Honour thy mariner

There is a magic word that will make most of the mariners in marinas more than willing to help you – a tip.

Cover illustration by JamesArty

Last year I spent two months working as a mariner in marina. It was an opportunity to see how things look from the ‘other side of the dock’. I heard lots of various, not so positive stories, about mariners, although I haven’t had any problems with them so far. I will try to explain what they do and how they do it. I will also give you few advices how to turn them into your best friends and not the worst foes while sailing in Croatia.

Their main job is to show you the place where you will dock and to assist you in doing that. Usual procedure is to arrive in front of the marina and wait till mariner waves to you from the dock and points you to the spot where you will dock. You will easily spot him because he will usually wear clothes with marina logo or he will wave to you with a flag and signal you with a whistle. In bigger marinas mariners often use bikes so they can come from one site to another quickly.

You can contact them over the radio station or a phone. For instance, ACI marinas and mariners use VHF channel 17. Also you can even reserve your place in one of the marinas of that marina chain on-line. But don’t wait until the last moment to do that because, mostly in the heart of the season, the system isn’t able to accept all reservations – there are simply too many queries.

Why the hell did you come right now?

If the mariner doesn’t show up immediately don’t lose your temper, especially if you come in between three and six o’clock in the afternoon during the summer because marinas are crowded then. Just remember that you’re on vacation and stay calm for docking. Docking is as stressful for a mariner as it is for you so you don’t want to enter in a conflict at that moment. All eventual problems you can solve later.

Also, if you see that older mariner approaches in a kind of uninterested and reluctant way, and you can almost read from his eyes “Why the hell did you come right now?” don’t panic. Everything is ok. He is an experienced mariner and thousands of meters of rope passed through his hands. He also knows every centimetre of the marina so you can rely that he will pick a good place for you.

Although it isn’t a rule, signal for panic is the opposite – joyful, beardless kid who is running to you and waves his heart out with both hands. There is a great possibility that he is a student hired as help over the season and it is questionable does he know what he is doing. Be on alert in that case and take a good look if the mooring lines are properly extended so you don’t ‘catch’ those with a propeller.

Don’t dock on your own

When docking, preparation is everything. Before you enter the marina check from which winds it is hidden and how is the depth because it can vary from place to place. If you see motor boats docked on one side of the marina big chances are that the reason for that is lower depth so don’t rush there with your sailing boat. Unless you don’t know the marina very well and you come at three in the morning don’t dock on your own. Wait or call the mariners via radio and someone will come for sure.

According to house rules, in most of marinas you have to go to the spot where mariner points you. Every true mariner will lose his mind and get mad if you don’t do that. But if you want to dock somewhere else you just have to get closer to the dock and ask mariner for that. If there is a possibility it’s likely that he will humour you. Don’t forget that it is you who is responsible for the crew and the boat so if you have any doubts in the place or in the mariner himself it is best that you deal with it before you start docking.

Magic word

All mariners ‘know to dock, berth etc. better than you’ and you have to live with that. But there is a magic word that will make the most of them more than willing to help you – a tip. I won’t say that mariners are ready to sell their soul to the devil for a tip but… It’s a tradition that nowadays slowly fades away and it is really up to you will you honour it or not. But if you would like a bit more privacy at the marina for instance and if there is a possibility for that a tip is a best way to achieve that.

Even if you don’t have such desires and a mariner was polite and professional you can tip him. You don’t have to give him much but a beer or a small tip will be appreciated too. Tip has a little more serious purpose. For fully employed mariners it is a way for raising house budgets after lower pay check during winter and for part time mariners it is a way for raising their seasonal earnings.

Papers please

As for docking, it is usual to dock with stern in Croatia. But it isn’t a rule and you can dock with your bow too. When mariner shows you the place where you will dock, he will first extend the windward mooring line so you can grab it. He will then take your windward tying rope, put it trough a cleat on the dock and return it to you. When you throw him the tying rope you shouldn’t aim at his head. Just throw it on his hand.

If you would like a different procedure you just have to say so. Mariners aren’t polyglots but most of them know marine terms on several languages so they will understand you. When you tied windward ropes, mariner will take your leeward tying rope and maybe give a leeward mooring line to you, et voila – you are safely docked!

There is one more important thing that you have to do before docking – prepare the boat papers. After docking you will give those to mariner and he will take it to reception where they will be on safe until you pay and sail away. Try to give the papers to mariner as soon as possible after docking because new boat already arrives…

How are your experiences with mariners?

If you are interested in more romantic version of the story, listen to the tune