto the dock and straighten the PWC.

Obviously this isn’t the ideal way to go about it but, if it’s your only option, it can be done with practice.

Once you get the hang of it, these variations won’t have a major effect on your ability to safely tie off your PWC but, when learning how to do it for the first time, you’ll definitely want to be aware of the differences.

Take Caution when Tying Your PWC to a Dock

Once you get the hang of it, tying off your PWC is not difficult. But there are some things you want to keep in mind, whether it’s your first time or whether you’ve been at it for years.

Fixed Docks vs. Floating Docks

The two main types of docks you’ll encounter on the water are fixed docks and floating docks. Though the basic procedure for tying is going to be the same, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with.

A fixed dock is the classic, old-fashioned dock style. With this style, the dock is supported by posts or concrete columns that go directly into the ground at the lake bed or sea bed.

When water level drops or rises, the dock stays in the same position. This is important to understand if you’re tying your PWC off for an extended amount of time as these changes in the water level can end up putting stress on your PWC and on the dock.

If there is not enough slack in the line, and the water drops, the weight of the PWC can end up causing damage to it. It could also damage the dock, which isn’t really meant to support the weight of a PWC. Over time, it could pull the posts away from the dock, requiring costly repairs.

Likewise, fluctuations in the water level could cause your PWC to drift partially under the dock if there is too much slack.

Fenders can protect the sides of your PWC, but they won’t protect other parts from being damaged from getting scratched up underneath a dock. If your PWC drifts far under the dock, it may be a challenge to retrieve as well. 

It’s also important to note the water level as you approach a fixed dock so that you don’t accidentally find the bow of your PWC under the dock, pretty much guaranteeing some dings or scratches. Watch that Sea-Doo automatic steering throttle system, it can catch off-guard when it engages at slow speeds to assist steering. It can cause you to end up under the dock, maybe resulting in over $800 in gelcoat and paint repair. Or so I’ve heard.

Running under a floating dock scrapes your PWC
Someone other than me ran mine under a dock

Floating docks are anchored to the shore and lake bed or sea bed, and they rise and fall with the fluctuation of the water. For this reason, they are much better if you plan on leaving your PWC tied up for a long time.

As the water level falls or rises, your PWC and dock will fall and rise right along with it.

If you are installing a dock on your property, one great option for PWCs are floating docks with built-in lifts. These allow you to simply drive your PWC onto an extended ramp, where it can be safely secured and locked into place, whether for a short break or for an entire winter.

Again, some marinas offer these for short-term rental, long-term storage, or just for visiting their shop, restaurant or fuel pumps. Make sure you tie off securely so your ski doesn’t work it’s way back off and float away while you have lunch.

Helpful Accessories 

There are several accessories you may want to keep on your PWC that can assist in docking. These can make tying off your PWC easier, can help protect it and the dock from damage, or can just make your excursion more enjoyable.

Fenders

Fenders are an indispensable tool in protecting your PWC. They come in a few different styles, but the overall point is the same: they come in between your PWC and the dock to absorb impact and keep the dock from scratching or denting your PWC.

Bumper style fenders are large cylindrical pads that attach using either suction cups or marine rope. There are also inflatable versions that take up less space when stored. 

Hook style fenders are smaller than bumpers, and many people prefer them for that reason. They’re easy to store in your PWC’s storage compartment and can be quickly pulled out and attached when needed.

They hook underneath the rub rail on the side of your PWC and then attach above it using a suction cup and line. There are also some that can be permanently attached by screwing them into the PWC itself.

Hull Hugger style fenders are rectangular pads with a hinge in between that allows them to lay flat against the PWC. They’re secured with a rope or strap and, depending on your model, might be securable by running the straps underneath the lid of the storage compartment for extra security. 

All of these types of fenders offer protection for your PWC so, for many, it’s just a matter of individual preference. Check out the listings on our PWC Accessories page.

Some people even go the extra-affordable route and buy a cheap foam pool noodle, cut it down to the desired size, and then attach it with rope or wire to the PWC. While this probably isn’t the best long-term solution, it would work in a pinch.

Paddle

If you are struggling to get your PWC lined up to the dock and are worried that using the throttle is going to result in ramming into the dock itself, you may choose to kill the engine once you’re close to the dock and paddle yourself up to it.

This could be especially beneficial if you’re trying to dock in a particularly crowded area. While you don’t want to bang your PWC into a dock, ramming into someone else’s PWC or a boat would be even worse!

Anchor

Though you probably wouldn’t need an anchor when tying to a dock, there are times when it might be beneficial to have one on hand.

If the water is particularly rough and you’re not sure your tie job is going to be sufficient, an anchor will ensure that your PWC doesn’t come loose and float out into the open water. We cover anchors in general here and for deep water use in this post.

Locking Cable

Just as you wouldn’t put your bike in a public bike rack and leave it unattended, you want to make sure your PWC is safe and secure before leaving it.

A locking cable attaches to the PWC and to the dock and ensures that no one will ride off on your vehicle but you. See more in How to Prevent PWC Theft.

PWC Cover

If you’re planning on leaving your PWC tied to a dock for a long period of time, a cover is a must for protecting it from the elements.

Rain, hail, and wind can do real damage to your PWC over time, not to mention birds flying overhead! A good cover made of sturdy fabric will protect your PWC from the weather as well as protecting its paint job from being faded by the sun.

Covers come in many sizes and styles and, for the best protection, you should get one made to fit whichever brand of PWC you own.

Final Thoughts

Learning proper procedures for riding, docking, and storing your PWC is an essential part of the experience of owning one of these fun watercraft. Due to their small size, the learning curve is smaller than for a full-sized boat, but care should still be taken to make sure you know what you’re doing. 

Tying your PWC to a dock isn’t a hard task, but it does take some practice. It’s best to know exactly what you’re going to do before you find yourself floating up to the dock.

By choosing the right accessories and practicing ahead of time, you can ensure that you’re able to tie your PWC to a dock at the end of your day and that it will be protected while it’s tied up.

Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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