Navigating Current and Wind
Many times, there will be some sort of current or wind present around the dock. First, identify which way it is pushing you, and then plan to move around it and use it to your advantage. For example, if you are aiming for a dock to your port side and the wind is a diagonal head wind to port, overshoot your bowball to starboard and slightly into the wind so the wind will compensate and correct your point by the time you pull into the dock.
A good rule of thumb, especially for novice coxswains, is to overcompensate your point towards the direction the wind or current is coming from. If a tail current is pushing you diagonally from starboard and you need to dock on starboard, overshoot your bowball slightly into the current, keep your hull just a little too far over to starboard, and let the current correct your point as you get to the dock.
Moving Into the Dock and Correcting the Point
When docking, have your bow pair (or if the angle requires it, your stern pair) row it in. As you move closer, drop from taking light, full strokes to arms-and-body-only, and eventually to arms-only. Slowing down will give you better control and more reaction time to adjust to conditions, as well as providing a safer entry to the dock.
As you pull into the dock, use your active pair to make quick pressure adjustments to the point. For example, if your bowball is pointed a little too far to starboard, when you’re about two strokes away from the dock, use your bow seat to adjust the point with pressure. You might say, “Bow seat pressure on the next one… even.”
You can also have one seat check it down to change the angle. For the same situation as above, if you don’t have enough room to correct with pressure, you could say, “Bow pair way enough, bow seat check it down… that’s good, release.”
If your angle of entry is not straight, it may sometimes be necessary to adjust the angle of your stern as well. Your bowball can be pointed right at the dock, but if the stern is not also lined up with the dock, you may clip the corner coming in. Have either stroke or 7/3 seat take a quick backing stroke to straighten out the stern. You can also have either seat check it down upon entry in order to correct your direction. As you connect with the dock, make sure everyone gets hands on the dock to walk it down, and make sure to catch the corner to protect your hull!
Experience and Problem Solving
As with any coxing skill, docking is a skill gained through experience. As a novice, it will be difficult the first few times to get the angle and timing right. You are allowed to make mistakes! If you miss the dock, back it down with your bow pair and try again.
Docking takes a little time to master, and as a novice, it can seem overwhelming because there is a lot to think about. After a few times, you should start to get the hang of it and learn the nuances of the current and wind. Sometimes, the wind will be very strong and it will be difficult to connect with the dock. Slowness is a virtue in docking.
Sometimes the angle of the dock will make it difficult to gain a proper angle of entry. In these situations, take a minute to think through the situation, and approach it slowly and methodically. It might be easier to row past the dock and then have stern pair back it down, or it may be more efficient to drop down to arms-only further out from the dock than you usually would.
Problem solving to find the most efficient approach is something you will develop as you gain more docking and coxing experience.